Hi! We're Project Derailed! Making nerdy content on the internet!

Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (2016)

Update: the full movie is available on the Fox website

When I first heard that Fox was remaking the 1975 classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I was skeptical. However, I still watched it, and, unlike many critics, I enjoyed it.

Rocky is a phenomenon. You can’t really remake it, and this film didn’t try to. Instead, it was a love letter to the original film and the resulting cult following. This was the best way to do it. Everything was reminscent of the phenomena, not the original film. And the film was at its worst when it tried to be the 1975 classic.

The cast reminded me of a Rocky Horror shadow cast. They didn’t really look like the original cast of the film (and they didn’t try to), but they hit all the same beats. However, they did this in their own way. Ryan McCartan’s Brad Majors is significantly different from Barry Bostwick’s Brad. McCartan cheeses where Bostwick played it straight. This is one of the things that made the film work. It pointed out the ridiculousness of the plot. In the new version, Brad manically insists that everything will be all right if they just find a phone–he says this as he stands in his underwear, having been stripped by Magenta. It’s a wink and a nudge to the viewers. The same can be said about Victoria Justice’s Janet Weiss. The plot doesn’t make any sense, and they embrace it, but they also don’t let it get away with anything.

The supporting cast is mostly strong. Reeve Carney’s Riff Raff is definitely a deviation from Richard O’Brien’s original vision, but he also brings a lot of charisma to the character that was missing before. Rather than being the creepy, lurking butler, Carney’s Riff Raff has a swagger and it’s more believable that he could execute this mutiny and bring the castle/spaceship back to his home planet. However, his co-star Christina Milian does not have the same appeal. It is unclear what her vision for Magenta was. Sometimes it seemed like she was trying to copy the original and at other times it seemed like she was trying to do something else. She looked fabulous and she was one of the strongest singers in the show, but her acting was just not up to par. She also couldn’t stick to a single accent. I think she was trying to do Patricia O’Neil’s Magenta’s Transylvanian accent, but it sometimes slipped into French, British, or something unidentifiable. It would have been preferable for her to just not have the accent if she couldn’t pull it off. It seemed like she was just rolling her r’s and hoping for the best. And, unfortunately, Milian and Carney had absolutely no chemistry with one another.

The best supporting cast was easily Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia and Adam Lambert as Eddie. If Eddie would have been in more of the film, he would have stolen the show. He takes inspiration from Meat Loaf’s incarnation of Eddie, but he makes it his own. During “Hot Patootie,” it is impossible to look away from him. He is everything you would want out of an Eddie. He and Ashford have plenty of chemistry to make up for Carney and Milian’s lack of it. I believed that they were obsessed with each other: a rock star and his favorite groupie. Ashford’s Columbia, even without Eddie was the most consistently good character in the show. She was unrestrained and cute: everything Coumbia is and has become.

Staz Nair’s Rocky was a refreshing change of pace. He wasn’t simply present like Peter Hinwood was in the original film. Rocky had a personality despite his silence. I also liked his interpretation of “The Sword of Damocles.” Rather than meaning little to nothing in the original film, there was clearly a vision there. Rocky is already having a bad time and he was just born. He knows its all downhill from there. It helped make his motivations during the film more clear.

Now, the star of the show was clearly meant to be Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank N. Furter. If they wanted to have a big name in the movie, they needed Cox. She is the most prominent trans actress in Hollywood. It needed to be Cox because it just isn’t 1975 anymore. Transvestite just isn’t a term that’s okay to use. Tim Curry played a fantastic character that played with gender and was still powerful, but both films are entirely representative of the times. I’m glad they didn’t cast another straight cis man to play Frank.

Cox’s performance was spotty. She was excellent through most of the film, but like my critique of the film as a whole, she was at her best when she was being her own Frank and at her worst when she was trying to be Curry. At some points, she tried to mimic Curry’s very peculiar way of speaking, and it just didn’t work. Like Milian, she tried to do an accent, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. She had issues with her vowels that made everything sound off. However, she brought an interesting charisma to the character. Rather than being aggressive and bringing raw sexuality to the character like Curry’s interpretation, she was much more sensual and subtly manipulative. She also brought pageantry to the character in interesting ways. In the original film, “I’m Going Home” was Frank’s fantasy about how important he and his feelings were. However, Cox made it like Miss America in the talent competition. She was emotional and she performed beautifully, but she did it for the benefit of Riff and Magenta so she could get what she wanted.

Not all of the songs were this well done, however. Cox isn’t a strong belter, so “Sweet Transvestite” and “Wild and Untamed Thing” felt devastatingly slow. She has an excellent voice, but she doesn’t have the right voice for those songs. Something needed to change. It seemed like other songs were changed to fit the actors’ ability or the feel of the show, so its unclear why these ones weren’t adjusted. It seemed like they tried to use choreography to make the songs feel peppier, but the choreography just came across as overly complicated when it didn’t need to be.

One of the most disappointing but understandable aspects of the show was the Transylvanians. In the original film, they are reflective of the audience. They are passive participators and they are also all odd in their own ways. They are dressed in ridiculous uniforms but they all look wildly different from one another. They vary wildly in height and age and this just makes them look like an odd group of people. However, the Transylvanians in the film were hot people in funny wigs. This is understandable because the choreography is much more complicated in this film, but I wish they would have had weirdos represented in some way.

Similarly, the audience in the film just didn’t look like a Rocky Horror audience. They knew the moments and the lines, but it felt like actors performing, not like fans interacting with their favorite movie. It was also a mistake to make the movie stop when the audience does something. The number of cuts to the audience really altered the pacing of the film. If the movie were to continue rather than simply showing reaction shots during the cuts to the audience, perhaps this would have worked, but, as much as I like the acknowledgement that Rocky Horror fans are inseparable from the film, perhaps it would have been better to simply cut this bit.

Visually, the film looked great. I liked the new costumes and make-up as well as the sets and props. I have no complaints here. It fit the vision of the new Rocky Horror. The costumes super sexy like they were in the original film, but it kept iconic pieces (i.e. the white bra and slip, Rocky’s gold shorts) while letting the costumes feel natural to the interpretation of the characters.

In all, the show wasn’t perfect, but there was a clear vision. Rocky Horror is iconic, and while it was an odd choice to put it on television rather than theaters (this isn’t like The Sound of Music or Grease, Fox), I liked that they did more horror than sexuality. Again, this is a reflection of the times. Unrestrained sexuality is all well and good, but there are also issues with making a trans or queer characters overly sexually aggressive. This circumvented those issues.

Additionally, at this point, all of the characters have been performed countless times worldwide. The costumes have been interpreted countless times worldwide. Rocky is no longer simply the original film. Everything about it is owned by the community of Rocky fans. It was emotional seeing Tim Curry sing the final lines in the show because it is so ingrained in people’s lives. Rocky is truly a phenomenon. And this show is a part of it. A mostly good part at that.

Image credit: Fox

Fiona L.F. Kelly (@FionaLFKelly)
Fiona L.F. Kelly is a writer, editor, and podcaster. She has published numerous articles about all things gaming and pop culture on websites all across the internet, was also a writer for Trinity Continuum: Aberrant 2e, and has been published in books and magazines. She is an editor for the pop culture and media website GeekGals.co. In addition to her writing and editing, she has also been a guest and host on several podcasts. She hosts the Project Derailed podcast Big Streaming Pile, produces and performs on Fables Around the Table, and plays the githyanki pirate Rav’nys on Tales of the Voidfarer. Buy her a coffee: ko-fi.com/fionalfkelly

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard