REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (2016)

Good news, everyone! The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn’t all bad, was it? In fact, I found it quite pleasurable.

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This wasn’t the worst remake or reimagining of 2016 by no stretch. While there were a few questionable decisions made here and there, I didn’t leave the show thinking that the Rocky Horror brand was weaker for it existing. There’s not many missteps — surely not enough to warrant a full on boycott. I’m traditionally a purist, signing off on many remakes (after torturing myself with a viewing first). Even through an auto-tuned soundtrack, the fun the cast is having translates beautifully.

The show sadly opens with a terrible looking “Science Fiction, Double Feature” — deleting the lips fans have grown to love and adding a full number. There are excellent visual references that made me happy, but this was by far the weakest part of the production.

Victoria Justice’s Janet is a clear standout throughout; she honors the performance of Susan Sarandon while bringing her own naivety. Her and Ryan McCartan (Brad Majors) have an excellent on-screen chemistry (in the sense that you feel like they’re wrong for each other). Reeve Carney’s Riff Raff is positively electric, stealing every scene he’s in vocally. I was pleasantly surprised by Laverne Cox. She has the Tim Curry swagger while imbuing the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter with her own stamp of sensuality. I couldn’t help but feel that Adam Lambert was grossly misused as Eddie. Lambert would’ve been better suited as Dr. Frank or Rocky himself. However, he truly shines even though Eddie’s fate and aftermath was incredibly sanitized..

It’s sad to see a mostly competent voice and acting cast compromised by poor staging, set and costume design, and musical arrangements. It often tries to imitate while updating the numbers to near bubblegum status. Rocky looks fresh out of the gym instead of fresh out of incubation. The show might have a bigger budget than the 1975 original, but it certainly doesn’t show it. Everything looks cheap by today’s standards (and not in the cute, kitschy way the original film holds up). The censored lyrics may also bother some, but it wasn’t enough to detract from the strength of the performances. (Is it possible an unrated version will hit digital and Blu-ray?)

My heart sank every time Tim Curry was on-screen. I’m not sure if the casting was exploitative or purely to pay tribute to his Rocky Horror legacy, but it nearly brought tears to my eyes. His delivery of “don’t dream it, be it” is chilling and heart-wrenching. It’s nice to see him, but saddening all the same.

The things I didn’t care for are minimal, but the show’s major flaw was the constant reminder that the picture show was being watched by a staged audience, a la the midnight showings of the original film. The momentum of the musical is consistently ruined by cutting to “fans” reciting Rocky callbacks. I understand its purpose, but it felt too gimmicky and the production suffered for it.

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Don’t let haters deter you here. The show is much better than Glee’s 2010 attempt to honor Rocky Horror. It was far more sanitized back then, but Kenny Ortega’s Rocky Horror still feels oddly clean… never diving into the primal sexuality that made the original such a tantalizing experience.

The biggest tragedy isn’t the fact that this remake was done… it’s the fact that we had an amazing cast muddled by poor execution. It’s impossible to hate this show if you’re a fan of the songs. (What a great decision to include the “cut for US release” “Superheroes” at the end!) Rocky Horror falls just short of being the perfect specimen it could’ve been.

7.5

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2 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (2016)

  1. Ouinton Moss was nice, too nice. It was sad, just sad. If that was the best they could do, they should not have done it. American Horror Story gets away with more than Rocky Horror #1 ever did. So don’t give me that crap about sanitized. It could have been great, but the devil is in the details, and they did not care about the details and it showed.

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    • Firstly, I’d like to thank you for reading! Truly appreciate it.

      Next, I really don’t understand your comparison of American Horror Story to Rocky Horror. The two have absolutely zero relevant things in common. Comparing the two is like comparing The Walking Dead to Grease because there are characters that wear leather jackets in both. Rocky Horror 2016 aired on basic television — not even basic cable — at a rather conservative primetime slot. Had it aired later, Fox would’ve gotten away with things such as language and more sensuality.

      The soundtrack to this show is proof enough to me that they could’ve taken it further; the lyrics are uncensored and hearing the performances alone without the juxtaposition of the squeaky clean imagery makes it much stronger overall.

      Did you watch Fox’s Grease Live? It was sanitized the same way. Racy references in Greased Lightning were completely scrubbed. Abortion thoughts by Rizzo? Gone.

      Here’s some examples (quoted from another source):

      “Keke Palmer’s rendition of the lesser-known ‘Freddy My Love’ swapped ‘wearing my lacy lingerie’ for ‘carrying my wedding bouquet,’ then Vanessa Hudgens ended a rousing version of ‘Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee’ with ‘be cool’ instead of the more profane, Italian ‘Hey, Fongul!’ [Italian slang for “go fuck yourself”] But while these changes are tiny, audiences surely sat up and took notice when Aaron Tveit’s show-stopping ‘Grease Lightning’ edited an even more famous lyric.

      Executive producer Marc Platt told AdWeek that corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola forced the show to tone down some of the language. ‘It’s going to be a very family-friendly show, but with the appropriate edge that it needs to have,’ Platt said. That’s how ‘Grease Lightning’s’ ‘the chicks’ll cream’ became ‘the chicks’ll scream,’ and ‘she’s a really pussy wagon’ became ‘she’s a real dragon wagon.'”

      Basic television changes at their finest.

      One of my earliest memories of the original Rocky Horror was seeing it on basic television via my local UPN affiliate many moons ago. The killing of Eddie was completely edited out along with the subsequent reveal of his fate. Certain shots of the final lingerie heavy numbers were cut. Even the nude statues had blurs on the genitalia! Certain lyrics were muted (I can’t remember specifics except for “mental mind fuck”, of course).

      Working in television, you learn about the mind boggling world of Standards & Practices. And it hardly ever makes sense. Like you said, we can show people getting their heads bashed in on basic cable shows like AHS and TWD, but kill a person on free TV at an hour where children are still awake? Unacceptable! I recommend you watch a rerun episode of The Walking Dead on basic television. It’s virtually unrecognizable.

      Had this production been on FX, another Fox-owned network, things would’ve been different. And even more so if RHPS 2016 had been on HBO or another premium cable channel. Although I don’t think a different network or time slot would have fixed the missteps of High School Musical director Kenny Ortega. Ryan Murphy, despite his poor track record with “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”, would’ve knocked it out of the park.

      If you haven’t seen that mess, I implore you to do so. It makes RHPS 2016 look like gold.

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