“Let’s do the ‘Time Warp’ again!”: HBO is showing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” tonight

By and on September 26, 2015

Tonight, September 26, 2015, the HBO cable network will be airing the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as streaming the musical comedy horror flick on its HBO Go and HBO Now platforms (it airs at midnight on the east coast, 9pm PT, check your local listings). The film premiered on the big screen in London a little over forty years ago, in August 1975.

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The 1975 film of The Rocky Horror Picture Show — a wicked parody of the 1950s horror-sci fi B-movie genre, written by British actor Richard O’Brien, produced and directed by Jim Sharman, and shot at Bray Studios, home of the Hammer Films it lampoons — had originally been staged as as a campy musical in 1973, in both England and in Los Angeles, and it was initially a dismal box office disappointment for 20th Century Fox before slowly developing the cult following at midnight screenings that it maintains today.

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It has been reported by movie critic J. Hoberman (in his book Midnight Movies) that the cult following for the Rocky Horror Picture Show actually began one night in the fall of ’76, at the Waverly Theatre in Greenwich Village, New York, when a usually quiet schoolteacher named Louis Farese Jr., who had seen the film a few times already, was sitting in the audience and suddenly he had a spontaneously strong reaction to the long pauses between lines of dialogue being spoken by the characters onscreen.

When he once again saw the character of Janet (played by Susan Sarandon) covering her head with a newspaper, in order to keep her hair dry in the rain, Farese couldn’t take it anymore and yelled out “Buy an umbrella, you cheap bitch!”

The audience that night exploded with laughter, and some reportedly even felt encouraged to yell out their own lines of dialogue during the rest of the film, and very quickly this kind of audience participation idea caught on (probably by word-of-mouth, and fans buying movie tickets and going back to see it again and again).

Soon enough it was pretty much what happened at every screening of the film, with the audience ignoring the accepted way to behave in a movie theatre and, instead, yelling out these pre-determined lines verbatim at screenings, a kind of counter-point call-and-response with what’s being spoken onscreen. In time, going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show movie was not just a night out at the movies with friends, it was a social event, and you came prepared.

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It wasn’t too much longer before audience members began showing up, dressed up as their favorite characters, some of them camped out in fishnet tights and corsets (no nudity, though) and heavy makeup. Sometimes you’ll see an audience member with a “V” on their foreheads, scrawled in blood (actually, the “V,” for those are seeing who are “Virgins,” meaning it’s their first time seeing Rocky, is usually in red lipstick).

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The audience members will usually sing during one of the movie’s most popular songs, “The Time Warp,” and they always come equipped with props they throw towards the screen: confetti, rice for the wedding scene, water guns and newspapers for that aforementioned storm scene, flashlights, candles and matches — and now, cell phones that light up the darkened movie theatre — for a specific verse of a song which begins “There’s a light…”). You can read a full list of props at this official ‘Rocky Horror’ fan site.

This is the only full interview that Tim Curry gave about his role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, during the week that the film was released in 1975. The Interviewer is Mark Caldwell.

The film stars Sarandon, along with Barry Bostwick and Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, and writer/actor Richard O’Brien, who started it all, appears in a memorable smaller role (singer Meat Loaf has an awesome one-song cameo appearance), but let’s see a show of hands, who remembers Peter Hinwood in the role of Rocky, Dr. Frank N. Furter’s creation?

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Hinwood hadn’t acted much before he got the role of Rocky — he appeared in a mini-series of British TV in the late 1960s as the Greek god Hermes, in “The Adventures of Ulysses,” (officially titled: “Odissea”) and in a forgotten horror flick called The Ballad of Tam Lin (aka The Devil’s Widow), with Roddy McDowall. After Rocky, he had a small part in Derek Jarman’s homoerotic Roman historical drama Sebastiane.

Today, Hinwood, an antiques dealer in London, is mostly forgotten (his singing voice was dubbed in post-production by Australian singer Trevor White), and our contributor Michael Dare thinks that Kim Milford would have made a better choice to play Rocky than Hinwood, and he makes his case for that scenario below.

Kim Milford — seen above in a clip from the 1975 ABC-TV movie Rock A Die Baby (aka Night of the Full Moon) performing with his band Moon — died on June 16, 1988 of heart failure, after having open heart surgery a few weeks earlier.

Michael Dare:

“Take one good look at Kim Milford and tell me he wouldn’t have been a better Rocky in The Rocky Horror Picture Show than the guy who played it. Do you even remember him? Of course not, he was terrible, and you can’t think of his name even though it was the title role, such a bad singer they actually left his one and only song, the ‘Sword of Damocles,’ off the album.

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Wouldn’t have happened if it had been played by Kim Milford, the original Rocky at the Roxy with Tim Curry and Meat Loaf. I was there opening night, knowing nothing but this was the very first theatrical production in what was previously just a concert venue, a damn good one, and it was a new cast for something that was apparently a hit in England.

So I’d never heard of Tim Curry, much less Dr. Frank N. Furter, when he made a spectacular debut through smoke and high intensity lights from a runway behind me. Still the best entrance I’ve ever seen.

He was a mad doctor in mesh creating a man just for himself, and here’s one of those moments where casting really does change everything. In the film, when Rocky appears, all you can think is the mad doctor went to all this trouble to create THAT?! Frank’s obviously crazy. You can pick up a talentless nobody at any wharf.

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But when Kim Milford appeared as Rocky singing ‘The Sword of Damocles,’ he was a fucking GOD, the most beautiful human being you had ever seen. Not only was the doctor NOT mad, he had really good taste. Kim was in the original cast of Hair and Jesus Christ, Superstar and could sing his ass off while shaking it. He was amazing and uplifted the whole show.

I have no idea why they didn’t use him in the film but it was a big mistake. I’m fairly certain it would have made Kim Milford a giant star.

Kim died in 1988 but not before I became pals with him and his sister Penelope Milford. We wrote songs together, and hearing him sing my melodies was a major highlight in my life.

He explained to me what happened with the show.

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The play knocked audiences dead in London and LA. It did the same at all the previews in New York, but then came an opening night of critics in tuxedos and evening gowns and dead silence. ‘They looked at us,’ Kim told me, ‘like, ‘What rock did this crawl out from?’.’

They panned it and the show died, and here’s the strange lesson to be learned. It would have continued to be a hit, knocking audiences out on Broadway, if it had just NEVER OPENED.

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After the film came out, Kim toured America as Rocky in 1980 and had one of the most unique stage experiences one could have as an actor. Audiences not only hadn’t seen the play, they had seen the film while dressed as characters, singing and dancing during the numbers, and shouting back at the film in fully orchestrated scripts, a unique phenomenon you can see in the film Fame.

Nobody told them you’re not supposed to do that in a theater but they did. Actors in the play had to cope with constant audience interruptions that they couldn’t prepare for because A) different cities had different scripts and B) the film and the play had different scripts. It was an improv challenge and he had the time of his life.

Seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show tonight on a big screen with an audience that’s sure to be wacko [Dare recently watched the film at a special screening in Seattle, WA]  will be a bittersweet experience.

As soon as Rocky enters… oh fuck man, it should have been Kim.

Love you and miss you.”

MD

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Polaroid of Kim Milford by Michael Dare

We’ve also found this video dating back to the original Roxy days. Unfortunately, the quality isn’t great, but it’s one of the very few that survives from that era:

Michael Dare adds: “Milford was also in Corvette Summer with Mark Hamill. Talented guy.”

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About Michael Dare

You may know Michael Dare as film critic and journalist for the LA Weekly, LA Times, Billboard, Interview, and the National Lampoon. Turns out he also studied with Lee Strasberg, jammed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, went to Disneyland with Eugene Ionesco, and got Timothy Leary for a birthday present. He was the Playboy Advisor on the Playboy Channel, wrote for Steven Spielberg's Animaniacs, and Scott Bakula played him in a CBS movie-of-the-week about his misadventures in Hollywood called The Bachelor's Baby. He was John Cassavetes' dialogue coach on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, has a close-up in Up in Smoke, sang the news on KROQ, and is responsible for one of the biggest April Fools Day pranks of all time. The only reason we believe one word of this is he has actual photographic evidence, thousands of warped Polaroids that are finally seeing the light of day.