A Pair of Nifties: RHPS remake

It’s a long, lonely road to graduation. We can all attest that at times, we have only few and fleeting glimmers of laughter and gaiety. The glimmer which I look forward to most is the annual screening of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (RHPS). The shadow cast production of this iconic midnight movie attracts an audience from around campus and even around town. People say this movie wouldn’t be any good without audience participation, and the call lines of this movie are often more memorable than the dialogue itself. That said, “Rocky Horror” has value, with or without audience participation. Yes, it has a low budget and the camp is off the charts. However, even given the cheap production values, the characters make sense, the script and directing are thoughtful, it’s not cookie cutter and the songs SLAP. Citizen Kane it is not, but it deserves a lot more credit than it is given. Today we’re talking about the remake of “Rocky Horror: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again.”

“I can’t stand that subtitle,” says “Rocky” director and junior Mary Grace Wagner.  A government major, Mary Grace Wagner played the role of Brad in the Lawrence student production last year and is now one of three student directors. We sat down to delve into the ethos of this remake and see if we could parse through the many layers of subtext therein. First, she is a big fan of the “Rocky Horror” franchise, except for the franchise part. “This show had no one asking for its creation and contributes nothing new to the film except nostalgia,” she said. “This movie is far worse than the original.” From the beginning, the mixture of sexy and creepy that is the bedrock(y) of RHPS is off. “It’s too sexy,” Wagner commented, as during the opening number Trixie the Usherette vamps with a popcorn bag. “The movie lacks the creepy and unnerving atmosphere created by a conglomeration of factors in the original, from the poor lighting, the amateurish acting and the gritty sets.” While this production leans more heavily into sex appeal, the sex appeal is simultaneously censored because this movie premiered on TV at 8 p.m. EST. This translates to a sex appeal which sacrifices eroticism for a bubblegum-pop interpretation of sexy — a Taylor Swift take on the movie dependent mostly on casting conventionally good looking actors. It sounds like this remake should be wholly different from the original, but it is a shot for shot, plot for plot, on the dot recreation. The end result is a horrifyingly bad movie. The number of ways this movie has found of sucking outnumbers the number of sequins on Columbia’s hat. A few of the worst parts include the added influence of country music to the songs, the bare and squeaky clean sets, the band playing onstage for every number and, of course, the actor who plays Brad. His delivery is just woefully, ineffably wrong.  “This actor,” Wagner said, “feels like he’s never gone to a screening of this show. His flat performance in the middle of a flashy musical sticks out like a sore thumb.” He is especially bad compared to Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-n-furter, who absolutely kills it. For as much as this remake lacks bite, as much as the other actors can seem uncertain, as much as Brad just blows, Laverne Cox goes all out. She basically carries the show on the back of her strong vocals and intense performance. It is just not enough. Where Laverne Cox has gusto and charisma, the other actors are hesitant, the lighting and set is too clean and the songs are too clean as well; its polish and shine is a major departure from the original. It feels as if a bunch of straight people got together and decided to shoot a remake and then added Laverne Cox as a nod to the LGBTQ+ community.   

So how could you make this movie, “RHPS: Lets Do The Time Warp Again,” better? Some ideas might be not hiring Kenny Ortega to direct, whose directing credits include High School Musical. Or what about not showing the movie at 6 p.m. mountain time? Or how about not putting a seven-piece band on screen. But Wagner has a different idea: “Don’t make the movie.”  At all?  “At all. I’ve seen some good fan tribute films over the years. A ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ remake made by a couple of schoolkids over a period of years comes to mind. This sort of tribute film, I would think, would be able to pay homage to a beloved property like the original RHPS without being beholden to the financial interests of a corporate studio or network.” But even so, Wagner has reservations.  

“‘Rocky Horror’ is just such a unique cultural piece,” she said. “It’s a microcosm of film, musical and queer culture of the ‘70s. It stands on its own and while some updates are welcome, no one is really asking to see a remake of this for the modern age. Part of the fun is that the show is so incredibly unique to the period of time in which it was made. We can acknowledge its faults, like its poor explanation of genderqueerness and sexual fluidity, but also celebrate its radical sexual freedom and celebration of being queer. The remake was made out of love for the show and for that I can’t criticize it, we put on our shadow cast production of the original every year for the same reason. However, the remake also had to make FOX some money, and so they sanitized and edited it accordingly, which undermines a lot of what made the original so unique and influential.  So while a fan film would be free of the financial compulsions of a big budget film, it would still just stand as a tribute to the original piece, as it’s the original’s unique place in history that makes it special.”  

 The odds of there being another RHPS remake are zero to none. If you are so inclined, dear reader, as to make a remake, by all means keep in mind the spirit of “Rocky” and the cultural gap between then and now. Otherwise, love yourself, avoid “RHPS: Lets Do the Time Warp Again” like the plague and come see the Prescribed Escape Productions (PEP) shadow cast perform in Warch cinema Nov. 1, 12:01 a.m. and Nov. 2, 8 p.m., and 11:59 p.m.