Thursday, October 30, 2014

Riske Business: Rocky Horror and The Caspers

by Adam Riske
Enter at your own risk!!

This week, Erich and I discuss the definitive cult classic, as well as performing in a Rocky Horror troupe, “eating” bananas and asking your mom what a transvestite is. All that and your Casper award winners!

Adam: My first memory of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was seeing it when I was 8 years old after my mom rented it from the video place at our local grocery store. On that initial watch, I asked her what a transvestite was. I vaguely remember you telling me once that you performed in a Rocky Horror troupe…

Erich: Yeah...I was in a couple of shows before I got weirded out. But that is technically a thing that I did when I was in high school. I needed the money.

Adam: So it was like your own personal Pretty Woman until Richard Gere saved you. Did you enjoy your experience as a cast member? What was it like? What did you think was weird about it?
Erich: It all started on a rainy night in high school. Or maybe during home room (it was nearly 20 years ago). A friend of mine who did a lot of theater asked if I wanted to be in a Rocky Horror live show. He'd been approached by some guy he knew to be in the show, but he wasn't available. I said "sure, why not" because I was a kid. They needed someone to play Rocky, and my friend was an in-shape guy, so that made sense. I was not in shape (yes..."was"), but the director decided we could play off the "fat kid in gold underwear" as a goof. Thankfully we never got to that point, because one of the girls in the cast knew a guy who was more suited to the role. I got bumped over to playing the Criminologist, although not before telling my mom I needed black fishnets and lingerie. That was a fun conversation.

The troupe rehearsed a few times before performing our first show in a small lecture room at the University of Maine. I got to put some grey goop in my hair to be an old guy, and I led a crowd in the Time Warp. It was fun and only a little creepy -- it's weird that Rocky Horror live has this broad cultural affection considering how raw and sexual the audience callbacks are. 

Everyone in the group was nice to me, but I felt like an outsider because everyone else was in college or way older and I was in high school. We performed once more, at the State Theater in Portland. It was a real show, in a real theater. I'm not sure what happened to the rest of the cast afterwards but that show was a great way to cap off a bizarre few weeks of my youth that also included the first time I had alcohol, and saw boobs in real life. Look for the full story in my upcoming memoir Behind the Toilet Paper: I Was a Teenage Criminologist.

How 'bout you, Adam? What was your first experience like on the other side of the fourth wall?
Adam: I've never performed in a Rocky Horror production, but I sure did have to participate in one. I was 23 at the time and thought it would be fun to take a girl on a first date to a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a movie theater. It was fun, for a while.

You can be asked at these screenings if you are a "Rocky Virgin" or not. If you say yes (which you don't want to do), the cast members mark a letter V on you and then you are called out before the movie to do all sorts of embarrassing things on stage.

I was brought on stage and told to take off my shirt and stand on stage in my undershirt. I did this and so did about four other guys. I was the only one with chest hair and the only one wearing a "wife beater," which made things very embarrassing. I was called a gorilla and I said "I can't help it. I'm Jewish. We have body hair." The Rocky Horror cast mocked me (“I’m JEEEEWWWWWWISSSSHHH!!!”). After that I was given a banana and instructed to perform oral sex on it. I was at a true crossroads. Standing on stage in front of hundreds of people, you want to be "game" for anything but at the same time I didn't want to blow a banana, either. I’m someone’s son after all. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If it’s your proclivity to blow bananas, have at it.

I looked out to the audience and saw my date who was yelling something I couldn't make out. It looked like she was saying "suck that dick," so (because I liked her) I did it. I was so embarrassed. I sat down and asked her if she said that and she laughed and said "No, I said don't do it."

Erich, have you ever watched the movie on your own at home? I always find it to be a much different experience to seeing it in a theater i.e. it's not as good and you realize the movie only works for the first half hour. Would you agree?

Erich: I have a weird relationship with Rocky Horror. I feel like saying I was in the live show pegs me as some kind of superfan (I'm sure they have a clever name, like "Rocky Rompers" or "Antici...................pators"). But I don't have a strong opinion about the movie. I have watched it alone, I'm sure, but I've never loved it as a standalone movie, and even watching it in a rowdy theater is interesting more for the cultural phenomenon than the actual experience. 

When I was first introduced to the movie, it was pitched as a send-up of '50s sci-fi and horror. I suppose it technically is, but mostly it just uses some of those tropes to set the stage for a slow, largely sex-free porno musical. Then again, lots of musicals are boring between the songs, and Rocky Horror has some great music, so what do I care if it's an excuse for people to cross-dress and sing rock 'n' roll show tunes?

Adam: I was taken aback on this most recent re-watch by how much it shares structurally and by way of character types with something like House of 1,000 Corpses. I’m curious if Rob Zombie used Rocky Horror as one of his influences. But before I digress, you mentioned the music. What are some of your favorite songs?

Erich: I guess it says something about how much I like the movie, but my two favorite songs have the least to do with the plot: "Science Fiction/Double Feature" and "Super Heroes." Maybe one of the reasons the first half hour is so strong is because the music is so good. I'm not crazy about "Dammit Janet," but I dig the run from "Over at the Frankenstein Place" through "Sweet Transvestite," even if listening to "Time Warp" is a little tough these days. It's a catchy tune, but it just makes me think of teeny boppers (still a thing?) asking someone's grumpy dad to drive them to their first Rocky Horror live show.

I'm lukewarm on the music in the middle section of the film. I don't much care for "I Can Make You a Man" or Meatloaf's "Hot Patootie," and while "Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me" works on me in ways I'm not comfortable discussing publicly, it doesn't do much for me otherwise. Things pick up again at the end with the big musical number "Rose Tint My World" and "I'm Going Home." My favorite bit of that section is when Riff Raff and Magenta burst into the theater waving dildo laser guns. So in summary, I like Richard O'Brien and Tim Curry's singing, and Susan Sarandon for bra-related reasons.

Adam: Do you have a favorite bit of audience interaction at the Rocky Horror screenings? My favorite is when someone puts a broom up the butt chin of the Criminologist. It's comedy gold.

Erich: I was having a tough time remembering any of the callbacks, so I got the DVD from the library and put it on with the audience participation track, and holy CRAP is that annoying! I was going to say I mostly remembered the dirty lines, but they're ALL dirty lines. What's wrong with you people!?!

All to say:, the toilet paper, I guess?
Adam: Yeah that participation track is the worst. I tried watching the movie with that and I made it maybe 10 minutes...

Erich: What is it about Rocky Horror that makes it October-worthy, anyway? It's not scary. Besides a little lightning and a loose connection to Frankenstein and his well-hung monster, this is more of a sci-fi parody than anything. Is the mere fact that it's shown at midnight and people dress up to see it enough to grandfather it into Scary Movie Month?

Adam: Probably because it has Horror in the title and because it gives people another excuse to play dress up like it's Halloween. I think it is more appropriate to Halloween than Scary Movie Month, if that makes sense.

Have you seen the sequel Shock Treatment? I have not but I hear it's not very good.

Erich: "And that's what Halloween is all about, Charlie Brown." -- Adam "Linus" Riske

The dress up aspect (or dress DOWN, if you get my meaning) ties in with Halloween, for sure. It's like they made a movie entirely out of the "sexy" department at the transient mall costume shop—Sexy Fifties Couple, Sexy Scientist, Sexy Butler, Sexy Corpse, Sexy Criminologist (the way I played him, anyway).

Adam: Full disclosure. I have a crush on Columbia and Susan Sarandon of course. And Columbiana.

Erich: I've never seen Shock Treatment. The closest I came was reading the summary on Wikipedia and it sounded like a mess. From what I remember, Brad and Janet are unhappily married, which seems like the Rocky Horror equivalent of killing your final girl in the opening minutes of a sequel. Not having seen the movie, it seems like the best thing about it is that it avoided the baggage of manic fandom.

I have to imagine the audience participation / fan club stuff is a double-edged sword for O'Brien and the people who made Rocky Horror. Sure, it took a small movie to cult stardom, but at what cost? The movie can never just be the movie again. It's genetically bound to the people who throw on fishnets and yell in unison at the screen, like the Brundlefly only more terrifying. Like if entitled Star Wars fans also talked back to Darth Vader and called Princess Leia a "slut." Now THAT'S scary.

Adam: I would pay good money to see that Star Wars screening.

The Casper Awards
Thank you all for voting! Without further ado, here are your winners!

Best Supporting Actress: Katee Sackhoff, Oculus
Best Supporting Actor: Gene Jones, The Sacrament
Best Actress: Alexia Rasmussen, Proxy
Best Actor: Dan Stevens, The Guest
Best Director: Jim Mickle, We Are What We Are
Best Movie: We Are What We Are


  1. I like the audience participation part where the narrator says something like "this was to be"
    audience: "was it a picnic?"
    narrator "no picnic"
    audience :awww"

    its dumb, but its made me chuckle the two times ive gone to a midnight showing.

  2. It's truly unfair that a lip-reading of "Don't do it!" so closely resembles "Suck that dick!" - how many horrible misunderstandings has that caused?!

    I caught some of The Rocky Horror Picture Show after a night of trick 'r treating when I was like 10 and was so WTF'ed by it, I never went back! Enjoyed reading your guys' thoughts about it so much I might give it another shot. Also, why is Susan Sarandon so goddamn hot? A question for the ages...

    I totally spaced on voting for The Casper Awards but to be honest it was probably better that I abstained because I managed to see so few of the nominees that I would have been voting for things by default - I'll definitely check out the winners ASAP - it would seem that We Are What We Are is a must watch!