Overview

Welcome to the The Rocky Horror Phenomenon, a documentary about the show, the movie, the music, the stars, the creators and, of course, the fans worldwide. Everything Rocky Horror … in one insane documentary.

Unlike other documentaries, our focus is not just the fans and casts from all over the world, but also the whole story, from 1970s London through today. We have done some 60 interviews to date, including rare interviews with cast and crew who haven’t told their stories before, gathered from the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Germany and Australia, with a final shooting trip to New York planned for spring of 2020.

Among those we’ve interviewed so far are Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Barry Bostwick, the director of both the stage show and the movie, Jim Sharman, Jeremy Newson (Ralph Hapschatt), Rayner Bourton (the original Rocky from the play), and the Transylvanians Chris Biggins, Annabel Leventon, Gaye Brown, and the late Lindsay Ingram. We’ve also talked to costume designer Sue Blane, composer Richard Hartley, make-up artist Peter Robb-King, producers Michael White and Lou Adler, DoP Peter Suschitzky and many more from the film’s and the show’s original technical and creative crew.

For Australian talent Nell Campbell the character of „Columbia“ was invented and added to the script during rehearsal. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

The story is spiced up with clips from die-hard fans, actors from recent revivals of the play and the 2016 TV remake; plus rare photos, documents, video clippings, and merchandise from behind the scenes and all over the world. Our primary goal is to explore why „Rocky Horror“ is such a worldwide phenomenon, and how it survived and evolved for almost five decades. In the works since 2014, the film will have feature length, and we hope to get it chopped, chilled and served by the end of 2020.

So, if you get the impression that this will be the definitive documentary about „Rocky Horror“ … we sure hope you’re right!

For further questions or inquiries, drop us a line. Feel free to share this site – we do appreciate any support.

Barry Bostwick, Actor „Brad Majors“, during our interview at his home in the Agoura Hills, California. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)
Lady Patricia Quinn, who played „Magenta“ in both the original stage play in London and in the movie. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

The Story

Not too many people know about the complete history of „Rocky Horror“, despite the movie and the show being around for almost five decades. Its longevity let to an unprecedented and unforeseeable impact on phenomena like punk, the 70s pop culture, on artists like David Bowie, Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan, musical theatre in general, and finally the social environment and the emerging sub-culture which arose around the cult of the movie in the United States, and later in Australia, Europe, Asia and even some African countries like Tanzania and the Republic of South Africa.

Even though „Rocky Horror“ is often belittled as „camp“ and „queer“, the piece did not only have an impact on the LGBTQ+ community but on all major and minor groups of the population, primarily on juvenile viewers in their teens and twenties. It’s often said that the story of „Rocky Horror“ and the evolvement of its characters resemble a ride of passage from innocent youth to adulthood.

Based loosely on schlocky 50s and 60s Science Fiction movies, the concept of a stage play called „They came from Denton High“ was written in 1973 by out-of-work actor Richard O’Brien in London. After presenting the script and some rather rough parts of the music, Australian director Jim Sharman agreed to direct the play in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, a notorious venue for alternative and progressive artistic stage work.

Under the roof of the The Royal Court, the Theatre Upstairs was located, where Rocky Horror had it’s premiere on June 19th 1973. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

Soon a creative team was formed, consisting of young costume designer Sue Blane, Australian set designer Brian Thomson and musical director Richard Hartley. Also, a cast was fairly quickly assembled, to become a game-changer for most of the actors (who also played their characters later in the movie), like Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn, and Australian talent Nell Campbell. The cast also included actor Raynor Burton („Rocky“), singer Julie Covington („Janet“) and Christopher Malcolm as „Brad Majors“, who later took over the direction of the show and also played the rebel and X-Fighter pilot Zev Senesca in „Star Wars V – The Empire Strikes Back“.

Australian director Jim Sharman was commissioned to direct the play at the Upstairs, and later also to direct the movie. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

With a limited production budget of only 2.000 pounds, provided by producer and impresario Michael White, the Rocky Horror Show premiered on June 19 1973 in the Theatre Upstairs on Sloane Square for an audience of only 63 people. But the success was massive! Within days Rocky Horror became the hottest show in town, and everybody wanted to see it. Even well-known celebrities were turned down at the door due to a sold-out house and no hot tickets left. Unfortunately, the Royal Court Upstairs had commissioned the play for only three weeks, so it moved on to another venue down the King’s Road, an old cinema which was destined to be dismantled soon. It was here that U.S. producer Lou Adler became aware of the piece and secured the rights from the English Stage Company for the U.S. market.

Patricia Quinn („Magenta“) and Nell Campbell („Columbia“) during a performance of „The Rocky Horror Show“ in the Theatre Upstairs, 1973 (Photo: unknown)

Meanwhile, director Jim Sharman took „The Rocky Horror Show“ to Sydney, Australia, and cast actor Reg Livermore as the new „Frank N. Furter“. To this day Reg is the only actor in the leading role who hasn’t seen Tim Curry’s performance before going on stage, and thus had his very own, much wittier and darker interpretation of the character. Though the play wasn’t an instant success in Sydney, like it was in London, word of mouth had it that the „The Rocky Horror Show“ became successful within the first weeks and continued for several years in Australia. While Reg Livermore left the production after only eight months (he was later succeeded by Max Phipps, best known for his work as „The Toadie“ in „Mad Max 2“), the production in Australia continued until 1979.

Though Reg Livermore played „Frank N. Furter“ after Tim Curry did, Reg never got to see Tim’s performance, which makes him and his interpretation of the character unique. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

Also in 1974, Lou Adler brought The Rocky Horror Show to Los Angeles, to his own venue called „The Roxy“, a nightclub/varieté theatre on Sunset Boulevard. Taking Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter with him, and, for the first time, introducing Meatloaf as the character of Eddie, the show became a success in L.A., where it ran for nine months continuously. Being so successful in both London and Los Angeles, the plan was made to get the Rocky Horror Show down to Broadway, New York, and to make a movie.

Due to some unfortunate marketing- and communication decisions made by the producers, the show, which premiered at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway, was ceased after only 43 performances and was the first big failure in its short but intense history.   

Lou Adler obtained the rights for the U.S. market, brought the play to Los Angeles and convinced 20th Century Fox to produce a movie. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)
Tim Curry and Lou Adler during rehearsal for the show on Broadway, New York City, which failed miserably after only 43 performances. (Photo: unknown)

Meanwhile, the production of the movie „The Rocky Horror Picture Show“ took place at the old Hammer Horror Studios at Bray, an hour outside of London. While set designer Brian Thomson was looking for an outside location, he became aware of a rather deteriorated, ramshackle mansion only a few hundred yards away from Bray, called Oakley Court. Though the floorboards were rotten and the rooftop leaked rain, director Jim Sharman and Brian Thomson decided to film certain scenes of the movie in the mansion, which was used earlier for various Dracula and Hammer Horror flicks as well.

An old mansion, the Oakley Court, was used as film set. It’s now a luxury hotel located at the banks of river Thames. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

Besides Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Richard O’Brien and Meatloaf, who had played their designated characters on stage before, the film introduced American sweethearts Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick in the role of Brad and Janet. For both young actors „The Rocky Horror Picture Show“ became one of their first feature films, and certainly one of the most iconic roles. Another big introduction of the movie were the „Transylvanians“, a group of illustrious people of all shapes and sizes, dressed in ridiculously colorful clothes, dancing the Time Warp and witnessing the birth of Frank N. Furter’s very own creature „Rocky“ (played in the movie by model/actor Peter Hinwood).

It’s surely worthwhile to take a closer look at the Transylvanians, as these actors were not only extras but stars in their own rights. Actress Gaye Brown, for example, had played the role of „Sophisto“ in Stanley Kubrick „A Clockwork Orange“ in 1971, whilst Stephen Calcutt became the stand-in for Darth Vader in all of the first three Star Wars movies.

Actress Gaye Brown played one of the Transylvanians. She was earlier seen in Stanley Kubrick’s iconic movie „A Clockwork Orange“. (Photo: ©Tilo Burmeister)

Besides the very successful career of Susan Sarandon, who later won an Academy Award for her interpretation of Sister Helen Prejean in „Dead Man Walking“, the various roles of Tim Curry and the undisputed stardom of Meatloaf during the 1980s and 1990s, „The Rocky Horror Picture Show“ helped launching a lot of less obvious but nonetheless successful careers of different cast- and crew members. The second Academy Award for a person directly involved in the production of „The Rocky Horror Picture Show“ went to Alan Ladd, Jr., by the time head of marketing of 20th Century Fox, who later formed his own production, called „The Ladd Company“, producing legendary Science-Fiction classic „Blade Runner“ and later became the Oscar-winning producer for the movie „Braveheart“.

By the time the movie came out, Alan Ladd, Jr. was Head of Marketing of 20th Century Fox. He later produced „Star Wars“ and „Blade Runner“, and won an Academy Award for „Braveheart“. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

Other well-known members of the film crew of Rocky Horror are director of photography Peter Suschitzky, who became David Cronenberg’s DoP of choice and is credited with movie classics like „Star Wars V – The Empire Strikes Back“, „Mars Attacks“ and „Eastern Promises“, and make-up artist Peter Robb-King, who worked on films like „Aliens“, „Batman Returns“ and the „Matrix“-Trilogy, and is best known for his artistic work on Darth Vader’s head and face in „Star Wars VI – Return of the Jedi“ (apparently after Vader took his helmet off).

Peter Suschitzky was the man behind the camera. He later shot movies like „Mars Attacks“, „The Empire strikes back“ and „Easter Promises“. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

Though the stage play was a huge success in both London and Los Angeles, the film flopped at the box offices in both the UK and the U.S. during the opening weekend and was quickly pulled off the regular cinemas. Not even 20th Century Fox had any confidence in the success of the movie and was not willing to spend any money at all on the marketing of the movie. Until a young marketing executive named Tim Deegan took matters in his own hands and decided to distribute the flick into the so-called „midnight screenings“ on campuses and in smaller village theatres.

It was in one of those cinemas, the Waverly in New York City, that a crowd of people picked up the movie and came back to see it week after week. Similar things happen in Texas, San Diego and Los Angeles, and „The Rocky Horror Picture Show“ slowly became a sub-cultural phenomenon. People started to dress up as the characters, shouted wicked things back to the actors on screen, and threw rice, toast and hot dogs throughout the theatre. The „Audience Participation“ was born, headed by the new fan club’s president Sal Piro, and attended by well-known fans like Dori Hartley, who is credited to be the first person in full „Frank N. Furter“ dress and make-up.

Sal Piro (left), president of the first fan club, during his 1,000th screening of the movie, accompanied by writer Richard O’Brien. (Photo: ©Lillias Piro)

But the audience participation did not stop at this point. As people started to run up on stage and perform together with their idols on screen, the so-called „Shadow Casting“ was born. Whilst the first performances only lasted for one song or a single scene, it quickly became a show-within-a-show, when fans started to perform during the whole length of the movie. And with the success of the movie „Fame“, which featured the New York fans and their performance of „Time Warp“, shadow casting and „The Rocky Horror Picture Show“ became a phenomenon all across the United States and later Europe and Asia. 

Jennifer DiMatteo is part of the New York City shadowcast. This photos was taken during her visit to London, in front of Oakley Court. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

But the story of this undisputed and unprecedented success of „Rocky Horror“ does not end here. From the late 1970s through the 1980s, not only the film began to spread across the whole world, but also the stage play became more and more popular, as various productions started to tour all throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia. In New Zealand, the show helped to launch the career of Academy Award winner Russell Crowe, who’s first professional stage job was to play „Eddie“ in a late 1980s production. Also, Michael Stipe, singer and creative head of rock back R.E.M. was often seen attending the midnight showings of „The Rocky Horror Picture Show“ in full make-up and costume.

Because parts of the creative team had a fall-out in the late 1990s, the rights for the show and the movie were separated into different companies, and the stage show was rewritten to match the sequence of the movie, introducing the Transylvanians onto the stage, and getting rid of the original designs by Brian Thomson. Also, the demand arose to fill bigger halls and theatre palaces, though the Rocky Horror Show was originally designed for a small theatre.

Kristian Lavercombe played the role of Riff Raff more often than any other person, and still continues to perform in recent productions. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

And while the stage show is being performed in bigger and bigger theatres in front of thousands of people, the shadow cast community still does not cease to exist, but keeps attracting a young fanbase who finds their friends and as social community within the casts.

Cards 4 Sorrow is the Shadow Cast of Brisbane, Australia, and performs their show frequently. (Photo: ©Gordon Volk)

Synopsis

The main goal of the documentary „The Rocky Horror Phenomenon“ is to answer two questions: Why of all films and plays is „Rocky Horror“ such a phenomenon, and how has it changed the lives of the people involved as cast and crew or as fans.

Production

The production of „The Rocky Horror Phenomenon“ started in late 2014 with the research and some early interviews in London, and has taken place on three continents, in five countries and dozens of cities. The principal shooting will be finished in May/June of 2020 with an expected date of release by end of 2020.

Distribution

A distribution deal has not been signed yet.

Festivals

A preliminary version (with a duration of 37 minutes) has been screened during the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in 2016 and on „Science Fiction Double Feature“ event from the British Film Institute BFI in London, also in 2016.

Full Professional Cast

Abineri, Daniel (Actor „Frank N. Furter“, Director)
Ackland-Snow, Terry (Art Director)
Adler, Lou (Producer US)
Ashford, Annaleigh (Actress „Columbia“, 2016 TV-Remake)
Bagnall, Rob (Author „Still the Beast is feeding“)
Barden, Phil (Author „Still the Beast is feeding“)
Biggins, Christopher (Actor „Transylvanian“)
Blane, Sue (Costume Designer Stage Play and Movie)
Bostwick, Barry (Actor „Brad Majors“)
Bourton, Rayner (Actor „Rocky“)
Brown, Gaye (Actress „Transylvanian“)
Campbell, Nell (Actress „Columbia“)
Cruickshank, Harriet (Director „Royal Court Upstairs“)
Du Mont, Sky (Actor „Narrator/Criminologist“)
Elkner, Maureen (Actress „Columbia“)
Fox, Celestia (Casting Director Movie)
Fox, Robert (Assistant of Michael White)
Freeman, Stephanie (President UK Fanclub „Timewarp“)
Hartley, Richard (Musical Director Stage Play and Movie)
Hobbs, Lyndall (Writer and Director, Girlfriend of Michael White)
Ingram, Lindsay (Actress „Transylvanian“)
Jenckinson, Gerry (Light Designer Royal Court Upstairs)
Johnstone, Paul (Actor „Eddie/Dr. Scott“)
Ladd, Alan (Head of Marketing/CEO 20th Century Fox)
Lavercombe, Kristian (Actor „Riff Raff“)
Leventon, Annabel (Actress „Transylvanian“)
Linnit, Michael (Agent of Jim Sharman, Richard O’Brien and Tim Curry)
Livermore, Reg (Actor „Frank N. Furter“)
Logan, Andrew (Artist and Sculputor)
Luscombe, Christopher (Director Stage Show)
Michaels, Scott (Author „From Concept to Cult“)
Mierendorf, Tetje (Actor „Eddie/Dr. Scott“)
Newson, Jeremy (Actor „Ralph Hapschatt“)
O’Hagan, Paddy (Actor „Eddie/Dr. Scott“)
Otto, Gracie (Director „Michael White – The last Impresario“)
Quinn, Patricia (Actress „Magenta“)
Robb-King, Peter (Make-up Designer)
Sharar, Sal (Actor „Riff Raff“)
Sharman, Jim (Director Original Stage Show and Movie)
Short, Kevin (Director and Original Punk)
Suschitzky, Peter (Director of Photography)
Tushaw, Gary (Actor „Frank N. Furter“)
White, Michael (Producer UK)
White, Trevor (Singer and Voice of „Rocky“)