The last dim light of my adolescence was just extinguished with Fox Studio’s announcement that they are remaking Richard O’Brien’s classic 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a made for TV movie. Slated to be a “reimaging” of the film (whatever the fuck that means) and not a remake, the made for TV special is tentatively slated to air in fall 2015.
While remakes are nearly always poor ideas, this is a particularly terrible one. For one, it is basic common sense that bad movies should not be remade. Despite my love for the film, I have to admit that, objectively speaking, it sucks. The film has basically no plot with only the audience’s familiarity with the B-movie clichés that it references moving the narrative forward. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could salvage a decent film out of the source material, yet somehow the 1975 original worked. Roger Ebert didn’t consider the film a genuine movie so much as a “long-running social phenomenon” and he was right. The unique shadow cast culture that sprung up around the film saved it from obscurity. The Rocky Horror Picture Show would have been all but forgotten were it not for the cult phenomenon that emerged in its wake. Questionably acted with trite dialogue and cheap costuming, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the cinema’s greatest bad movies and that kind of success is simply inimitable. The film was propelled into the zeitgeist by the legions of fans who gathered in rundown art theaters for years to worship it. This is the essence of the film’s enduring popularity and this phenomenon is impossible to replicate, much less on the small screen.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show simply has no aesthetic connection to television. As a musical, it lends itself to theater while the film’s endless references to the sci-fi B-movies that birthed it lend it to the cinema. There is no such link to television. In fact, Rocky Horror shadow casts consider people who have only viewed the film on TV to be rocky virgins. As the old saying amongst Rocky fanatics goes, watching it on TV doesn’t count; that’s just wrong.
Remakes of classic films consistently fail. The 1998 remake of Psycho was an embarrassing failure, as was the recent remake of Carrie. It took years for the smirch of NBC’s 1983 Casablanca remake to be scrubbed from the film’s legacy. All of those movies are invariably tied to the cultural milieu that they arrived in. The only classic movies that work as remakes are broad action films like King Kong and Godzilla, movies that are comprised almost entirely of explosive spectacle and marketed to a distinctly undiscerning palate. All other classic movie remakes lose prestige and, of more relevance to the film’s producers, money. 40 years after its release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is still making money for Fox Studios. This is presumably why they want to remake it but a disastrous remake will inevitably compromise the film’s brand. This will harm merchandising revenues, still going strong four decades since the film’s original release, and it threatens to kill the steady trickle of revenue that comes from the continual showing of the film in cinemas. Rocky Horror is a cultural phenomenon that could potentially be destroyed by a crass remake. The studio execs blinded by Rocky dollar signs should strongly consider the real possibility of losing revenue from the film long term.
It’s understandable why the older set of producers who greenlit this project would think that it’s a good idea to remake it now. RuPaul’s Drag Race has exhibited a growing cult interest that shows no signs of slowing, Conchita Wurst’s brilliant genderfuck drag persona slayed the last Eurovision Song Contest while the LGBT community stands at an unprecedented state of visibility and acceptance. But The Rocky Horror Picture Show has only a distant, tenuous connection to this modern phenomena. The LGBT community, as it presently stands, is a highly organized, highly politicized conglomeration of respectable people, a far cry from the unrestrained libido and amoral bacchanalia of Tim Curry’s Frank N. Furter. Frank N. Furter is an anti-hero who stands only for decadence, self-indulgence and perversity. It’s a glorious spectacle but it’s also the exact antithesis of what the newly respectable LGBT community has been fighting for the last thirty years. This character is distinctly unpalatable to today’s ultra-politicized and easily offended gays. The producers of the remake claim that they want to stay as true to the source material as possible, but that’s impossible. The Rocky Horror Show episode of Glee necessitated several cuts to the source material and they still got in trouble anyways. Clearly the producers can’t stick to the source material without running afoul with the modern day LGBT community, so what’s the point? History has shown that remakes of classic films consistently fail outside their original cultural setting, the film has no aesthetic connection to television and the current cultural landscape is potentially unreceptive to the film’s source material. Upon closer review, the proposed reimaging of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is simply pointless.
Slated to appear in fall 2015 as The Rocky Horror Picture Show Event, the TV remake is likely already in development. It’s a shame that Fox Studios has decided to recklessly sully the cinema’s longest running movie, but hopefully the film’s dedicated shadow cast fan base will be resilient enough to withstand the remake. I have met some of the most fascinating freaks, geeks and nerds that I know at showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think when the TV remake drops I’ll just pop on a pair of torn fishnets and go to one of the shadow cast showings of the original film instead, remembering all of the wonderful, filthy good times that I’ve had celebrating Richard O’Brien’s transvestite alien masterpiece.