I found the original 1975 movie for Rocky Horror Picture Show while I was still in high school, and though, I’ll admit, I didn’t take to it immediately (it is, after all, a weird movie, even by today’s standards), it very quickly became one of my all-time favourites.
To this day, it’s probably the only movie I’ve ever seen with an all-bisexual cast of characters, and it was the first movie I ever saw that emphasized the message that bisexuality was totally okay! Boys, girls, it doesn’t matter who you like – as long as it makes you happy. And while it didn’t always have the most accurate or even the most positive representation of what it was like to be bisexual (I’m still waiting for someone to give me a castle to strut around in wearing high heels and red lipstick), it more than made up for that by simply being fun.
But I don’t think I need to go into what makes the original Rocky Horror Picture Show so great – we all know it’s great. It’s become an iconic film – even today, it’s impossible to see an image of red lips against a black background without thinking of it.
So instead, let’s focus on something else: let’s focus on the 2016 remake of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
From the moment I first heard of it, I was hesitant, and the news that trickled down to me about it didn’t make me any more excited. There were a lot of casting choices I disagreed with (more on that later), and some of the decisions that they seemed to be going with really seemed to misunderstand the entire point of the first film. There was even a period of time where I had decided not to watch the remake at all.
But I did. I mustered up the self-loathing enough to find the film and watch it in its entirety.
And, to be honest, there were a couple of parts of it that I found myself enjoying. The movie threw in a couple of jokes that I found myself chuckling at (“we’re not having meatloaf again”), and there was the occasional moment that made me smile.
But overall, the film met my expectations entirely – and my expectations were pretty goddamn low. So, without further ado, let’s talk about this travesty – all the things wrong with the 2016 reboot of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
1. The Cast
Just… just the whole cast…
There were times when I found it difficult to understand what it was about their acting that I hated so much. I mean, they were overacting, but of course they were. Everyone in the first movie overacted too, and it was completely fine there. It was fun, even – I love the performances from the original film. So what was wrong with these performances?
And then, it hit me:
You know when you’re watching a movie, and the characters in the movie decide to do a parody of bad acting? When they’re in a play or something like that, and their fake-acting is so bad that you’ve never actually seen it in a movie?
This was a whole film of that.
There wasn’t a moment in the movie where I wasn’t acutely aware that everyone was acting. It just sort of felt forced – the way the whole movie did, really. It wasn’t Rocky Horror Picture Show, it was paint-by-number. Say the words and do the scene necessary to make this an adequate remake and then move on. No passion, no fun, just hollow recitation of lines, with a vague attempt to copy the delivery of the original actors.
The only possible exception to this would be Ryan McCartan, who played Brad Majors. I feel compelled to except him because there were a couple of scenes where he actually made me smile, and I feel like he was genuinely enjoying his performance, which is more than I can say for the rest of the cast.
2. Laverne Cox
I do feel bad calling out Laverne Cox specifically, especially when I just called out the entire cast for delivering an uninspired performance, but Laverne Cox in particular frustrated me.
And it wasn’t that she was bad in the role – she was, but I could have forgiven that. It was the fact that she was cast at all.
This is actually what made me not want to watch the movie before it came out, to be honest. Because, look, I understand that, in real life, Laverne Cox is a transgender woman, and the gender of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the first film was questionable at best. But I think that Dr. Frank-N-Furter needs to be represented by a male actor – primarily because his male-ness in the first film does overpower his female-ness. He may wear women’s clothing and full make-up, but his being a man in all of this contributes to the message of the story. It opens up questions about sexuality and gender, and as a woman, Laverne Cox is completely incapable of doing that.
Think about it, honestly: if Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a woman, how many homosexual relationships do we see represented in the film? We have Frank/Janet and Frank/Columbia, both of which are afterthoughts at best. Instead of watching a man dress in women’s clothing jumping from relationship to relationship, we instead get to watch a woman dressed in women’s clothing sleep with a whole ton of guys and then maybe flirt with the occasional girl.
And I know, I know, in real life, Laverne Cox is a transgender woman, but you’re missing the point: that’s only in real life. In the reality of the film, I see no evidence besides the fact that she sings “Sweet Transvestite” that she is anything more than a cis-gendered woman who just happens to like sex – and even “Sweet Transvestite”, as we learn later in the movie, is actually about her being an alien.
Upon watching the movie, a part of me did, admittedly, hope that her performance as Dr. Frank-N-Furter would make me forget the mistake of her casting – that she would just be so good at it that I wouldn’t even think of her as out of place. But, to be honest, it only made me more upset. Because she just didn’t suit the role. Laverne Cox lacks the ferocity of Tim Curry. She was just too sweet, a little bit too passive. She wasn’t cast because she was the best choice for the role, I soon realized – she was cast because Fox was uncomfortable putting a man in that role, but didn’t want to face the controversy they would find if they put just any old cis-gendered woman in there. They needed someone else, someone for whom a decent argument could be made stating that she actually did belong there.
Overall, the only word that I can think to properly describe Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter is simply heteronormative. It’s an excuse to take the homosexuality out of the film, to be able to watch a woman flirt with men because it made you uncomfortable to see a man in her position. It’s about making sure that, even if she doesn’t fit into your cis-gendered definition, at least she’s still upholding gender roles as we know them, crossing as few boundaries as possible.
I’m sorry, Laverne Cox. You deserved better.
3. Child-Friendly Representations of Sex and Violence
How to say this without sounding like a creepy pervert…
There needed to be more sex!
In all honesty, there needed to be more discomfort in general. I still remember watching the 1975 version for the first time and feeling genuinely uncomfortable. Granted, I was fourteen at the time, but still. It wasn’t porn or anything like that, but it didn’t shy away from certain subjects either.
But in this version, the scene where Rocky is hovering over Janet while she is clearly enjoying something that he’s doing is replaced with Rocky and Janet giggling and jumping on the bed together.
The scene where Frank pulls Janet’s legs around his waist (and then does the same to Brad later) is replaced with Laverne Cox slapping Victoria Justice’s ass.
And the scene where Frank pulls the tablecloth to reveal Eddy’s ravaged corpse is replaced with Laverne Cox pulling the tablecloth to reveal… Adam Lambert with a funny look on his face.
The sex and violence was an important part of the first film, helping to establish the overall mood of it. Cutting all that out just makes it feel… less Rocky Horror Picture Show.
4. The Audience
This is more of a nit-pick here, but the fact that they kept cutting to an audience that was watching the film bugged me. I know, I know, it was supposed to capture the feel of the original Midnight Screenings, but it didn’t. It just distracted from what was going on.
5. The Fact That It Exists At All
Okay, so that subtitle might be a bit harsh, but let me explain.
This complaint came to me during the opening song – “Science Fiction Double Feature”, which, in this version, is not sung by a pair of dismembered singing lips, but by an Ivy Levan who was either told to never stop moving by the director, or she really needed to pee. The whole time that I’m watching this scene, all I can think is, “why would they change this? The original scene was iconic. Why give us this instead?”
To which, the part of me that still wanted to enjoy this film said, “well, they couldn’t very well just redo every single scene exactly as it was. Some changes need to be made to make it original.”
“But it isn’t an improvement, so then why do it? Why bother making these changes if you can’t make it better?”
That thought then remained with me throughout the entire film. And I know that that’s often an issue with remakes of good movies, but it is a real problem when that thought occurs to the viewer first thing and then sticks with them.
I honestly cannot think of one change they made that I liked better than the original.
Not Dr. Frank-N-Furter as a woman.
Not Columbia coming from being a bubbly, perky personality to seeming like she really needed a nap.
Even the jokes that made me laugh weren’t entirely necessary. My life was just fine before I heard them.
I mean, I suppose there was more racial diversity in this film than in the original. That’s one improvement.
Overall, I’m just left with the impression that nobody who made this film understood the original at all. And not only that, but they didn’t care to understand it. There was no passion or heart in it, like there was in the first one – there was just a quick attempt to make a movie that people would watch so that they might make a little bit of money out of it, without having to do anything that made them uncomfortable. And that’s not what Rocky Horror Picture Show should be about. If anything, this film should have been more edgy than the original, not less. Rocky Horror Picture Show is about refusing to accept boundaries. It’s about coming to terms with who you really are, not who others tell you you should be. It’s about finding your own personal happiness, whatever that may mean. And I most certainly did not get any of that out of this film.