Going to Church with the Rocky Horror Picture Show

It’s October, Halloween is quickly approaching, and though I love costume parties and free candy, my favourite way to celebrate October 31 may be a little unconventional.

Every year on Halloween, my friends and I transform into our favourite characters from the 1975 cult classic, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and head to a midnight screening of the film. Donned in fishnets and heavy amounts of eyeliner, we pay a visit to a local theatre for a ‘shadow cast’ performance of the film, a long-standing tradition that exists in many big cities around the world.

If you’re not familiar with Rocky Horror, it’s a musical science fiction film, with elements of horror, that follows the seemingly ordinary midwestern couple, Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), who get lost on a road trip and find themselves in the home of Dr. Frank N Furter (Tim Curry), a scientist from Transsexual, Transylvania. Brad and Janet witness many strange events during their stay at the manor, including the creation of life and their own exploration of sexual fluidity, which is all strung together by several catchy musical numbers.

When Rocky Horror was originally screened in cinemas in 1975, it was actually seen as a box office “flop.” In order to draw more attention to the film, producers decided to host a midnight screening in New York City. Theatres around the US started to follow suit, and soon after, several rituals were developed involving call-backs and props, traditions that still exist at these screenings today. The screenings, much like in their early days, encourage people to come in costume and to interact with the film through the use of props.

Rocky Horror’s cult status is a large part of what makes it so endearing. Though its audience is niche, they are passionate. The attendees of these Rocky Horror midnight screenings are made from people of all ages who find themselves drawn to the bizarre group of outcasts on screen. Specifically, a lot of queer and trans people tend to identify with the film and its characters. This is likely because Rocky Horror celebrates eccentricity and self-expression. Rocky Horror midnight screenings are a place where anything goes. These characters are an outlet for many fans to experiment with makeup, fashion, and performance, and many of the fans and members of the shadow cast even gender-bend roles.

This celebration of self-expression is what keeps me coming back every year. As a queer person, I have spent much of my life seeking community in places where it can be hard to feel like I belong. The first time I went to a Rocky Horror shadow cast screening, I immediately felt that sense of belonging. The people that filled the theatre were strangers to me, but we were united by a common love for the “Time Warp” and seeing Tim Curry in heels. Going to Rocky Horror felt like going to church. There were hymns (musical numbers), there were call-backs (yelling “Slut!” whenever Susan Surandon appears on screen), and there was a whole group of individuals celebrating something that made us feel connected.

If you’ve never been to one of these screenings, I highly suggest you check for a local shadow cast in your own town and get to one this Halloween. But many of these theatres and shadow cast troops have screenings throughout the year, and you could also attend one of these where the audience is even more niche and passionate about Rocky Horror.

My days of trick or treating are over, but there’s no place I’d rather be this Halloween than the Holy Church of Dr. Frank N Furter, singing along to “Sweet Transvestite” with a room full of weirdos.