‘More than a film’: Community culture keeps Rocky Horror Picture Show alive 40 years later

Savana Dunning

Students lined up in front of the Student Activity Center auditorium, some clad in fishnets and corsets, to receive a bag of assorted props before the movie started. When it began, the room erupted with call out jokes, the buzz of party blowers and dancing.

“I remember being so captivated by it and so absolutely in awe,” psychology freshman Michael Williams said. “It’s so much more than a film, it’s an experience.” 

Every year around Halloween, UT Creative Arts and Theatre and Campus Entertainment and Events’ Showtime hold a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, a campy science-fiction horror-comedy musical from 1975, which features live performers acting along with the movie and interaction with the film through call outs, props and dances. 

Theatre studies junior Amena Masswi directed the shadowcast for this year’s UT Rocky Horror screening, which was held Wednesday evening. Masswi said the production always garners a full house. 

“It’s one of our most attended shows because so many people are familiar with it and love it,” Masswi said. “Even if you’re not a moviegoer or a theater person, it’s still a fun thing to do.”

This interactive screening experience is a tradition dating back to the film’s first release. Originally a parody of sci-fi horror films, Rocky Horror gained a cult following of fans who created rituals and gags to perform during the movie, such as throwing cards, dancing to the famous song “The Time Warp” and shadowcasting the film.

Radio-television-film professor Suzanne Scott, an expert on fan communities, said the participatory screenings became popular because the rituals were easy to follow and created a sense of community.

“The community and the community practices are still so robust and enjoyable for people,” Scott said. “A lot of the traditions and call back motifs that people see at Rocky Horror Picture Show are things people can very easily pick up in the moment.”

Forty years later, theaters across America still show the film every week. Popular culture has also re-introduced a new generation of high school and college students to the film and its fan rituals through shows and movies such as “Glee” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

“A lot of it just has to do with the age of college students,” Scott said. “It’s that age where you’re just starting to figure out who you are, and that movie is so much about figuring out who you are in particular ways that I think there’s something generational there.”

Williams, the shadowcast of the main character Dr. Frank-N-Furter, said he has been going to Rocky Horror screenings since his freshman year of high school. He said for students like him, the community and culture surrounding the film is what has made it remain relevant to
students today. 

“Absolutely nothing else has been able to recreate the feeling that you get when you go to any of these showings,” Williams said. “It really has become a rite of passage for myself and countless others. There’s such a bond in the room. In that moment, you’re all here, you’re all part of the same group, you’re all here for one reason and that’s to see this production.”