The Wheel and Axle

Oh, The Horror!

by on Nov.01, 2016, under Film & TV, Music & Theater, Queer

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“Horror” is perhaps indeed the most appropriate term to describe what I felt when I finally saw several clips and performances of the 2016 Fox remake of the iconic and groundbreaking musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Not a transvestite.

I was quite wary of this remake when I read about it months ago. For one thing, they cast Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and while I’m happy we’re providing our trans sisters more opportunities in Hollywood given how shabbily they’ve been treated by the industry, this is one situation where the casting completely misunderstands the material. The character is established as a transvestite, not a transwoman – and the lyrics and story clearly delineate the good doctor as a cisgender bisexual male who happens to love cross-dressing. Casting a transwoman in the role could even be viewed as being detrimental to the trans cause, as it can propagate the incorrect notion that transwomen are not women but are just gay men who cross-dress.

That being said, I was willing to give the remake a chance particularly since I have respect for the work of Ken Ortega, who had directed the fun and wonderfully cheesy High School Musical. I’d assumed he would adapt to the material when he got Rocky Horror, but this turned out to be misplaced confidence because, well, the material adapted to him. He basically made a Rocky Horror that plays somewhat like a slightly more adult High School Musical that tries to seem edgy but utterly fails – much like that little kid trying to act all grown-up.

A transvestite. A sweet tranvestite.

Let me get this clear: Rocky Horror is an erotic, rough, vulgar deviant outrage of a musical. The play and the subsequent film adaptation were released in the 70s, a time when the depiction of such wanton debauchery and decadence was still an assault on the period’s social mores. It was a true celebration of the queer: camp, weird, bizarre. It was a celebration of outcasts and of the sexual awakening of repressed people who once shunned and feared the different. The show rejected the establishment and embraced the different, the strange, the… alien.

The Ortega remake, however, is a desexualized, sanitized, and much-too-refined travesty that utterly fails to understand the very core of the material it’s supposed to be honoring.

Cox’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter looks like a fabulous and flamboyantly gorgeous creature of the light that you’d want to be gal pals with; contrast that with Tim Curry’s fabulous yet somehow grotesque creature of the night that utterly fascinates us yet at some level still makes us uncomfortable. Sweet Transvestite is supposed to be ironic, but Laverne’s depiction is practically saccharine without any of the irony that comes with the number.

The real Rocky.

Touch-A-Touch-A Touch Me is played purely for jokes, really, when it should be a combination of both the sexually humorous and the sexily serious as Janet slowly lets go of her inhibitions. Instead, in the remake, we get a Janet who seems to be making fun of the entire experience. Rocky himself prances around in some golden board shorts when the tight gold speedos of the original embody exactly what makes the “monster” so deliciously forbidden.

I cannot even go in-depth into how Time Warp was utterly destroyed with the updated instrumentation and arrangement, not to mention how the guests all looked so… normal. Well-dressed, no doubt. Gorgeously rendered, no doubt. But normal. These people aren’t outcasts; they’re the fucking establishment.

You know you have a problem when the Glee version of Rocky Horror, which also butchered the material into being more palatable for the “vulnerable kids and tweens in the primetime audience,” is significantly better than yours.

You know you have a problem when your Brad would have been a more accurate Dr. Frank-N-Furter than the one you actually cast.

It seems like they wanted Rocky Horror but could not commit to it because of conservative TV restrictions, so they played it safe.

Rocky Horror is not supposed to be safe, and the Ortega remake is nothing but safe.

Rocky Horror should be subversive horror. Take away the subversion, and all you’re left with is something absolutely horrible.

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