This is going to be a little different. I do not wish to address these separately. Rather, an interesting phenomenon has occurred between these two films that is far more interesting than a simple review. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been playing in theaters for, oh, 34 years now. It is the yard stick that all cult films are measured by. It also presents a problematic case. The film is firmly set with values from the 1970s and is quickly becoming a nostalgia act rather than the height of fashion it once was. Then, last year, Repo! The Genetic Opera was released in theaters…in a very similar manner to The Rocky Horror Picture Show…that is, barely at all. But fan support has kept it in theaters long past its run and many groups have started performing Rocky Horror style shows in the theater. Will Repo end Rocky Horror’s long reign? I have no idea. But what I can determine is which is the better film. It is a simple method of looking at their similar traits and seeing which film does it better. Oh, please be advised: this is just my opinion. I do not want Transylvanian Transsexuals or Scalpel Sluts to become offended by the outcome. I do enjoy both films…they succeeded in exactly what they set out to do. If you enjoy one more than the other, power to you! So, let’s begin with what makes both films unique: the music
OK, for sheer volume, Repo! wins this. I believe that it currently holds the world record for most music composed for a film. The official soundtrack has thirty odd songs present. But there is something more. Repo! actually uses its music in the way musicals should. The songs of Repo reveal the character’s inner thoughts and turmoil. They also help advance the plot and provide valuable information as to what is going on. Maybe this is because the film was an opera and the filmmakers had no choice.
But look at the music in Rocky Horror. Most of it is about spectacle rather than plot. Yes, “The Time Warp” is a fun song, but what is the point? No information about the characters are revealed. Nothing important about the nature of the guests is revealed. The main characters, and the audience, gain nothing. Same with “Hot Patootie,” the song Meat Loaf sings. Nothing is gained, aside from a reveal about his affair with Columbia. Honestly, when the best song is “Toucha, Toucha, Toucha, Touch Me” the film should know it is in trouble. It is the best because that is the only time a character really uses the music to express their desires. “The Floor Show” does this too, before devolving into a sort of camp spectacle. That was the question, time and time again, that came back to me. What is the point?
Also, Repo! explores a variety of different styles, from punk to industrial to a sort of new wave. Rocky Horror seems stuck in the same seventies glam rock cycle. It does appear to want to break free, but just can’t. I was waiting for Rocky Horror to cut loose. And I kept on waiting. It never did.
Point to Repo!
Again, Rocky Horror stumbles out of the gate in this regard. There is no plot to be had. At least, the one that is presented is completely incoherent and may as well not exist. It has something to do with a cross dressing mad scientist creating the perfect being that he can sodomize. He’s really an alien (because why not?) and is being monitored by other aliens. Two complete geeks get caught up in the experiments, discover the joys of fishnets and seventies psychedelia, and…here is the part where I give up. And I have yet to determine what exactly Rocky Horror is attempting to satirize anyway. I guess its trying to combine old thirties horror with the David Bowie wannabes of the 1970s. But even then it’s a stretch; no points are scored against them. Maybe it’s a satire against the returning conservative ideology trying to regain control from the liberals, to whom sexual experimentation was still all the rage. That seems closer….the 1950s relics Brad and Janet are utterly destroyed. And their destruction is definitely funny. But Rocky Horror is just all over the place. It takes multiple viewings to even determine what is going on.
Repo! The Genetic Opera doesn’t have that problem. In fact, one could say it has “too much” plot. They really wanted to emphasize certain things which leads them to repeat key plot points multiple times. This was especially jarring in the comic book segments. The film had already told us this…why go back and do it again? But this is a minor complaint. Frankly, the plot of Repo! is a much better reflection on modern society. We have become obsessed with physical perfection to the point that even what’s on the inside has become a standard of beauty. It comments on the current obsession with “torture porn” the new subgenre of gory horror. It comments on media obsession with celebrities. It’s plot and satire is simply more focused than Rocky Horror.
Again, point to Repo!
Here is where Rocky Horror shines ahead of Repo!. Dr. Frank N Furter is a much funnier, lighter, freer character than any presented in Repo! Frank frequently addresses the audience, as though he was aware the tongue was firmly in the cheek. He has the greatest lines in the film (“Even smiling makes my face ache.”) He has long been the standout of Rocky Horror to the point where even other Transylvanians become foils to him as much as Brad and Janet. He wants nothing more than to live his life as Fay Wray. That’s….a noble goal I suppose. Certainly more noble than anything anyone in the film ever does. I have also listed him as the main character above Brad and Janet because…well, he dominates them. By the end of the film, they are dressed as Frank in an effort to become more like him; physically and perhaps mentally as well.
All the main characters in Repo! are no where near as likable. Nathan Wallace seems to constantly complain. Shilo Wallace is the typical teenager. It works, but its not exactly groundbreaking. And Rotti Largo is just a mean bastard who tries his hardest to manipulate everything around him. He openly hates his children, he has people shot people for doing their job. Yes, this is good for a villain, but again we are going for likability. And Frank was the villain anyway. I would never expect the characters to have been such downers.
Point to Rocky Horror
Again, we are back on Repo! for this one. The problem with Rocky Horror is that everyone is pushed aside by Tim Curry’s performance. Even some of the more interesting ones (Little Nell’s Columbia, Meat Loaf’s Eddie) are either not given enough screen time or simply are not “weird” enough to stand out. They blend right in to the backdrop. Magenta and Riff-Raff are actually quite boring after their initial appearance. Columbia is better (and is the best minor character) because her back story is interesting enough to allow her story to continue. But ultimately Rocky Horror’s characters are just not as compelling as they could be.
Repo! The Genetic Opera dominates in this category. First off, it’s stunt casting is far more impressive. Yes, I am aware Paris Hilton is in the film. I could also barely recognize her beneath the make up and the garish outfits. The same goes for soprano diva Sarah Brightman. These people absolutely disappear into their roles. The roles may very well have been written for them, even though this is not the case. And Graverobber acts as a wonderful Greek chorus that is not done nearly as well in Rocky Horror. Rocky Horror remains needlessly cryptic, where Repo! actually explains things about the world. Again, not as well as it could have, but it does so well enough. At the very least I didn’t leave with as many questions as I did with Rocky Horror.
Point to Repo!
B-movie knowledge aesthetics
This may be the most important aspect of the B-film. The greatest ones achieve a sort of self awareness that is vital to the humor and the spirit of the film. Both of the films understand this concept well. Rocky Horror starts off with this tone through the song “Science Fiction Double Feature” which acts like a list of old Universal Horror films. The sets all look like they were borrowed from a Hammer horror film. And a dance occurs in front of the RKO logo. That may be the best thing about the film. It is delightfully self aware of its influences and all too eager to showcase them. Repo! is just as eager. It is firmly nestled in the tradition of eighties cyberpunk and includes the same sort of visual design that Anton Furst wold have approved. The themes are reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and even the works of David Cronenberg. Both films are just so eager to please, and both films are also quite uproarious when the time calls for it. It all comes together to great effect.
Both films tie
There is hardly a comparison here. Rocky Horror has been in theaters for three decades. It holds the world record for longest run in theaters. It has been parodied in all forms of media and many call it the greatest cult film in history. Repo! has barely begun to capture the public interest. Honestly, I am not sure why I am even including this topic. Let’s just call it.
Point to Rocky Horror.
And the overall winner is-Repo! The Genetic Opera. Why? Well, for starters, the fans of Rocky Horror seem misguided. Rocky Horror is one of the greatest theatrical spectacles of all time. But it is certainly not among the greatest films of all time. I am reminded of an article from “The Onion” about how fans were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Rocky Horror. The final portion of the infographic was “watching the movie at home; realizing it sucks.” Truer words have never been spoken. That’s not to say Repo! isn’t as much as a spectacle or is the next Citizen Kane. Far from it. But it is also a far more interesting film that is not dependent on one character or one song. Repo! is something where all the elements come together seamlessly. It feels more like a film than a spectacle. Rocky Horror screenings are among the most exhilarating in history. It is an experience that should be experienced by all. But it is also a phenomenon who’s time may soon be at an end. When that comes, Repo! will hopefully be there to fill the void left by its absence.