I love movies, always have. My sister had a teacher who collected 8mm prints and would occasionally bring one in for the class. This was prior to the widespread availability of videocassettes, so in my estimation this was the coolest thing ever. You could own an old movie and play it whenever you wanted? Man.
I had to satisfy my old movie jones with books, magazines, and whatever came on television. Oh, it was bad. In the sixth grade I made my English class sit through my one man performance of an Abbott and Costello routine. I had it bad for Marilyn Monroe, old gangster movies, and was certain that James Dean was the coolest guy ever. Of course I based this on nothing more than a postcard reproduction of the Rebel Without A Cause movie poster.
Old science fiction and horror movies were really the coolest of the cool, though. I caught The Day the Earth Stood Still while home sick from school in the fourth grade and was hooked. I’m still a sucker for those Cold War era Russians as aliens sci-fi films.
What I wanted more than anything was to go to a midnight movie. Spartanburg had three movie theaters — four if you counted the drive-in porn theater (I’ll just wait here while you picture that) — and they only showed films at 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 o’clock. Besides, I was probably twelve or so when I finally got hip to the whole midnight movie idea, so I couldn’t have gone even if there was a midnight movie playing in town.
But to see Creature From the Black Lagoon or some Ray Harryhausen piece of junk on the big screen was the dream. That’s pretty much all I knew about midnight movies — that shitty old films were played for rowdy crowds of cool kids. Well, I knew of one other film that made the midnight circuit.
Now, I don’t know what Roses Department Stores are like now, but in 1979 Spartanburg Roses was where you went when K-Mart was too classy. I went one evening with my mother to pick up some socks and immediately bolted for the records. The albums were lined up neatly in bins, but the 8-track wall was covered with a locked plexiglass door with holes cut in it that were just a bit smaller than the tapes. In order to browse the 8-tracks one stuck his or her hands through the holes as if handling radioactive material and pulled the tapes from the rack. Find one you like? Call Darlene over from register three and she’ll unlock the cabinet.
That night I went home with a pack of tube socks the size of a pillow and the Rocky Horror Show soundtrack on 8-track. Note there’s no “Picture” in that title — this was the original Roxy cast, not the film soundtrack. I didn’t know the difference. All I knew was that Rocky Horror was a midnight movie, rated R, and terribly inappropriate. In other words, cool, cool, and cooler. I committed the whole album to memory. I vowed to see every movie named checked in “Late Night Double Feature Picture Show.”
Two short years later two things happened: 1) My oldest sister went off to college and got an extreme case of cool; and 2) The Rocky Horror Picture Show finally made its way to Upstate South Carolina. My weekends were spent up at Winthrop College hanging with my sister and her friends, or sometimes in Spartanburg but still hanging out with my sister and her friends.
I probably should have given these weekends more ink, but honestly there’s not a lot of music there. There’s lots of Dungeons and Dragons, I have to admit. Lots of alcohol, too, and many, many trips to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The Spartanburg crowd knew the basics. They knew to scream “lick it!” at the huge red lips during the main title sequence; they knew to throw rice during the wedding of Ralph and Betty Hapschatt (Hap-shit!). Brad Majors was an asshole and any verbalization of Janet’s last name earned a “Weissssssss.” Squirt guns came out on the way to the Frankenstein place, and Riff and Magenta’s signature salutation was always greeted with an “elbow sex!”
But beyond that Rocky Horror in Spartanburg could be a bit like a ride on the school bus. Frank-N-Furter received lots of “you’re a fucking faggot” and Janet Weiss (Weisssssss) was date raped in absentia by the crowd every Friday and Saturday night. Nobody– nobody – dressed up. We didn’t limit our Rocky Horror weekends to Spartanburg, though. We sat with audiences in Columbia and Charlotte, on college campuses and even at a drive-in. I must have gone at least fifty times by age fifteen, by which time I was an audience partici…pation pro.
The only truly scandalous thing to happen probably never happened. My sister’s friend Vera swore she arrived late one Friday and took the only seat left in the darkened theater before she noticed that her neighbor was masturbating. “Coming soon at a theater near you,” he allegedly said, and went about his business.
What made her story so easy to believe was that the film was such dark cargo. The Rocky Horror Picture Show had everything: music, camp, old movies, rowdy crowds, Meatloaf, and Little Nell’s nipple. I thought it was terribly subversive and decadent — all those men in women’s clothes, murder, cannibalism, Janet Weiss (Weissssssss) running around in her bra and panties; the whole notion of giving yourself over to absolute pleasure, to not dreaming it but being it.
But in the end it was always Frank-N-Furter and his crimes against nature, Rocky and Eddie, who die, while the conservative Brad (asshole!) and Janet and Dr. Everett Scott (Great Scott!) are free to return to their crawling insect lives in Denton, USA. We did, too. When the house lights came up we were once again lost in time and lost in space. And meaning.