Film Society’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a theatrical masterpiece


Generic Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Painting: Courtesy of @cwrufilmsociety

Celebrating its 25th production, the CWRU Film Society featured Voyeuristic Intentions to create a unique and immersive watching experience of the cult-classic.

Noah Henriques, Shivangi Nanda, Staff Writer, Copy Editor

Some Halloween movies have become classics: “The Shining,” “Halloween,” “The Exorcist,” “Scream”—the list goes on. But every Halloweekend, the Case Western Reserve University Film Society, with the Voyeuristic Intentions cast, hosts a Halloween production that’s a little more unconventional: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Celebrating its 25th screening last weekend, the Film Society never fails to create a moviegoing experience unlike any other.

With crude yet cunning comedy, a coordinated and charming shadowcast and campy B-movie drama, it’s no wonder “Rocky Horror” has garnered an international following with theaters around the world keeping to the film’s traditions. The CWRU Film Society’s production last weekend featured an hour-long pre-show where “‘Rocky Horror’ virgins” were brought onstage and indoctrinated into the movie through fun, sex-based minigames—including mimicing an orgasm or moaning as loud as they could. During this time, viewers had the chance to purchase “prop bags” containing items correlated to key scenes in the movie. While the movie played, a shadowcast performed live, bringing the film to life with props, wildly accurate costumes and lip syncing. But one of the most entertaining and humorous aspects of the movie are the “callbacks” that frequent the cult classic’s runtime. Audience members and the shadowcast join in and make snide quips or “counter dialogue” to the characters on screen. These ranged from mocking the criminoligist’s “lack of a chin” to interrupting with a self-deprecating or crude question right before a character makes a statement—someone may yell “How long do you last during sex?” right before a character says “it should only take a few seconds.”

It is important to note that these traditions aren’t exclusive to CWRU. Theaters across the U.S. and internationally contain some, all or even more of these components in their showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Coordinated audience lines, props being thrown at the screen, dancing along to the song “Time Warp” and, incredibly, riding a motorcycle through the aisle of a New Orleans theater are all traditions and twists that many theaters have captured in their showcases. So how is “Rocky Horror” able to hold audiences when the film itself becomes only a fraction of the experience? The secret lies in the traditions—homages to the film’s 47-year-old history.

They date back to the film’s first showings in 1975. Due to its poor reception, the movie was often played at the cheapest time of the day: Midnight. But it did well, with many moviegoers returning for multiple viewings. Over time, these recurring fans would learn certain phrases or scenes by heart and begin adding their own commentary. Teacher Louis Farese, Theresa Krakauskas and Amy Lazarus are credited with starting this wave of audience participation during the film. At the time, they did it to amuse each other, but by 1979, scripted “callbacks” and “counterpoint dialogue” became a staple across more than 230 theaters. Fan casts, known as shadowcasts, also sprang up and reenacted scenes from the movie as it played. This near-cultish fascination spread nationally, and soon internationally, with showings compared to Christian Mass or a religious event, although the contents of the movie are anything but.

In an interview with the director of the CWRU Film Society’s rendition, they discussed its history and how it has evolved over the years of production. Twenty-five years ago, the film was just another B-movie played alongside others in the Science Fiction Marathon. However, it was later “…organized [into] a cast to match other venues with more regular showings. For a few years afterward, it was more like an encore… and soon a tradition!” Since then, the director said, costumes and props have been handed down from showing to showing—some around longer than they could remember—with callbacks dating back to the ’70s. The film is even shown on a 35mm tape, original commercials and trailers included, giving the movie a “vintage/grindhouse feel.” 

While the production team stays true to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” traditions in many ways, not everything stays so static. With a revolving cast, things are bound to change and make each year-to-year showing unique. Many costumes and makeup are created individually by each cast member, and props may be updated or removed. Callbacks are updated as well, with pop culture references and quips that only our quirky CWRU audience would really appreciate. Each piece is another element that keeps every showing fresh and worth another viewing.

Last weekend, the blend of tradition and creative changes created a dirty, eccentric and enthusiastic performance—drawing in a packed auditorium crowd. The shadowcast did an excellent job “initiating” newer audience members with the pre-show activities. But once the show began, the audience was “thrust” into sexualized “Rocky Horror” culture—the explicit advertisements and first callback, “show us female tits!” were telling of how the rest of the performance would pan out. Regardless of content, each callback and piece of counterpoint dialogue was well rehearsed and perfectly timed, garnering well-deserved laughs from the audience—the inclusion of CWRU-themed counterpoints did not fail to excite. Voyeuristic Intentions proved the talent of its actors with scenes that seamlessly mimicked their counterparts on the big screen. Actor costumes were almost identical to the originals, and props added depth to the live performance. Some of our highlights from this year’s production included—no spoilers—a character riding a bike down the theater aisles for their introduction and chase scenes weaving through rows of amused fans. Every member onstage was obviously passionate about their role, and there was never any reluctance—even the more sexual scenes were performed with grace and professionalism. Unsurprisingly, we often caught ourselves focusing on the shadowcast more than the film itself! 

With all this being said, it would be a severe injustice to call this production just another movie-watching experience. The charm of “Rocky Horror” was perfectly blended with its atmosphere. While “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” may seem intimidating at first, being surrounded by an international following of die-hard fans, the CWRU Film Society did a wonderful job of making the production approachable to all audiences. Each callback felt like an inside joke and we cheered as much for the shadowcast members as we did for the movie itself. Further, we were both amazed by how “Rocky Horror,” given the time period of its initial release, honored the LGBTQIA+ community and raw sexuality through comedy and memorable characters. Voyeuristic Intentions doesn’t shy away from this in the slightest, performing mild stripping and gay scenes with the same devotion as the original actors. 

We can all agree “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is by no means your average movie—and, therefore, may not sit right with everybody. But the production team’s passion and dedication for a show with such a strong legacy cannot be overlooked. So, we highly recommend that everyone show the CWRU Film Society some support and attend at least once. For just $4, experience something so completely different from the norm, and if you enjoy it, as we hope you will, come back for another viewing. 

If you’d like to participate in the cast and crew of the CWRU “Rocky Horror” production, then feel free to email for more information.