Welcome to the LGBT special… because life is like a box of Bassett’s…
Anything is possible with games. Imagine one set in a Psycho-style, nightmarish mansion presided over by a pansexual, androgynous, cross-dressing Pennywise the Clown from the planet Transsexual situated within the Transylvanian galaxy. A flamboyant, glittery, high-heeled songstress daubed with more war paint than the entirety of the Blue Man Group, out-Bowieing Bowie as the glam rock movement went into overdrive.
Call him Frank-N-Furter. Not because he’s two people in one (schizoid personality disorder or not), just because it puts us in mind of mad scientist, Frankenstein, without being a ‘straight’ copy. Not a lot about this off-kilter, quirky little number could be described as straight. He’d be a rococo lord of the manor served by an Egor parody played by the (also one of a kind) Richard O’Brien, eccentric former host of The Crystal Maze. A bit dishevelled, awkwardly stooped over with one foot already in the grave, so we’ll call him ‘Riff Raff’. Give him a sister, she can be a maid/domestic who we’ll call, let’s say, Magenta.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Magenta, I am indeed grateful to you and your brother Riff Raff. You have both served me well. You will discover that when the mood takes me… I can be quite generous.
Magenta: I ask for nothing, master.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: And you shall receive it. IN ABUNDANCE!
Then let’s add further layers of schlock horror B-movie caricatures such as Frankenstein’s monster. Only we’ll make this unique ‘Creation’ an almost naked Adonis, not an ounce of fat anywhere on his chiselled, award-winning body and call him ‘Rocky’. Picture the Nazi Aryan ‘superman’ prototype and you’ll get the gist. He could be the eponymous namesake, yet not really the star. Nobody steals the limelight from Franky and lives!
One more acting role (making three in total) and Peter Hinwood left the profession to become an antiques dealer
Dr Frank-N-Furter: In just seven days, I can make you a man. Dig it if you can.
Dare you “come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab?” None too bright and not accustomed to moving or speaking too fluidly, yet that’s par for the course. A sex-slave-plaything doesn’t need to be.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Do you think I made a mistake splitting his brain between the two of them?
We might struggle too with half a brain, born moments ago into a fully-grown adult body with no concept of the usual developmental stages that should precede this. You’d need to be a quick learner too because Franky has no patience.
Aren’t they the same gold hotpants Kylie wore in her ‘Spinning Around’ video?
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Oh, I just love success!
Riff Raff: He’s a credit to your genius, Master.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Yes!
Magenta: A triumph of your will.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Yes!
Columbia: He’s okay!
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Okay? Okay? I think we can do better than that! Well, Brad and Janet, what do you think of him?
Janet Weiss: Well, I don’t like men with too many muscles.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: I didn’t make him for you! He carries the Charles Atlas seal of approval!
Like Frankenstein, Pennywise would forever be plugging away attempting to perfect his lab rat specimens, inevitably resulting in a few failures he’d rather sweep under the rug.
We could draft in Meatloaf to play one of those forlorn misfits. Make him a deranged, rock-and-roll-warbling, leather-clad biker, normally kept in stasis in deep freeze for the protection of the otherworldly inhabitants of his eerie mansion abode. Occasionally though, the former delivery boy could accidentally thaw out should the temperature rise too high, wreaking havoc mounted on a roaring roadhog steed, chewing up the scenery like a bat out of hell. Likely a Harley Davidson WLA 750 or Kawasaki KZ 900.
Eddie: (singing) Hot patootie, bless my soul! I really love that rock n’ roll!
Eddie wouldn’t be allotted too big a part since rock stars are expensive, especially if you’re paying for them per line so we’ll eliminate him fairly early on. Frank-N-Furter could take Eddie out of the equation, chasing him down the corridors like Jack Torrence armed with a pickaxe, consumed with rage, insanity and a lack of inhibition.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: One from the vaults… Don’t be upset. It was a mercy killing. He had a certain naive charm, but no muscle.
Oblivious to his superficiality and moral shortcomings, Franky asserts “it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane”. How else could he exhibit the remains of Eddie’s lacerated body inside an elaborate banquet table to be unveiled at a ghoulish dinner party with a subtle flick of the modesty cloth when the moment felt just right? Our two ‘outsider’ guests would understandably be aghast at the thought of eating Eddie for lunch, the insiders likely not so much. He wasn’t known as ‘Meatloaf’ for nothing! A boom-boom-tish please maestro. I thank you.
Actually, to get the most extreme and genuine reaction out of the cast you wouldn’t even clue them into the existence of the corpse or its whereabouts. Then reveal it while the cameras roll! Covert method acting at its finest.
To distance their ‘hijinks’ further still from what we’ve come to assume is reality we’d need some ordinary ‘teenagers’ to inadvertently stumble into this den of inequity and be suitably horrified. Brad and Janet, they sound like normal names for a traditional, wholesome, human, American couple. Of course, they wouldn’t really be teenagers because people would get all antsy about their age, not least the censors who would chuck their dummies out of the pram. Janet would really be 29 years old, Brad 30. That reminds me, I’ll have to rewatch Saved By the Bell sometime.
En route to visiting their former high school science teacher, Dr Everett Scott, they’d breakdown.
Seeking help and a telephone, Brad and Janet would approach the house of horrors, mirroring Marion Crane’s soggy arrival in Psycho.
They’d be welcomed inside and stripped of their rain-drenched clothes, which would then be replaced with lab overalls only after their almost naked torsos had been thoroughly and lasciviously examined by their ‘saviour’. Nobody expects a “satanic mechanic”. The Spanish inquisition maybe.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Enchante. Well! How nice. And what charming underclothes you both have. But here. Put these on. They’ll make you feel less… vulnerable. It’s not often we receive visitors here, let alone offer them… hospitality.
Brad Majors: Hospitality? All we wanted to do was to use your telephone, goddammit, a reasonable request which you’ve chosen to ignore!
Janet Weiss: Brad, don’t be ungrateful.
Brad Majors: Ungrateful!
Dr Frank-N-Furter: How forceful you are, Brad. Such a perfect specimen of manhood. So… dominant.
Distracted by extreme lunacy, they never would manage to track down a phone with which to call for aid.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: (singing) I’ll tell you once, I won’t tell you twice, you better wise up, Janet Weiss. Your apple pie don’t taste too nice. You better wise up, Janet Weiss.
(Janet knees him in the balls and runs away)
All the ostentatious stage show numbers performed by a liberated LGBT cast draped in suggestive goth costumes and macabre makeup, certainty wouldn’t help to keep their minds on the job. Before they knew it, they’d be drawn into their tempting embrace, seduced into exploring the yellow brick path of sexuality less travelled. In bed, Janet would be pounced upon by Frank-N-Furter posing as Brad. Likewise, Brad would be inveigled into believing he’d been visited in the dark and dead of night by Janet.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Oh, come on Brad, admit it, you liked it didn’t you? There’s no crime in giving yourself over to pleasure. Oh, Brad, you’ve wasted so much time already. Janet needn’t know – I won’t tell her!
Brad Majors: Well, you promise you won’t tell?
Dr Frank-N-Furter: On my mother’s gra…
(voice trails off into gurgles as mouth becomes otherwise occupied!)
Initially disgusted by the proposition, each would soon adjust their carnal proclivities and go with the flow. They’d stop short of becoming ‘sweet’ alien transsexuals, yet no doubt have their horizons widened in the process.
Dr Frank-N-Furter: Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh – erotic nightmares beyond any measure, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever. Can’t you just see it? Don’t dream it, be it.
Once everyone was having ‘close encounters’ (of the third kind?) with everyone else, jealousies would arise, all the commotion becoming too much to bear for poor Franky. Silencing the insolent upstarts one by one, he’d deploy his Medusa device to turn them to stone, finally giving us gamers something to do. I expect it’s a “sonic transducer“, “some kind of audio-vibratory-physio-molecular transport device”.
Columbia: My God! I can’t stand any more of this! First you spurn me for Eddie, and then you throw him off like an old overcoat for Rocky! You chew people up and then you spit them out again… I loved you… do you hear me? I loved you! And what did it get me? Yeah, I’ll tell you: a big nothing. You’re like a sponge. You take, take, take, and drain others of their love and emotion. Yeah, well, I’ve had enough You’re gonna choose between me and Rocky, so named after the rocks in his head!
I’d almost forgotten we were devising a game. Oh, wait, what’s this? It already exists and it’s called The Rocky Horror Show? Based on a 1973 hit stage show musical apparently, one that was transformed into a movie two years later, title adjusted to The Rocky Horror Picture Show accordingly.
What a strange coincidence that it stars all the people I envisioned would take part! Tim Curry in his debut movie role as Frank-N-Furter (pipping Mick Jagger to the post despite him expressing an interest in the lead role). Susan Sarandon as the chasten, innocent Janet who only has eyes for her betrothed hero, Brad. Speaking of whom, Barry Bostwick plays her other half (rather than Steve Martin who would happily have taken his place).
Barry and Susan were dating for real at the time so that would have augmented the chemistry. Even Blofeld of James Bond fame makes a memorable appearance as the narrator, lending the frivolity much-needed gravitas. I was about to suggest him for the role!
Oh look, it was produced with a budget of $1.4 million, raking in a colossal $140.2 million at the box office. Who’d have thunk it would capture the world’s imagination to that extent given the niche, subversive themes? Being banned in South Africa no doubt accentuated the appeal. No publicity is bad publicity as the axiom insists.
In CRL’s 8-bit action-strategy title published in 1985 (in synchrony with the 10th anniversary of the silver screen adaptation), we play as Brad or Janet who must acquire 15 parts of the de-Medusa machine required to reverse the catatonic stupor foisted upon our partner. That’s the theory anyway, though it doesn’t explain why they can still dance a jig on stage in the Spectrum version. Maybe rigor mortice hadn’t yet set in when I spotted that.
“We’ll be basing the game around the strange environments in the stage show with the emphasis on graphical presentation, rather than on the elements of dubious taste in the show itself.”
Clem Chambers (Popular Computing Weekly, November 1984)
CRL founder and Rocky Horror coder, that is. To read more of the team’s reflections on the development of their game, make sure you check out the contemporary disk-based magazine publication, Commodore Free. Issue 84 (December 2014) to be precise, also available in PDF format. They do a fantastic job of summarising the company’s origins and output, with contributions from some of the key former members of staff themselves.
Release them from their demented petrifaction and we can finally escape the castle back to normality, whatever that equates to. It should be noted that Janet and Brad function interchangeably, only their sprite design altering. Well, I suppose it’s appropriate that they’re perfectly equal.
“And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space… and meaning.”
You never know, you might prefer life on planet Transsexual. It doesn’t hurt to be… “adaptable”. Rocky is, in fact, the longest-running musical in history, known especially for inviting audience participation and cosplay shenanigans. Look up ‘shadow cast’ if you’re interested in learning about the strangest aspect of these reverent rituals. RHPS fans hatched the concept, since permeating other movies.
Components of the de-Medusa device may be found lying around any of the rooms situated within the two-storey mansion, navigated via stairs or the lift.
Have you spotted anyone you recognise?
Many of these rooms are locked so will first need to be opened using the relevant key found elsewhere. Only one part of the mystical machine can be carried simultaneously so must immediately be deposited behind the chamber curtain, freeing our hands to continue the treasure hunt. All within the space of 99 units of time, equating to many more measured in actual seconds. Though often nowhere near enough since everything unravels so slowly.
If that still sounds like child’s play it’s because I’ve not yet told you about the one-life policy or surreal, drug-induced ‘zen room‘ harbouring levitating hypodermic syringes, magic mushrooms, yin-yang symbols, razor blades and deadly laser beams.
Make a sharp enough exit with the spoils (a key or de-Meduser component), evading the flying personal space invaders and we re-emerge in the hall… so zen does serve a purpose after all.
If you’d rather not visit hell on earth, try your best to steer clear of the button labelled “do not press”. Dammit, Janet!
“What do you want me to say? The fact that it’s based on the Rocky Horror Picture Show pushes the game into the weird category. It’s funny though, do you know anyone who’s actually seen the film all the way through? It’s one of those peculiar ones you see bits of now and then.”
Commodore Format (80%, February 1994)
Yep, me. Why would you bother reviewing the game without first seeing the movie? It was nearly 20 years old by this stage. What’s really funny is listening to some of the YouTubers today who are terrified that watching Rocky Horror might turn them gay, bi or whatever. Maybe the scariest outcome would be discovering that they quite enjoyed it. Would that also explain why they’d rather not read the manual that constitutes all of a few paragraphs? What results if you don’t do either is a video let’s play that amounts to a tirade of “what the hell am I supposed to do?” type wailing, before throwing in the towel in exasperation. I can’t grasp what the point of this is.
Intensifying the ‘mind flip’ (that’s the censored version), peripheral characters wander around causing mischief while reciting vital lines from the movie. Riff Raff, for instance, does his best to electrocute Brad or Janet with his three-pronged laser gun, as he does to Franky, eventually tiring of his megalomaniac tendencies. A coup is secretly plotted; the plan being to bump off their supreme leader and head back home. That’s the twist (spoiler alert), the castle-mansion is actually a spaceship capable of thrusting off into outer space once issued with the right command. It’s the final countdown. Poor misunderstood Franky; he didn’t “want no dissension. Just dynamic tension.”
Riff Raff: (singing) Frank-n-Furter it’s all over. Your mission is a failure, your lifestyle’s too extreme. I’m your new commander. You are now my prisoner. We return to Transylvania. Prepare the transit beam.
Magenta: How sentimental.
Riff Raff: And also presumptuous of you. You see, when I said that ‘we’ were to return to Transylvania, I referred only to Magenta and myself. I’m sorry, however, if you found my words misleading, but you see, you are to remain here, in spirit, anyway.
Dr Everett V. Scott: Great heavens! That’s a laser!
Riff Raff: Yes, Dr Scott. A laser capable of emitting a beam of pure anti-matter.
Brad Majors: You mean, you’re going to kill him? What’s his crime?
Dr Everett V. Scott: You saw what became of Eddie. Society must be protected.
Riff Raff: Exactly, Dr Scott. And now, Frank N. Furter, your time has come. Say good-bye to all of this… and hello to oblivion.
Eddie also patrols the arena, on his motorbike naturally. A thermometer populates the HUD, its temperature reading gradually climbing until he defrosts and escapes his chilly prison cell to harass us.
He’s often accompanied by Magenta who is in the clothes-swiping business. This isn’t a terminal issue, except whilst guarding our modesty, we’re incapable of picking up parts of the de-Medusa machine or completing the game. We only have one pair of hands you see so while occupied, they’re pretty much useless. To get back in the swing of things we need to recover our randomly scattered clothes and hope we don’t waste too much time in the process.
Columbia, a groupie and Eddie’s girlfriend, isn’t much of a threat either, more of a distraction who appears periodically to offer advice quoted from the movie. Other characters, in contrast, kill us instantly should we make contact so need to be given a wide berth.
Even some of the decorative scenery is life-sapping, such as the vertical, screen-spanning laser beam which deceptively looks a lot like a harmless disco ball. One that will need to be disabled before attempting to pass it. We achieve this by climbing a ladder to hit the off button, descending as rapidly as possible prior to its reactivation before we’re clear of its reach.
Since there’s a fair bit of backtracking involved, it’s lucky that there’s an off button on either side.
“Parts of the machine have to be collected one at a time, which makes for a lot of boring coming and going. Even worse, when there are several characters on screen at once, the strain of so much animation begins to tell. Your pace slows to a shuffle, giving the impression of wading through lumpy custard.”
Sinclair Programs (56%, August 1985)
And that’s all there is to it. Complete the challenge within the apportioned timeframe and we escape with our de-petrified beau intact whilst the castle launches skyward bound for Transylvania, as in the movie. Actually it does that whether we escape or not.
A minimally engaging diversion that barely constitutes a game you could argue. Nevertheless, it held my attention for a good while since it does such a superb job of evoking the bonanza of bedlam that is the source material. Fans will recognise the scenery, characters, Time Warp theme tune and some of the plot elements and devices. I think that’s plenty for a cheap and cheerful 8-bit game published in the technological dark ages of 1985.
“I liked the film and I thought the Spectrum version of the game was pretty good, following the film closely, effectively and enjoyably. Unfortunately on the 64 it doesn’t quite have the same appeal and isn’t quite so hot. The characters move slower than on the Spectrum and the game doesn’t feel as good. It’s also a shame that most of the touches that featured in the ‘original’ (such as the humourous title screen or the ‘Time Warp’ dance and the excellent lightning effect) aren’t present. The sprites are rather crude in definition and would have been better in single colour. The music was the best thing about the game which doesn’t stretch to more than a simple pick-em-up.”
“I loved the film, which I have on video and have seen many times, so I therefore looked forward to trying the game. Unfortunately, CRL haven’t exploited the film’s computer game potential and have instead come up with a simple collect and place game. The characters aren’t very well animated and move rather slowly. The game also tends to kill you suddenly, especially when you’re doing rather well. The music was okay (it’s a great tune so they couldn’t really mess it up!), the graphics rather poor, and the Spectrum version knocks spots off it so take a good look before buying.”
Zzap (43%, C64, August 1985)
“Rocky Horror looks good, sounds good and is very addictive – just like the show itself! You’ll have to excuse me – I’m just off to do the time-warp again!”
C&VG (88%, Spectrum, July 1985)
Amstrad, Spectrum and Commodore 64 owners received largely the same offering. As you’d expect, the Spectrum game is mostly monochrome, thereby sidestepping the notorious colour-clash issue. What’s more surprising (and disappointing) is that the C64 version shares the same primitive graphics and colour scheme; more of a direct port than an interpretation making use of its more advanced hardware capabilities.
CRL responded to the inevitably negative feedback by revamping the title for the C128 re-release that followed in 1986. It features an authentic Commodore-esque palette with much more intricate, contrastingly coloured sprites and a few extra rooms to explore, whilst retaining the same bland, uneventful play mechanics.
As catchy as the never-ending theme tune is in either of the Commodore variants, once completed, there’s not much point ever returning to “do the Time Warp again!”
“The graphics are of high quality, detailed and there are no attribute clashes between the moving characters and the backgrounds. It looks as though lots of people are starting to copy Gargoyle’s Tir Na Nog style.
After playing the first few games, I noticed that there is no score – a little bit off-putting because you don’t know how far you have got through the game.
Overall quite a playable game and definitely the best CRL have produced, and hopefully not the last. I don’t think it will take too long to solve once you’ve got going.”
Crash (79%, Spectrum, July 1985)
“If you enjoyed the film and want to play a better than average take-off then CRL will be in your favour. I found it weirdly addictive.”
Sinclair User (60%, August 1985)
“My only criticism is that the animation of the characters is a little stiff but that doesn’t alter the fact that it is a very odd and even sick game – but great fun to play.”
Computer Gamer (75%, Spectrum, July 1985)
If you can shuffle quick enough to gather together the requisite 15 pieces of the puzzle, or random object placement is on your side, it’s possible to beat the stringent time limit. “I’m lucky, he’s lucky, we’re all lucky!”. Otherwise, “It’s not easy having a good time!” Even smiling might make your face ache!
If taking a single, minor plot element and embellishing it to encompass an entire game isn’t enough to turn your frown upside down, you might like to check out what else is in the box. No, not a severed head, but a poster, sticker and t-shirt. Well, maybe not if you get your copy from eBay today.
Regardless, this was 1985. Expectations were assumed to be minimal and yet Rocky Horror Show succeeded in complimenting the unsophisticated technology available. Accordingly, the game sold well enough to reach no. 9 in the Gallup sales charts in June 1985 (see Sinclair User, August 1985).
“The idea of the game is quite simple really, although a little long-winded as you seem to have to move through the same locations several times. This gives the effect of its being bigger than it actually is. Some puzzles are a little tricky to solve at first, but become apparent enough as you progress through the game. The graphics are surprisingly disappointing – first impression is quite good, but closer examination reveals little animation, although the drawing is detailed enough. Overall quite a playable game, but it’s lasting appeal is short because I don’t think it will take too long to solve once you’ve got going.”
Zzap! (43%, C64, August 1985)
Released a decade later, a more ambitious developer may have transformed the IP into a full-blown point and click adventure game. That said, then you’d be forced to elaborate upon the source material since Rocky’s plot isn’t exactly what you’d call byzantine. It was only ever written by Richard O’Brien as a bit of a time-killing lark between acting gigs. He never dreamt that it would take the world by storm. Now he doesn’t need to dream it, he’s lived it and been it for four and a half decades. Though that’s what can happen when you don’t feel the pressure to craft something profound and worthy of critical attention.
As it happens, 14 years later the game was revamped for Windows with Richard O’Brien much more closely involved. He’s even in it – in person and voice-starring as the ‘game devil’ – along with Christopher Lee who serves as the host.
In principle, it’s the same game revolving around reconstructing the de-Medusa machine to free Brad or Janet before fleeing back to the ‘real’ world. An interactive multimedia mansion experience more than anything.
Background scenery is, as you’d expect, far more intricate, the rooms strewn with relevant paraphernalia and Easter eggs that will make sense to fans of the show, no-one else. Protagonist sprites are digitised, while Brian and Christopher feature as inserted video footage, closing the gap between movie and game. The contrast between 1985 and 1999 Rocky is dramatic, though sadly, the passage of time didn’t make it tremendously more fun to play for anyone who couldn’t wrap their head around the original.
On paper the stage show/movie shouldn’t work, not to the extent it does. It’s frilly, shallow twoddle with a wafer-thin plot, yet watching it is undeniably an event worth experiencing. Multiple times. It’s kind of like ‘Carry On Addams Family’, except the carry on is funny and doesn’t make you want to join a different human race to distance yourself from the toe-curling cheese factory. Creepy, kooky and thoroughly endearing. Tim Curry is simply fabulous darling. He could perform his entire role with facial expressions alone and you’d get the gist, enraptured by the absurd intensity of emotion.
Susan Sarandon is equally brilliant in a doe-eyed Betty Boo lost sort of way. Somehow she manages to take it all seriously and you buy into the faux peril as a result. In fact, you won’t find a bad performance amongst any of the cast. Every line is dialled up to 11 for maximum OTT impact, drawing you headfirst into the manic alienation. Which reminds me, I have a pair of Bluetooth headphones that reach their upper volume cap and then – if you try to go up a notch – bark out a helpful warning of the danger to your hearing by blasting the wearer with a shrill, ear-piercing squeal.
I also love that its producers had the guts to swim counter-tide amidst the hullabaloo made over prim and proper alternatives, breaking taboos left, right and time-warp, I mean centre. It’s easy to allow yourself to be swept up and carried away on the crest of lunacy, singing along to some of the catchily unhinged musical digressions.
I appreciate anything that’s outlandish and unexpectedly extreme; Rocky Horror doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Where else can you see an intergalactic glam rock Frankenstein impersonator slaying and dining on the man who would do anything for love? But not that (the answer is in the song, it always has been). Hey, two out of three ain’t bad! He says quickly totting up the pros and cons to see if that works.
It’s this moment of intense – albeit intimated rather than actually depicted – violence that’s more disturbing than any of the innuendo or sex scenes, though of course, it was the latter that drew all the negative press at the time, teaching us that murder is more tolerable. Now that’s the sign of true moral deviancy.
Rocky Horror held LGBT issues aloft under a blazing spotlight, whilst luring more ‘acceptably oriented’ folk onboard. It made it OK to be yourself, embrace diversity, sparking many a debate concerning alternative lifestyles and society’s perception of them. It’s no wonder so many… what’s the word for people of every possible sexual persuasion? Humans. It takes Allsorts. It’s no wonder so many humans have taken it to heart.
Rocky Horror is a morbid curio that crosses boundaries and builds bridges, leaving you dumbfounded yet chuckling, scrambling disconcertedly to fathom out precisely why. What more can you ask for from a Saturday night out? They’re not what they used to be.