The School of ‘Rocky Horror’

by Alexander Gonzalez | October 29, 2020

Anything goes over at the Frankenstein place.

Inside this spooky manor, reality fades. A cosmic fever dream implodes. Our monstrous ids awaken. A rock ‘n’ roll medley casts a demonic spell. The urges –– sexual, destructive, liberated –– finally come out to play.

Rocky Horror Picture Show body image
Dr. Frank N Furter (Tim Curry – center) striking a pose. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) dir. Jim Sharman. 20th Century Fox.

This makes “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” the perfect Halloween musical. It celebrates chaos — a you-can-be-anything-you-want attitude. The 1975 cult movie musical follows Brad and Janet — two unsuspecting surrogates of boring, repressed America — into a haunted house full of eccentric denizens. They’re caught in an experiment led by Dr. Frank-N-Furter. He creates his own Adonis, a blonde named Rocky Horror. The story is so queer, punk and weird, it’d be a disservice to virgins to give it away entirely.

Despite its bizarre plot, the film has been referenced and adapted a lot recently. In 2010, Ryan Murphy’s “Glee” paid homage to the campy flick. Six years later, Fox did a remake, starring Laverne Cox in the eponymous role. The film has found new audiences on television beyond the diehards who never miss an October midnight screening at local cinemas. Revisiting Rocky Horror has especially drawn in newer generations that are drawn to stories about empowered outcasts and stigma erasure. 

Lately, the best depiction comes from Spain. The Halloween episode in season two of the Netflix teen drama Elite depicts adolescent angst in the spirit of Rocky Horror. The allusion to the film fuels a raucous Halloween party. The students remove their uniforms, put on sexy costumes and freely navigate romantic ambitions. Playing make-believe evolves into something more sinister: the specter of emerging adulthood.

Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank N Furter side image Rocky Horror
Fox’s Rocky reboot featuring Dr. Frank N Furter (Laverne Cox), Brad (Ryan McCarten), and Janet (Victoria Justice). Fox.

At the show’s fictional school, Las Encinas, students major in fluidity. Scholarship kids fall in love with the rich kids. Hard work trumps privilege. Threesomes reward bisexuality. Sex happens in locker rooms, pools and nightclubs. And as if adolescence isn’t messy enough, the students deal with a murder case. This amazing juxtaposition between high-stakes crime and aspirational adolescence jives with Rocky Horror, which challenges social conventions.

At the party, gay couple Omar (Omar Ayuso) and Ander (Arón Piper), dress as Frank-N-Furter and Rocky, respectively. Through the costumes, they confront the difficulties of accepting who they are as individuals and as a relationship. At this point in the show, Omar leaves his devout Muslim family to live with Ander (yeah, and his parents. It’s Spain!). The costume choice eventually disrupts their domestic bliss. Omar, who has recently come out, chooses Frank-N-Furter to make a bold statement about his first Halloween celebration: “I’ve had to spend most of my life wearing a costume.” In response, Ander, who’s only heard of “Rocky V,” covers up his golden boxer briefs, Rocky Horror’s only clothing, at the party. He tells his bro: “This is an Omar thing. Now he has feathers and thinks he’s a drag queen.” Shame overshadows burgeoning love.

This dynamic shapes another break-up. Lucrecia (who goes by Lu and is portrayed by Danna Paola) and Guzman (Miguel Bernardeau) have been on and off. She’s committed to making it work, helping him process the death of his sister. But Lu’s half-brother Valerio (Jorge López) returns to Spain, reigniting her feelings for him. Things get complicated.

Lu and Omar’s paths cross during the Halloween party. They take stock in each other’s relationships. Lu, dressed as Frida Kahlo, convinces him to stay at the party after he overheard Ander’s comments. She quotes Oscar Wilde: “Never love someone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” This line is a version of the Rocky Horror lyric “Don’t dream it. Be it.” Inspired by Omar, she accepts her honest yet societally inappropriate feelings for Valerio.

Anything goes over at the Spanish Frankenstein place.

Elite Omar as Frank n Furter body image
Omar as Dr. Frank-n-Furter. Netflix.

During the Halloween revelverie, Lu, Omar and the rest of the ensemble undergo a more poignant transformation. They’re not just wearing costumes. They’re dressed as purer versions of themselves. For a moment, they become the people they really want to be –– and in turn, uncover the monstrous side of desire.

The intimate discoveries backfire. In the Rocky Horror universe, Frank-N-Furter and his motley crew leave earth. Reality crushes their maniacal worldview of free love. In Elite, Omar realizes that living with Ander is as much a fantasy. He advocates for himself, embarking on a path of self-sufficiency. He’s not one of the rich kids, after all.

Meanwhile, Lu braces for the consequences of forbidden love –– a precarious path that sets up the rest of the show. Falling in love and making mistakes are part of teenage dogma. In Elite vis-a-vis Rocky Horror, it’s better to live your truth –– at least for one night.

It’s easy to brand most shows about teens as coming-of-age cautionary tales. Most of them probably are. But the Halloween episode of Elite presents a more complicated argument. The horror isn’t just about lost innocence or failed liaisons. Rather, it’s the acceptance of the people we could become. Perhaps even more deliciously frightening, the people we were always meant to be.

Alexander Gonzalez is a radio journalist in Miami, Florida. He draws inspiration from film and television to report on the real world. He enjoys international shows, especially from France and Spain. You can follow him on Twitter @alexgonz10.

One response to “The School of ‘Rocky Horror’”

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