The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show: a Camp Parody of the Gothic between Mary Shelley, J. B. Priestley and James Whale

Armando Rotondi


The theatre play The Rocky Horror Show (1973) by Richard O’Brien and then the film adaptation The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) by Jim Sharman can be considered as two milestone in musical theatre/film history. For their themes and structure, they represent the highest expression of the sexual revolution of the late 60s and the 70s, becoming an icon of the movements for the sexual freedom. The success of the musical is due to its capacity of being an enormous parody of both literary and film references. The first clear reference is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the film adaptation by James Whale. However, less analysed it the relation with the novel Benighted (1927) by John B. Priestly and the adaptation, again by Whale, The Old Dark House (1932), that seems to be the real source of inspiration for O’Brien. The paper will analyse this relation, focusing its attention on the elements that have created the “Rocky Horror Show liturgy” and on the references of the parody, and proposing a vision of O’Brien’s work as a meta-parody.


camp; queer; gothic; musical; horror; Whale

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