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15 Movies Referenced in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a love letter to the golden age of offbeat cinema, written in bright red lipstick. As any regular Frankie fan can tell you, it’s based on an offbeat stage show that sprang from the mind of Richard O’Brien. (He plays Riff Raff in the film version.) A B-movie devotee, O’Brien wove numerous cult film references into his theatrical lovechild and, by extension, its cinematic reincarnation. But The Rocky Horror Picture Show doesn’t limit itself to honoring a single genre. Seasoned movie buffs may also recognize quick nods to a French crime drama, a thriller about a murderous priest, and the weirdest project that Roger Ebert ever worked on. So before Fox’s live Rocky Horror reboot gets us all doing the time warp again, let’s go over some of the little homages that spiced up the original.

1. FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Lightning struck twice when Universal Studios unveiled a new take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1931. Earlier that same year, the company had released its hugely successful cinematic version of Dracula. With Boris Karloff delivering an outstanding performance as the monster, Frankenstein turned into an even bigger hit and became the fourth highest-grossing film of its decade. The Rocky Horror Picture Show salutes the instant classic when Riff Raff scares off Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s monster with a candelabra. This echoes a similar henchman/creature scuffle from Universal’s Frankenstein. In the 1931 film, the doctor’s assistant is a hunchback named Fritz. (The more famous Igor character hadn’t yet been conceived.) Upon being left alone with the monster, he taunts it by shoving a flaming torch into the poor brute’s face. Spooked by the flames, it instinctively recoils, just like our friend Rocky does.

2. DOCTOR X (1932)

Let there be lips! The Rocky Horror Picture Show begins on an appropriately odd note: As the opening credits roll, a pair of disembodied crimson lips sail into view and set the mood by regaling us with a song called “Science Fiction/Double Feature.” The lyrics are gut-loaded with references to iconic B-movies, including 1932’s Doctor X. A suspenseful tale about a mad scientist and his homemade creature, it’s gone down in history as the first horror film to be shot in color, although a black-and-white version was shown at most theaters.

3. THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

Here’s another classic that gets a title drop in Rocky Horror’s surreal intro. Based on an H.G. Wells novel of the same name, The Invisible Man was directed by James Whale, the visionary behind Universal’s Frankenstein and its 1935 follow-up, The Bride of Frankenstein. An effective cautionary tale, the movie follows Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist who gets drunk with power after discovering the secret of invisibility. Whale’s special effects team used every trick in the book here. For example, to execute scenes where Griffin disrobes, leading man Claude Rains wore black velvet tights under his costume and went through his blocking on an entirely black set. The resulting footage, which showed nothing but Griffin’s floating clothes, was then superimposed over a different length of film that captured the other actors and the primary sets. Other sequences called for good, old-fashioned wires, which helped various objects travel through the air, seemingly all by themselves.

4. KING KONG (1933)

In 1932, producer Merian C. Cooper promised Fay Wray “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.” Naturally, she figured he was talking about Cary Grant. Wray instead ended up working with the eighth wonder of the world himself. Released by RKO Pictures during one of the worst years of the Great Depression, King Kong might be the single most influential film ever made. It was the first movie to have a completely original score, the first to ever be re-released, and among the first to pit live actors against stop-motion monsters. The Rocky Horror Picture Show really has something of a fixation with this flick; not only do those disembodied red lips sing about it, but Dr. Frank-N-Furter also pines for Fay Wray’s iconic Kong dress near the finale. Furthermore, we get to see Rocky himself climbing up a model radio tower, RKO’s logo, before falling to his death. To quote the final line of King Kong, “It was beauty killed the beast.”

5. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

Magenta rocks a zany new hairstyle for Rocky Horror’s thrilling climax. Her arresting coiffure was more or less directly lifted from The Bride of Frankenstein. In this spectacular sequel, the title character dons a streaky, upright hairdo that was modeled after a famous bust of Nefertiti, an ancient Egyptian queen. Although the monster’s mate appears to be wearing a wig in Bride, the mop we see on-screen is nothing of the sort. “[It was] my own hair,” actress Elsa Lanchester said. “I had it lifted up from my face, all the way around; then they placed a wire cage on my head and combed my own hair over that cage. Then they put the gray-streak hairpieces in afterwards.”

6. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

“Science Fiction/Double Feature” acknowledges one of the most topical films of 1951. Once the Cold War arrived, sci-fi movies began to grow more overtly political. In The Day the Earth Stood Still, a benevolent alien named Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie) warns the human race that its increasing usage of nuclear weapons has made other planets nervous enough to consider wiping out all life on Earth in a preemptive strike. Given the controversial subject matter, Hollywood’s reigning censorship board, the Production Code Administration (PCA), went through the script with a fine-tooth comb and left its fingerprints on the finished product. At the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu delivers an anti-war sermon before ascending back into the heavens from whence he came. To avoid offending certain moviegoers, the PCA insisted the speech be rewritten so as to temper or omit “words that seem to be directed towards the United States.”

7. WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951)

“But when worlds collide, said George Pal to his bride, I’m gonna give you some terrible thrills,” sang the Rocky Horror lips. Pal was an animator and producer who specialized in sci-fi thrillers. It was he who brought The War of the Worlds (another H.G. Wells novel) to the silver screen for the very first time in 1953. Like that better-known movie, When Worlds Collide is a doomsday story—although this time mankind’s survival is threatened not by extraterrestrial warships, but by a rogue planet that’s about to smack right into the earth. When another, potentially habitable planet is discovered, the world’s leaders scramble to save humanity by dispatching a “space ark” filled with a select group of people to colonize this new terrain. Will the desperate plan work? Or is our species destined for extinction? See the movie and find out for yourself.

8. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)

Early on in “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” the lips give this game-changer a little love. In 1950, Universal Studios hired Ray Bradbury to pen an original story outline about an alien spaceship. But instead of writing the brief plot synopsis that he’d been paid for, Bradbury overzealously handed in a full-length script. The premise he came up with put a fresh spin on the alien invasion genre, as it posits that extraterrestrial visitors might not necessarily be evil. Bradbury’s plot focuses on an interstellar vessel that crash-lands in Arizona. To get home, the otherworldly crew must fix their ride without getting themselves killed by suspicious human beings. Universal liked the idea, but decided to let someone else put the finishing touches on the script. Bradbury didn’t take this well.

“With the treatment in hand,” Bradbury recalled, “they fired me and hired Harry Essex to do the final screenplay (which, he told me later, was simply putting icing on the cake).” Titled It Came From Outer Space, their finished movie had a major impact on a whole generation of budding directors.

In 1977, Bradbury attended the world premiere of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Afterwards, the author told Spielberg that he’d thoroughly enjoyed the picture. In response, the director said “Close Encounters wouldn’t have been made if I hadn’t seen It Came From Outer Space six times as a kid. Thanks.”

9. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)

The sole directorial effort of actor Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter comes with an unforgettable villain. Reverend Harry Powell, masterfully portrayed by Robert Mitchum, is a serial-killing preacher who weds and murders a series of rich widows. Tattooed onto his knuckles are the words “love” and “hate,” which—as he reveals in the above clip—represent that eternal struggle between good and evil. Eddie from Rocky Horror sports an identical set of tats though, unlike Powell, he never explains their significance. (It probably has something to do with rock ‘n roll and/or hot patooties.)

10. TARANTULA (1955)

Big bug flicks were all the rage in the 1950s. The fad began with Them!, a 1954 Warner Bros. classic about giant, radioactive ants that terrorize New Mexico before going national. When this creepy, crawly picture became one of the year’s highest-grossing films, Hollywood took notice. Over the next few years, a swarm of monster arthropod movies attempted to ride the coattails of Them!, including The Deadly Mantis and The Black Scorpion (both released in 1957). But perhaps the most well-reviewed copycat is Tarantula, a film that sees Clint Eastwood take to the skies in a fighter jet to do battle with a 50-foot arachnid. Whereas Them! relied on puppetry, Tarantula mainly used footage of actual spiders for its effects sequences. As those Rocky Horror lips point out, the film’s resident scientist is played by Leo G. Carroll, whose credits include North by Northwest and five other Alfred Hitchcock pictures.

11. FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)

By Gene Roddenberry’s own admission, Star Trek owes a lot to Forbidden Planet. An epic space opera that carries the whiff of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Forbidden Planet had an abnormally high budget for a 1950s science fiction film, costing around $2 million to create. The result is a gorgeous film loaded with state-of-the-art miniatures and matte paintings.

Particular care was given to realizing the film’s primary non-human character, a lovable robot named Robby. He was brought to “life” by an actor in a suit made out of “thermo-formed” plastics. Far from being an inert costume, the outfit was given a vast array of buttons and gears that energetically spin around throughout his screen time. As if this weren’t enough, neon light tubes come on whenever he speaks. Altogether, the Robby suit cost at least $100,000 to build and contained 2600 feet of wiring. Such technical wizardry landed Forbidden Planet an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects. And, of course, it receives a well-deserved shout-out in the chorus of “Science Fiction/Double Feature.”

12. CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957)

Some references are subtler than others. That magnificent mouth never name-checks this film, but alludes to it by quipping “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes and passing them used lots of skill.” Curse of the Demon, starring Andrews, was based on “Casting the Runes,” a 1911 short story by M.R. James. A subtle breed of monster film, it features a hellish beast that hunts down accursed human beings. In order to build suspense and uncertainty, director Jacques Tourneur planned on keeping the monster almost completely out of sight. By doing this, he hoped to make the audience question the creature’s existence. But when his producer rejected the idea, Tourneur was forced to shoot long sequences that explicitly show the monster reaching out and killing its prey. Nearly 60 years later, fans still argue about whether this was the right call or a misstep.

13. THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962)

“And I really got hot when I say Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills,” go the opening song’s lyrics. What are Triffids, you ask? Fictional, man-sized plants capable of walking around on their roots. They also have toxic stingers and an appetite for human flesh. The botanical brutes first appeared in novelist John Wydnam’s 1951 thriller, The Day of the Triffids. By far his most famous book, it tells the story of a meteor shower that blinds everyone who gazes at it. With a huge proportion of humanity rendered sightless, the killer plants (of indeterminate origin) make their move. Two separate BBC miniseries have been based upon The Day of the Triffids; the story was also converted into a 1962 film starring Janette Scott and inspired Alex Garland to write the screenplay for 28 Days Later.

14. BAND OF OUTSIDERS (1964)

“Say, do any of you guys know how to Madison?” Brad Majors asks Frank-N-Furter’s eccentric guests. This wasn’t just a throwaway line; it was an homage. The preceding Rocky Horror dance number is “The Time Warp,” a bit that was inspired by a memorable dance sequence in the 1964 French crime drama Band of Outsiders. An offering from French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, it’s about three wannabe thieves who plot to execute a heist. At one point, the trio dances the Madison in a Parisian cafe.

15. BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)

Roger Ebert—yes, that Roger Ebert—co-wrote the script for this one-of-a-kind cult classic. Nicknamed BVD by its fans, it was originally supposed to be a sequel to the critically-panned drama Valley of the Dolls (1967). Director Russ Meyer had other ideas. As Ebert put it, the auteur “wanted everything in the screenplay except the kitchen sink. The movie, he theorized, should simultaneously be a satire, a serious melodrama, a rock musical, a comedy, a violent exploitation picture, a skin flick and a moralistic expose … of what the opening crawl called ‘the oft-times nightmarish world of Show Business.’”

Ultimately, BVD evolved into a bit of a parody about an all-female rock group that tries to make it in Hollywood. Soon, the musicians do just that, but find themselves woefully unprepared for stardom’s numerous drawbacks. A downward spiral ensues, complete with drug abuse, one-night stands, and a brutal decapitation.

Ebert’s chaotic movie struck a chord with Richard O’Brien. While The Rocky Horror Picture Show stage musical was still being rehearsed in London, O’Brien brought the cast to a midnight screening of BVD because it had the campy tone that he felt their production should emulate. This style was then carried over into Rocky Horror’s subsequent film adaptation. For services rendered, the movie subtly tips its hat to a certain “moralistic expose”: When Dr. Scott is dragged through the castle, you can see a Beyond the Valley of the Dolls poster in the background.

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16 Geeky Coasters to Keep Your Coffee Table Safe
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Avoid unsightly ring stains on your coffee table with this delightful selection of coasters:

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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Build your own coaster with this LEGO-esque design.

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This ceramic set celebrates all the best ships from Star Trek.

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This set comes with 10 coasters, each with a slice of brain specimen. When you’re not using them, you can stack them together to create a full brain.

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These coasters feature scenes from the classics My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

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15 Educational Facts About Old School
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Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

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