15 Movies Referenced in The Rocky Horror Picture Show


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.


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.


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.”


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.”


“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.”


“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.


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.”


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.


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.”


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.


“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.


“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.


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.

Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.


Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)


Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.


This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.


This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.


To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.


“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.


Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.


Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

The American Museum of Natural History
10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.


Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.


We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.


When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.


Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.


Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.


Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.


Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.


Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.


If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.


The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.


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