This Halloween weekend, cinema fans around the globe will dress up in fishnets, bust out their water pistols and (for the uninitiated) pop their cherries as The Rocky Horror Picture Show returns to theaters for its 40th year.
Rocky Horror has been a cultural staple, with each generation being initiated into the twisted world of Brad, Janet and the Transylvanian transvestite himself, Dr. Frank N. Furter, through the annual resurgence of midnight showings, live reenactments, stage adaptations and television and film references galore. But one person who was there from the start is Patricia Quinn, or as fans know her, Magenta.
Quinn starred alongside Tim Curry’s Furter and Rocky Horror creator Richard O’Brien’s Riff Raff in the original stage production of The Rocky Horror Show as the sinister, intergalactic maid and would later go on to reprise the role in the iconic 1975 film adaptation.
“We were making this up as we were going along, daily. It began with a couple of songs and not many lines, and it still doesn’t have many lines, which was great about it,” Quinn says with a laugh. “Within three weeks, London was buzzing with The Rocky Horror Show upstairs in the Royal Court Theatre. We were the toast of London, we were invited to top restaurants, and we didn’t know what had hit us.”
The production’s blend of sci-fi horror, dark comedy and musical numbers was nothing London had ever seen before (or since, really). The small, 63-seat theater was packed night after night, with lines down the street and acquaintances from seemingly everywhere calling up Quinn and company for seats. The Rocky Horror Show was quickly gaining a reputation as the show to see, and gaining some high-profile fans along the way. One in particular, Quinn recalls, gave them a seal of approval they couldn’t believe.
“[One night], Vincent Price walked into our dressing room and said how wonderful we all were,” Quinn says. “We all fell over. For the ‘King of Horror’ to walk in, that’s amazing!”
All this, of course, led to a film adaptation, as The Rocky Horror Picture Show was soon put into production, with Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf and more added to the original stage players of Quinn, Curry and O’Brien. But what many do not realize is that it flopped tremendously upon release. It was met with lackluster reactions in the UK, its U.S. release was pulled back due to small audiences, and it appeared Rocky Horror was destined to only be remembered on stage. Despite these initial drawbacks, Quinn walked away from the film proud of what the cast had accomplished, despite the “mutters” she overheard from cinema attendees.
“I’m very proud of Rocky Horror. I think it’s brilliant,” she says. “One of the reasons it’s so good is because we’d already done it on the stage, so when we got to the screen, we knew who we were. And by the time Curry came to the screen, as O’Brien said, ‘The monster had grown.’ Extraordinary performance. It never bores.”
It wasn’t until the spring of 1976 when a Fox executive marketed Rocky Horror as a midnight movie that things really took off. Costumes were made, traditions were created and audiences began, as Quinn puts it, “talking back” to the film. Quinn and her castmates were being stopped on the street by fans asking questions like “Did you make the film so slow so we could talk to it?” and parents telling them about theirs sons dressing up as Curry’s cross-dressing mad scientist for screenings. Rocky Horror had become a cult classic, despite the cast’s humble start in the upstairs of the Royal Court Theatre.
“We weren’t out there to change people’s lives,” Quinn says. “We were out there kicking up our heels having a good time doing sex, drugs and rock and roll. Then, suddenly, people started writing theses, and I thought ‘What?’”
Forty years after debuting on the silver screen, The Rocky Horror Picture Show remains as bold, captivating and weird as it did at its first midnight screening. And Quinn, who despite acting in a wide array of shows, films and plays remains best known as Magenta, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We don’t get sick of it, ever. You can’t get sick of it. It’s uplifting,” she says with all sincerity. “It’s given everyone that excuse to put on fishnets.”
John Connor Coulston is a freelance pop culture writer and a contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.