Sometime in the ’80s I packed “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” away forever with my fishnets—or so I thought.
Then I had kids, and all the stuff I swore I’d never do again … I’m doing it all again. So it is that I find myself accompanying four squirrelly teenage girls to the midnight screening of the film, recently given new life every second Friday of the month at the new Frida Cinema in downtown Santa Ana.
In the mid-’70s, there wasn’t a lot to do around here late at night. Rocky Horror was like a friend we could phone in the wee hours. In Orange County, the film has bounced around to a few other theaters, including The Balboa in Newport Beach, The Regency in Santa Ana, and the Wilshire Theatre in Fullerton (torn down in 1991 to make room for apartments).
Sometimes it has disappeared altogether. But we in Orange County have done more than our part to ensure its place
in history, despite the occasional breaks. After 41 years, the movie is the longest continuously running film in the world.
Recalling my own reaction years ago to the film’s language, I’m just hoping none of the teens gets embarrassed. But how could anything from 1975 possibly have shock value now? Remember how outré the whole sweet-transvestite-from-Transexual-Transylvania thing seemed even a decade ago? Now the brawny decathlete my brother idolized during the 1976 Olympics is on cable wearing pumps and a DVF wrap dress. The whole thing feels pretty old school. The Orange County cast—the shadow cast, as these groups are called—stands on a stage below the screen and acts out the film as it happens. Collectively, the actors represent 293 years with the show.
We’re met at the door of the graceful old theater by a young woman from the Transylvanians, a group that also includes lighting experts and ushers. Orange County takes Rocky Horror seriously; you have to audition to be in the cast. The local players, who call their troupe KAOS, or Killer Aliens from Outer Space, was formed in part by refugees from other groups. One actor commutes from Las Vegas. Perhaps because the cult classic is as much a community event as it is a film, they open the doors at 11:30 p.m. and spend half an hour mingling in the lobby, selling props for the film, and doing raffles on stage.
“Oh, is it your first time?”
Gleeful, the Transylvanian marks RV in red lipstick on the girls’ foreheads, the time-honored mark of the Rocky Horror Virgin. I stand at the end of the queue, waiting for the mark so I can at least take a selfie, even though I’m not a Rocky Horror Virgin. But the greeter lets me in without applying the mark; apparently I no longer look like it’s my first time for anything.
In the lobby, I pick out a cast member wearing the maid dress and cap of one of the film’s characters, Magenta. Forty-year-old Mandi Wallingford says she has been in the cast for 25 years, and even met her husband (now ex) while he, too, performed in it. They had a child who today, at 18, also is a performer. Wallingford says the O.C. audience skews younger than most, favoring the 18 to 25 demographic—probably because there still aren’t many gathering places for those under drinking age.
She introduces me to Logan Crow, the Frida’s founder and executive director. He tells me the Orange County cast decided it wanted to be more like a family; the members socialize frequently and do shows to raise funds for local causes.
The Frida, which just celebrated its second birthday, defines itself as a museum for great cinema, and it’s living up to that, attracting cinephiles from Los Angeles and beyond. I loved seeing “Jodorowsky’s Dune” and the David Lynch film festival. And my brother and his friend probably will always remember this year’s special Valentine’s Day showing of one of their favorite films, “Harold and Maude,” presented at a cemetery in Long Beach.
Like the Rocky Horror cast, the entire theater stages regular community events, with many of the films benefitting local charities. In 2014, after Robin Williams died, the cinema showed “The Fisher King” and donated all proceeds to the Jacquelyn Bogue Foundation for suicide prevention in Orange County. Says Crow: “Santa Ana is an amazing community that has all of this fire and passion and culture and conversation, and people are working together.”
While I’m meeting with crow, my girls slide off into the theater. By the time I find them—surprise!—there are no seats left for the chaperoning mom. I sit behind them and peer over their shoulders. They’re giggling over something small in their hands. I lean in closer to see that they’ve been issued fake nipple rings.
The acting is close to professional level, the actors rarely detracting from the film and sometimes adding to our understanding of it. Their costumes are nearly exact replicas of those in the film. The audience also takes part, shouting back ritual phrases that have developed during the movie’s four-decade run (not for the faint of ear). The audience members also shoot squirt guns and pelt one another with confetti and toilet paper. I tell the girls they’re experiencing an early form of interactive entertainment.
After the show, we walk out into the quiet streets of Santa Ana. It’s 2 a.m., and I realize I’ve forgotten how early the fog comes in. I’m usually in bed by now. In three hours, it’ll be time to get up.
I remember when the only after-hours fun in Orange County was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Now there are other options. But the girls are still laughing about the show when we get home. It’s old school, but the teens seemed to like it. And I enjoyed welcoming them into one of the more peculiar rituals of my youth.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” screens every second Friday of the month beginning at 11:30 p.m. at The Frida Cinema, 305 E. Fourth St. in Santa Ana. For information, see thefridacinema.org or call 714-285-9422. The Frida is a nonprofit theater that operates through memberships (offering special benefits) and fundraisers. Public tickets are available for individual shows.