This weekend, a line of people will spill down Pacific Avenue. It’ll start under the marquee of the Del Mar Theater, with folks dressed in fishnets and corsets ready for two hours of expression without constraints.
In the plush theater seats, they’ll call Brad an asshole, throw toilet paper when Dr. Scott enters the frame and do the timewarp in the aisles. It’ll be midnight — time for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the only cinematic experience where participation is crucial for success.
“To this day, when people ask me what it’s about, I tell them it’s about a couple who needs to go home and they just want to use the phone because I don’t know how else to describe it,” said Slugs in Fishnets co-director Lillie Moore of the musical horror comedy, who admitted she went through multiple viewings before deciding if she even liked it.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” follows quintessential ‘50s couple Brad and Janet who, after a flat tire, find themselves stuck in the Annual Transylvanian Convention and the world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
The 1975 film based on the play by Richard O’Brien commercially bombed upon release but was resurrected a few years later as a midnight movie. “Rocky Horror” found its footing during the witching hour and over the next four decades, the campy film’s cult status has been cemented through Halloween rituals and late-night shadowcasts — where characters act out the film as it plays on screen.
“It’s taken seriously and not taken seriously at the same time,” said Slugs in Fishnets co-director Skye Chambers. “We do what we do very seriously, but we have so much fun with it.”
In Santa Cruz, Slugs in Fishnets orchestrates the shadowcasts for “Rocky Horror” and occasionally other films. The student organization, founded in 1984, hosts shows on campus all year, but its Halloween shows at the Del Mar Theater like the two this weekend — the only ones open to the community as well — regularly sell out.
“Our October shows are fantastic, but they kill everybody on cast,” Moore said.
Moore explained the quick turnaround time for the annual October shows leaves the cast with a month or less to prepare. After the cast is assembled and school is in session, the Slugs in Fishnets crew hit the ground running with three weekends of rehearsals.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, “Rocky Horror” is the longest running film of all time. The cultural phenomena has found its home in both small town community theaters and big city stages around the country. Generations of fans and “Rocky Horror” virgins have carried on the tradition of the cult classic.
“My mom introduced me to Rocky when I was in high school, but never let me watch the entire show. She said [if I wanted] to watch the entire show, I had to go to a live shadowcast,” co-director Skye Chambers said.
Chambers was officially inducted into the Rocky Horror fandom after catching the Halloween show her first year at UC Santa Cruz and joined Slugs in Fishnets the following year. Slugs in Fishnets helped coax a shy Chambers out of her shell. “Now I’m very comfortable dancing around in my underwear, which I would not have thought freshman year,” she said.
Well-intentioned mockery of the film is at the core of the shadowcast experience and part of the charm of “Rocky Horror.” Call out lines poke fun at costuming missteps, awkward dialogue and underscore one-liners. But beneath the kitsch and camp, the film resonates with viewers.
Moore’s heart lies with Janet, the virginal protagonist of the film whose time with Dr. Frank-N-Furter and the Transylvanians triggers a shift in her values and ideology.
“She is a small town girl who doesn’t do sex, doesn’t do any kind of ‘heavy petting’ and then she gets completely flipped,” Moore said. “That happened to me later in high school and again in college. I grew up in the Central Valley, but it was kind of a conservative area and I came to college and a lot of my views flipped.”
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a celebration of the weird. It’s transgressive in its understanding of sexuality and advocating for self-acceptance. It’s a film about liberation and the refusal to conform — to sexual conventions, social mores, a plot — and encourages others to do the same.
“Even though it’s a weird and bad movie, it sends the incredible message that you can be whoever you want.” said Emelia Austin, Friday night’s Janet. “Your sexuality can be whatever you want — it can be fluid. Instead of dreaming it, be it.”
After the weekend’s shows are over, Slugs in Fishnets will go into rehearsing for November’s on-campus show. The cycle of shows, rehearsals and auditions will continue until the school year wraps, and for directors Skye Chambers and Lillie Moore, the spring shows will mark an end for their shadowcasting experience at UCSC.
“There’s just something really special about coming home at three in the morning with a sore throat because you’ve been screaming at a screen,” Moore said. “There’s something cathartic about coming home, scrubbing off all your eye makeup and waking up the next morning with a sore throat.”