Arriving at Chandler Cinemas on a recent Saturday night feels like walking into a subpar episode of The Twilight Zone. The strip mall that houses the cinema (along with a Target store) is huge, but at midnight on a weekend, the entire place is gloomy and dead quiet. When I step out of my truck into the vast, empty parking lot, I can't even hear the traffic from Arizona Avenue. I half expect Rod Serling to emerge from the shadows around the dark cinema marquee and start some surreal spiel about how nothing is as it seems here.
But the cinemas are as barren as they seem. There's nobody near the theater entrance, save for a few teenage boys milling around on the sidewalk, loudly complaining that their nipples hurt. When asked why their nipples hurt, they are unable to give any reasons, but they ask me to come over and talk to them.
I pass on the opportunity to get hit on by guys half my age (no, I won't buy you beer) and enter the theater. Inside, there's a svelte blond guy wearing nothing but gold lamé underwear, speaking with a heavy lisp and saying something about "I'll show all you bitches." He's surrounded by a handful of women wearing vinyl bustiers, fishnet tights, and costume makeup, as well as a couple of guys in full dress suits.
Rocky Horror Picture Show
They are members of a production company called Come As You Are, and they serve as the local cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Save for a dozen or so other people hanging around the depressingly bare concession stand, they're the only signs of life inside Chandler Cinemas. I'm hoping that there's a larger crowd already inside the theater.
Luckily, there's a substantial audience waiting for the movie to start — about 80 or so folks who probably come here every weekend. I have a hard time finding an empty row. My friend Stacks and her date, Mr. Fantastic, are supposed to meet me and my girlfriend, and I'm saving seats for them. For the past half hour, I've been besieged by frustrated text messages from Stacks, who can't find Chandler Cinemas, which is about as conspicuous and easy to access as ancient texts housed deep in the Vatican library. Mr. Fantastic finally looks up a map on his iPhone and they arrive 15 minutes into the film.
Before the movie starts, the cast holds some sort of "animal orgasm" contest, in which people win prizes for imitating how certain animals might sound while reaching their primal peaks. I was bummed that Stacks and Mr. Fantastic missed the guy imitating a moose orgasm, because it was one of the most entertaining aspects of the night.
This is not my first time attending The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I used to go every weekend as a teenager in Indianapolis. One of the things we did that I did not see in Chandler was a "virgin auction," wherein first-time attendees were auctioned off to seasoned Rocky Horror-heads (virgins were supposed to sit next to winning bidders during the movie). The bids were always abstract and silly. My virginity was auctioned off for a keg of beer and the carcass of some guy's wife, stretched from Tennessee to Ohio. Eventually, I became a member of the cast that re-enacts the film in front of the big screen. My character was Magenta, one of the aliens from Planet Transsexual Transylvania, and I played her role because my hair is similarly dark, long, curly, and frizzy.
Now, I never attended Rocky Horror because I thought it was a cinematic masterpiece. It's a rather crappy British rock musical, actually. Made in 1975, the film's a flashy-but-cheesy pseudo-sci-fi musical starring Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon. The plot revolves around the newly engaged couple of Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Sarandon), who stumble upon a creepy castle after becoming stranded in a rainstorm. The castle belongs to the cross-dressing diva Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Curry), a "sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania" who has just created the perfect man for himself (Rocky, played by Peter Hinwood, who runs around in nothing but gold lamé Speedos for the entire film). Lots of death and sex and singing ensue.
The appeal of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (for me, anyway) was the social experience. It was one of the few weekend events I could attend as an underage kid, and it was a haven for all the miscreants and misfits in town. I could get picked on, spit on, and tripped in the hallways of my high school all week long, but on Saturday nights at Rocky, I was the shit, and everybody accepted me. Nobody at Rocky Horror calls anybody else a freak. That'd be like Jeffrey Dahmer calling flesh-eating Third World tribes "disgusting cannibals."
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But this experience at Chandler Cinemas is different. An aura of elitism hangs in the air. The Come As You Are cast clearly goes all out, with full stage props, including the big red box/operating table, from which Rocky is born, and a castle wall with a window. They threw rice during the wedding scene, sprayed the audience with water during the rainstorm scene, and ran up and down the aisles, pulling the audience in to participate.
Unfortunately, their diligence and attention to detail also extends to enforcing some "rules." Nobody from the cast talked to me and my friends, unless it was to reprimand us. For example, there's a scene in the movie where Brad and Janet first approach Frank-N-Furter's castle, and it's set to a song called "Over at the Frankenstein Place," which contains the line, "There's a light over at the Frankenstein Place." Traditionally, audience members hold up lighter flames during the chorus. But at Chandler Cinemas, that's apparently a big no-no. I was approached by one of the cast members and told, "No natural fire," as other people in the theater waved their cell phone lights. I totally understand and respect that rule, but I was a little miffed when a second cast member came by a few minutes after I had already put my lighter away and admonished me again. Perhaps the presence of unruly underage kids requires such vigilance, but I'm an adult, and I need to be told something only once.
After the film, two Mesa police cars were sitting in front of Chandler Cinemas, watching a couple of female cast members loitering around their car. Two women hanging out in a parking lot isn't usually suspicious, but these women were still dressed in their Rocky costumes — fishnet tights, super-short pleather miniskirts, and black lace bustiers. They looked as though they could have been soliciting. The officers asked to see their IDs. I left while the police were still looking curious and asking the women questions, but I can imagine the explanation: "You see, officers, there's this silly cult classic movie where people run around in smutty outfits, and we dress up and pretend to be characters in this movie and we throw rice and stuff . . ."
Luckily, they probably didn't have to explain losing their cultural virginity to a corpse and a keg. Not even Rod Serling could explain that one.