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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Aug 28 1996
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Outside the UC Theater, a line of boisterous but clean-cut kids stretches around the block waiting for the midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. At first glance, there is a disgraceful lack of fishnets in the crowd, but a gaggle of black-clad girls puts my mind to rest as they peer from underneath an inordinate amount of makeup and scurry after a man whom they shoulder-tap for a 40.

"We just love you, man," they squeal after their sandy-haired benefactor.
Other kids in line suck on cans of beer in brown paper sacks while chattering away with excitement. A Camaro full of college guys pulls up alongside the theater. A few friendly revs extract shrieks from some girls in line.

"Cal! Cal! Cal!" shouts a largish boy in a varsity sweat shirt as he nears the ticket booth. A close study of the crowd reveals an abundance of UC Berkeley T-shirts and paraphernalia.

"College?" I shake my head in wonder, recalling the crowds of pre-pubescent youths who once flocked to this show.

At the door a security guard pats down moviegoers as they come through. A doorman stamps their wrists for hassle-free in-and-outs.

"We have to look for bottles, lighters, squirt guns," explains the theater manager sweetly. "It's an old, wooden building. Fire codes and all that."

Inside, members of Barely Legal, the live-action cast for tonight's show, recline on the lobby benches while adjusting their fake eyelashes until an uproar from within the auditorium sends them scuttling off down the aisles. To the unaccustomed eye, the auditorium, which already boasts over 800 people, resembles a classroom that has been left unattended by a lazy substitute teacher. A blizzard of wadded-up newspaper and toilet paper tubes rains down between the rows; students stand on their chairs shouting at random targets as they let projectiles fly; Nine Inch Nails and Ministry blare from the speakers; boys run full speed up and down the aisles, hurling themselves to the floor to avoid missiles; a renegade wheelchair spins out of control on the orchestra floor; an authoritative man in a baseball hat picks up a microphone and screams, "Attitude check?" To which the crowd responds, "Fuck you!" at the top of their collective lungs while flashing a single-fingered salute. This obnoxious revelry far surpasses my recollections of Rocky Horror fans, but Joseph and Chuck, who have been coming since the '70s, take it in stride.

"It's timeless," Joseph explains calmly. Behind him, a quarterback-size man somersaults down the aisle. "Twenty years ago it was more of a gay disco sort of thing; now it's more of a punky, grunge sort of thing. But whatever it is, [Rocky Horror] always captures the spirit of youth."

Despite the chaos, the crowd takes their seats like good little Transylvanians when the lights come down. I wait for the larger-than-life, Lip-Quencher-red mouth that begins the film, but instead we get a montage of classic film clips, accompanied by Beethoven blasting from the sound system. The audience hisses at Singing in the Rain and cheers The Blues Brothers; they are completely indifferent to Elvis and shout for John Travolta.

At the close of the preview segment, Dr. John, an odious, long-haired MC who has returned to the UC Theater after a two-year hiatus, launches into his act. "What's with this Beethoven shit?" he shouts into the mike. "Pianos suck!" responds a clever loudmouth in the audience. Dr. John smiles and welcomes to the stage Curtis Mahshi, an 18-year veteran Frank-N-Furter who quit the role last year much to everyone's disappointment.

"Some call him a legend. Some say he's too old to do it," singsongs Dr. John like a professional carnival barker. "Well, tonight we'll see." A garbled response from a young man in the center section catches Dr. John's ever-ready ear.

"What was that?" he says to a skinny teen. "Hey, Gomer, stand up! OK, how many of you would fuck him tonight for a billion dollars?" The crowd applauds enthusiastically. "How many of you would fuck him for free?" Silence. "OK, then. Sit your ass down!" Victorious, Dr. John introduces the rest of the cast during a dance number performed to the new Mission Impossible theme. The cast and MC meet on the house floor, where a birthday girl from the crowd is offered up for public paddling amid much protest and squirming. Next is a request for the Cal Virgins -- folks new to the Rocky Horror experience. Several men and women are pushed in front of the stage, where they are ordered to fake an orgasm for the crowd. The winner receives a standing ovation and is asked for her phone number while the loser is loudly mocked. That bit of humiliation behind us, the rules are recited, call-and-response style, by the MC and the crowd.

1) No smoking anything -- unless you share.
2) Don't throw anything at the screen or cast -- throw it at the virgins.
69) Time Warp -- in the side aisles only.

Then there's just the matter of waking Ren the Projectionist from his drug-induced fog and the show can begin. The MC starts the cheer, the crowd finishes it.

"Give me an R! Give me an O! Give me a C! Give me a K! Give me a Y!"
A small, pale face complete with shades appears in the projectionist window.
"This is the one with Stallone, right?" asks Ren in his best stoner voice before the great, red lips make their majestic entree. Even with a well-endowed stripper gyrating in front of the screen during the opening song, the audience is attentive to their traditional Rocky Horror roles. Unfortunately, as the show progresses, the crowd seems to lose its cohesion. In trying to outwit -- or at least outshout -- each other, they reduce the experience to a jumble of screamed incoherencies.

Russ King, a middle-aged gent in a black beret, is completely untroubled.
"Oh, the crowd is definitely more outspoken now," he says with a smile, "which is just fine. It's consistent with the changes in society as a whole." And with 4-year-old Anna Fuentes and her 8-year-old brother, Joseph, in the crowd tonight ("They like the music," says their father), there are bound to be even more changes before the final Rocky Horror floor show.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor

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