In September 1975, as "Jaws" finally sunk from the No. 1 box office slot after 14 weeks of making audiences scream, another fright film with a memorable soundtrack and a knack for getting moviegoers yelling debuted.
"The Rocky Horror Picture Show," unlike "Jaws," didn't make much of a splash at the box office. But within a year, the campy horror musical started its run as a cult midnight movie, pelvic-thrusting its way into Hollywood history as an early – and enduring – interactive cinematic experience.
In the summer of 2013, we're in a 1975 time warp: “Sharknado,” the silly and toothy spawn of "Jaws" and "Rocky Horror,” is flying from TV to the midnight-movie circuit Friday on the wings of a Twitter tsunami. The mash-up of the first of the modern blockbusters and the ghoulish dirty-old granddaddy of after-hours cinema shows no signs of, well, jumping the shark.
The success of “Sharknado” is almost as unlikely as the Syfy movie’s premise: Sharks propelled by tornado winds swallow Los Angeles landlubbers – except for those fortunate enough to be armed with chainsaws, shotguns, bar stools, pool cues and other shark-repelling implements.
But the operative hand-held technology for surviving “Sharknado” is the smart phone: The TV movie spurred a reported 5,000 tweets a minute during its initial July 11 broadcast. The tweets are still coming – news of a sequel set in Manhattan spurred a bevy of “Chew York” quips.
While “Sharknado” is a Twitter-driven phenomenon, there’s something charmingly old fashioned about the idea of the movie becoming an experience that can be shared in theaters, too. With “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg got millions to cling to one another as his shark flick frightened moviegoers unlike any mass-appeal film since Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in 1960. With “Rocky Horror,” Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman let everybody in on the joke of a haunted house filled with oversexed, musically talented freaks – and audiences eventually responded by adding their own jokes, like throwing toast at the screen during an on-screen toast (hey, you had to be there – but that’s the point).
Good timing also apparently helped buoy “Sharknado” – and not just because “Shark Week” is on the way. With zombies providing more their share of apocalyptic entertainment these days, “Sharknado” offers some much-needed comic relief – and doesn’t seem all that much over the top in comparison.
As “Sharknado” gets ready to hit the big screen, check out a scene below:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.