How a regular Frankie fan became a cult-cinema guru

From Rocky Horror to the full schlock treatment, Kristian Fletcher has carved a unique niche in Queensland’s cultural scene, writes Brett Debritz

Apr 16, 2020, updated Apr 16, 2020
Interactive Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings helped launch Kristian Fletcher's career. Photo: Stuart Hirth

Interactive Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings helped launch Kristian Fletcher's career. Photo: Stuart Hirth

When it comes to art, the gap between “cult” and “mainstream” is fluid. It often turns out that something first seen as having only minority appeal was merely ahead of its time.

So it was with the Richard O’Brien stage musical that became The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film was considered a flop when it was first released in 1975, but through the persistence of its fans, a tenacious distributor and exhibitors who scheduled regular midnight screenings, it became a cult classic.

The eventual popularity of the film inspired greater interest in the stage show, which has had countless revivals, and even led to a live television production. Thanks to all that, and to more relaxed social mores in the years since its premiere, it’s now pretty much mainstream fare.

Although he wasn’t quite there at the beginning of the Rocky Horror phenomenon, Queenslander Kristian Fletcher has done more than most to keep Frank’n’Furter, the “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”, his sidekick Riff Raff, squeaky clean kids Brad and Janet, and the other oddball characters in the public eye.

“In high school, I discovered The Rocky Horror Picture Show and had dreams of starting a shadowcast – the group of performers who re-enact the movie in front of the screen,” Fletcher told InQueensland by email. “Upon leaving school, I started Cards 4 Sorrow, the Brisbane chapter, and we are still performing the movie at screenings after almost 20 years.”

How come the enduring success? “After almost 45 years, it has managed to transcend the generations. I put it down to the original writing. Richard O’Brien has created such a musically strong score which is complemented by a concept which never tires: a science-fiction musical parody with unique characters which people want to dress as and emulate.

“Even if it’s only for 90 minutes, those audience members are given an excuse to let their hair down and be accepted. Rocky Horror has always spoken to those who are craving an outlet, and I think in Brisbane it’s no exception.

“We performed the full movie for the first time at Schonell in October 2000. I started as Riff Raff but have played Brad now since 2003. I adore playing such a strait-laced character who has a somewhat kinky side underneath that is wanting to be explored.”

The success of the RPHS screenings led to a broader interest in cult films. Fletcher started an annual horror movie festival in 2004 and, the following year, began monthly screenings of cult films at the Metro Arts cinema in the city.

Cult film enthusiast Kristian Fletcher with director John Waters. (Photo: Supplied)

The operators of the Globe Theatre in Fortitude Valley approached him to play cult movies there, too. And so, by the late 2000s, he was making a modest living from those film screenings, interactive RHPS events at the Metro Arts and Schonell, and from dance parties and other events themed around the music of artists including David Bowie and Madonna.

Fletcher said he hasn’t made huge money, “but I believe it’s 99 per cent passion and, if you are doing it right, the rest should follow suit”.

Another constant for Fletcher has been the work American counterculture filmmaker John Waters, who shot to notoriety in 1972 with Pink Flamingos, an extremely bad-taste exploitation comedy starring drag queen Divine as “the filthiest person alive”. Waters went on to make Hairspray, which was reinvented as a popular stage and screen musical, Polyester, Cry-Baby and Serial Mom.

“I first saw Pink Flamingos in 2004 and it opened my eyes to the world of underground ‘midnight’ movies of the ’70s,” Fletcher said. “His [Waters’] films have become such an inspiration.”

Fletcher contacted the director’s personal assistant, who provided some quotes endorsing the annual Waters movie festival. “I was giving underground American cinema an audience in Brisbane and was told he was extremely thankful.

“I’ve been lucky enough to meet John three times. In 2018, I had coffee with him at his Baltimore office and it was great to spend the time chatting movies. I know he is really supportive of what I do in Brisbane.

“I’m giving life to nostalgic music and movies which may have been forgotten or are worth revisiting.”

Fletcher as David Bowie, who will be the focus of a charity event later this year. Photo: Richard Whitfield

Like every other producer, Fletcher has had to revise his 2020 schedule due to the COVID-19 outbreak. For now, he hopes to gather 300 people to recreate the Kate Bush Wuthering Heights music video in the “Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever” in July. Also pencilled in are the Brisbane Madonna party (which has been held annually since 2006) in August, and the David Bowie-themed “Bowies Down Brunswick” charity walk in November. Fletcher also hopes to organise further Cards 4 Sorrow Rocky Horror screenings this year. Details will appear on his website when they are confirmed.

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