You need a litttle Shock Treatment
Shock Treatment is a 1981 film created by the Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s writers Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman. I have seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show over seventy times (I lost count after that) so, when I sat down to watch Shock Treatment, I was full of optimism. That was thirty years ago, and at the time it paled in comparison to Rocky Horror. I know I set the bar too high for Shock Treatment and that led to disappointment. The unfair expectations lead me to give it another look; to give it a more realistic chance.
The Plot of Shock Treatment
Originally intended to be a sequel to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS), it became something very different. It is without the return of Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon or Barry Bostwick. The characters Brad and Janet are once again the focus of the film, but Frank-N-Furter is no longer in the story. Cliff De Young and the ever doe-eyed Jessica Harper (see Suspiria) now play Brad and Janet. Many actors from the original RHPS join them, but with different roles.
The film itself is a strange dark-comedy musical centered again in the town of Denton. Denton, however, is now the inside of a large television studio. Many of the former Transylvanians from the RHPS, play audience members, who, like all of Denton, live in the studio. If the citizens are not in the audience, they serve as cast, crew or stars. There are familiar faces. Actors Richard O’Brien (Rif Raff), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), and Nell Campbell (Colombia) are new, but similar characters. O’Brien plays Dr. Cosmo McKinley and naturally, Patricia Quinn plays his incestuous sister again in the role of Nation McKinley. Nell Campbell is the sexy nurse and all three work in Dentonvale which is the psychiatric ward inside of Denton.
Fast food magnate Farley Flavors (De Young in a dual role) controls all of Denton and the shows produced by the station. Brad and Janet are now married, but unhappy. While sitting in the audience, the couple is selected to participate in the game show “Marriage Maze.” The supposedly blind and bizarre host Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries of Dame Edna fame) gives the couple a game prize to help save their marriage. The prize is to commit Brad to Dentonvale. Dentovale is more than the psych ward. It is also a soap opera about the hospital run by brother and sister Cosmo and Nation McKinley.
Once Brad is committed, Farley Flavors sets his eyes on Janet. She is soon molded into a star while Brad is kept wearing a straight jacket in a cell. She allows the fame to go to her head as she becomes a diva. Farley attempts to woo her away from Brad as she thinks less and less about him. Does the taste of stardom make her leave Brad? Does Brad get out? Why are she and Brad being medicated by Dr. McKinley? Who exactly is Farley Flavors? Will their marriage survive? No spoilers, you need to watch and see how it all turns out.
Should you watch?
After viewing it again all of these years later, I am surprised to find it as a parody of Reality TV. A parody years ahead of its time. Where RHPS parodied the old B-Movies of the past, Shock Treatment predicts the future. The Real World, Real Housewives, even the Kardashians fit into the film’s vision. There is voyeuristic sexuality, and a jab at the mental health of the audience for the various Denton programming. Although today, cities are not in television studios, every move celebrities and wannabes make must appear on film for the world to see. I didn’t realize the parody when I saw it decades ago. Reality TV wasn’t even a real thing or a term back then.
The film has slowly grown a small following. It’s funny how time can change a person’s perception. Its futuristic vision has helped make it more relevant. There are even those who see it as an overlooked cult classic.
Still, the film is no Rocky Horror. You shouldn’t expect “Sweet Transvestite” or the fun “Time Warp.” However, there are catchy songs like “Little Black Dress,” “Lullaby,” and “Shock Treatment.” By scrapping the sequel concept, its success was ill-fated. The RHPS’s mass following wanted more Rocky Horror (even though a sequel to a cult film is usually a bad idea). When you remove the most popular character (Frank-N-Furter) and the most famous actors you will lose fans. Also claiming in advertisements that “Shock Treatment isn’t a sequel, it’s an equal” further served to alienate the audience. Calling it an equal to one of the greatest cult films for all time sets a very high level of expectation. I think the problem is that the viewers watch it for what it is not (RHPS), instead of what it is. O’Brien, Quinn, and Campbell are excellent in their roles once again. The film is the most watchable when they are on screen. Shock Treatment is better the second time, but it’s not RHPS. In fairness, I saw Rocky Horror in the theater with great people (thank you Santoro family). I think watching the DVD takes away from the audience effect. Regardless, I still find a song stuck in my head after viewing, “You shiver, and quiver, for that soft caress — As you slip slip slip —
into that little black dress.”
Did You Know?
- Oddly, the only actor to repeat the same character is Jeremy Newson as Ralph Hapschatt.
- Cliff DeYoung was the original choice for Frank-N-Furter, but a scheduling conflict kept him from playing the role.
- Rocky Horror Picture Show cast members Richard O’Brien and Meatloaf, along with Barry Humphries (better known as cross-dressing talk show host Dame Edna), also appeared in Spice World.
- Sal Piro, president of the Rocky Horror fan club, can be seen in the opening sequence under the staircase, talking on the phone.
- Shock Treatment had its official premiere as a Midnight movie.