Shock Treatment (1981)Written By: Richard O’Brien
Directed By: Jim Sharman
Starring: Cliff De Young, Jessica Harper, Patricia Quinn, Richard O’Brien, Charles Gray, Nell Campbell
Country of Origin: Great Britain
When The Rocky Horror Picture Show made its way to the United States in the 1970s it revolutionized the way people think about film. Not in a manner befitting a blockbuster or epic movie, but rather in a way that something could be a colossal critical flop and still be one of the most popular films of all time. Predating 70s musical juggernaut Saturday Night Fever, the flick became the pure, unadulterated definition of a cult movie and would garner more and more attention as a “classic” film as the years passed. It is an honor that films like Snakes on a Plane and Shaun of the Dead, among others, hope to someday achieve. That said, such a masterpiece of cinema would not be properly restored into the anoles of time without mention of the blemish on its record. For it just so happens that RHPS creator Richard O’Brien had been working on another brainchild in his spare time following the original, and had come up with a far lesser-known sequel to this film.
Shock Treatment, released in 1981, would follow in suit to the same lackluster reviews its predecessor had. But unlike RHPS, Shock Treatment seemed to be missing all of the staying power the original film had. Maybe it was because the likes of Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon had disappeared, and there was also no sign of show-stealing Tim Curry in the cast. Still, the film pressed on to a forgettable box office and even more forgettable video release. Hell, most people didn’t even know a sequel existed, and several are likely to learn of this knowledge for the first time just by reading this. For those of you wondering just what appeal, if any, Shock Treatment has, you are in for a stranger journey than you ever could have hoped for.
The events of Shock Treatment take place in the unusual aftermath of the first film, but this time, Brad and Janet are over their promiscuity (or so we are led to believe) and are now married. They have returned to Denton, which has become a town driven entirely by a large television station that broadcasts nothing but the residents there. For you see, they are both the actors and the audience, attempting to package a product of “Mental Health” to the entire world. Imagine one giant mental institution that is also a television station posing as the state of Texas. Confused? It gets better. Now why any town, much less this hellhole, would want to become one big TV Station is anyone’s guess, but hey, no one said plots were simple. The town is run by a seedy character named Farley Flavors, who, if I’m not mistaken, begins convulsing in an orgasmic fashion at the mere sight of Janet. So, since the horny pit boss is in control of all the program on DTV (Denton Television, Mother Fucking Genius), he decides that Janet is his next big star, and Brad is, and I quote “an emotional cripple.” The film meanders from there into several non-sequitor scenes that are a mishmash of DTV programming and behind the scenes action. With an ensemble cast working most of the film, we are meant to feel compassion for Brad as he continues to be neglected by a now pig-headed Janet. As this cluster-fuck of a plot wanders aimlessly towards its climax, all we are left with is musical number after musical number.
Oh, did I neglect to mention the music? Richard O’Brien was hard at work again on a soundtrack that he hoped would rival the powerhouse of his first work. Instead, we are left with Rocky rehashes, as lyrics like “jump to the left” and “step to the right” are replaced by “rip, rip, rip” and “snip, snip, snip.” That’s right, O’Brien gave up entirely on writing and decided to instead develop a stuttering problem. If there was a budget for this low-grade production, it certainly didn’t go to O’Brien’s songwriting. Still, if a song was not directly influenced by Rocky, it would instead fit into a different sort of rehash. The overture to the film also provides the same simplistic chords for nearly half of the music in the film. And after a while, it gets real fucking old. Kind of like how Geddy Lee sings “Closer to the Heart,” because the first few times it feels nice and comforting, but after that, its just a castrated singer who annoys the piss out of you. Geddy Lee sucks, by the way, but that’s neither here nor there.
The movie finally comes to a close when the hero (that’s Brad in case you got lost during the viewing process, and odds are you did) returns triumphantly and Janet realizes what a self-absorbed, Paris Hilton she has become. The two reunite, and Farley Flavors, well, I don’t want to spoil everything for you, and frankly, I’m not sure what the fuck happened to him anyway.
Member of the crew who should have been fired: Richard O’Brien. Okay, so it isn’t so much that the music sucks, but he got really, really lazy when he began composing his new masterpiece. And that right there might be the problem. Rocky could survive on music alone, but Shock Treatment was taken out back and shot for its efforts.
The EFF (Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film) One-Line Synopsis: “Couple trapped in TV studio that replaces real life.”
Best Name in the Cast: Jeremy Newson. Now, his name isn’t really funny or special, and it has absolutely no quirky alliteration. So why does he win the category? Because he plays Ralph Hapschatt, and despite all the returning members of the cast who play different roles, Newson is the only member to return from Rocky and play the same role! Kudos for his perseverance!
Quote of the Film:
"Alimony is just another word for rape." -Betty Hapschatt
Final Thoughts: For a film that is so abysmally bad, it has a huge upside. Richard O’Brien wrote and produced something that was an attempt to look at the real dark side of television. His satirical approach to TV was misunderstood in the 80’s, but if it were revived today it would flourish as pure fact. After all, Janet sells Brad down the river and has him committed on live TV. She puts her husband in the loony bin so she can become a bigger star. Looking at this world nowadays, where reality TV reigns supreme, such a concept is more commonplace than it is shocking. And for that alone, Shock Treatment is a film 25 years before its time, so maybe now it will finally receive the appreciation it deserves for its truthful and sarcastic delivery on an all too familiar facet of the media. Odds are against that happening, and quite frankly, so is the Motion Picture Academy.