Shock Treatment

Dir: Jim Sharman, 1981


SHOCK TREATMENT - American Poster 2 (2)

Is it a sequel or an equal?

Richard O’Brien’s next musical outing after the huge phenomenon that was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shock Treatment didn’t reach anywhere near the heights or popularity of its predecessor.

Protagonists of Rocky Horror, Brad and Janet Majors, nee Weiss (Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper, respectively) live in Denton, USA. The whole of Denton is situated in a TV studio, DTV. Its residents are the cast, crew, and audience of the station. They eat, sleep, and drink there. Brad and Janet are chosen to appear on the game show, Marriage Maze.

As a prize for winning, Brad is sentenced to Dentonvale, a mental hospital programme shown on the station. The hospital is run by Cosmo and Nation McKinley, brother and sister with an incestuous relationship.

It’s up to Janet, Judge Oliver Wright (Charles Gray) and Betty Hapschatt (Ruby Wax) to rescue him.

Generally speaking, true fans of Rocky Horror don’t tend to warm to this. Others think it’s better. I’m in the former.

There’s nothing wrong with the film, per se. The music is okay. A few catchy tunes but nothing that really sticks in your head. The rock ‘n’ roll driven songs of the original are, here, replaced with more pop-py type songs.

The lyrics occasionally come off as childish and something an amateur would write. I can’t help but feel a bit embarrassed at a few of them.

Appealing to a larger audience, the sex and risque that was so prevalent in O’Brien’s classic is largely substituted for harmless little ditties.

It’s only, now, after thirty plus years, is Shock Treatment getting some recognition. It, certainly, deserves more than the initial box office receipts  gave it.

The biggest problem of the film is that it will never be out of the shadow of its bigger. and better, older sibling.

From day one the film was promoted as a sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Fans of that film went in expecting a continuation, and didn’t get it. It’s a hard act to follow.

Taking a serious change of direction both musically and visually, the movie was never going to please everyone. It was definitely ahead of it’s time. It predicted the onslaught of reality TV. Note worthy cinema such as Peter Weir’s The Truman Show were preceded by this.

In Shock Treatment‘s defence, it never tries to be Rocky Horror or ever said it was. It’s the fans and the studio who make the comparisons. It doesn’t even try to be an add on. Like O’Brien says, “it’s not a sequel, but an equal”.

It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a great one, either. Bits work, others don’t. The good does outweigh the bad. It is enjoyable.

A lot of fun for fans of the precursor is spotting all the homages, such as Frank’s throne (here painted red), Frank’s cape and all other easter eggs and in jokes.

Also of note is how many 80’s celebrities pop up in this. Some had already made their name, others just starting. A pre Young Ones Rik Mayall appears as Rest Home Ricky and Ruby Wax as Betty Hapschatt, before she made a real name for herself in Girls On Top.

And, Dame Edna Everage as her alter ego, Barry Humphries, playing blind game show host, Bert Schnick.

Not having the infamy of the 1975 cult, it rarely gets shown on television, if ever at all. A brief issue on VHS, the tape wasn’t a best seller or made any dents.

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The first and only UK VHS release

Wallowing in relative obscurity, the internet and fans gave it a second life. A resurgence in an interest of the film, forced Twentieth Century Fox to sit up and lisen into pressing the film on DVD, alas only as a barebones release aside from the obligatory trailer. The US DVD is an extras packed wonderment of features, such as commentary by Shock Treatment fan presidents, Mad Man Mike and Bill Brennan.

As a curio, it piques your interest. As long you don’t expect to be bowled over by it, you can lose yourself for 90 mins.

But, after that, it’s quite forgettable.



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