One of the strangest movie going experiences of my life was going to a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but not for the reasons you may think. Everybody knows that audience participation is something that is encouraged during this film…at least I thought everybody knew that. When I saw the film at a first-week-of-school event in college I learned that I was one of the few people in the audience with knowledge of the participatory tradition of the film. I was one of the only people shouting things at the screen. One guy even leaned over to me and said, “Hey man, shut up.” It’s been over 25 years since I first saw Rocky Horror, but it has taken me until now to muster up the courage to see the sequel. You say you didn’t know there was a sequel, well you’re not alone. Strap yourselves in for 1981’s Shock Treatment.
The film tells the further adventures of Brad and Janet…this time played by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper rather than Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. They end up as contestants on a game show called Marriage Maze, hosted by a blind host with a thick accent named Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries). What the show is all about is still a mystery to me, but after just a few minutes Brad is whisked off to an insane asylum called Dentonvale.
Brad is put under the care of Doctors Cosmo and Nation McKinley (Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn) and their assistants (Nell Campbell, aka Little Nell, and Drop Dead Fred himself Rick Mayall). Essentially all they do is lock Brad away in a cell. Meanwhile, they help transform Janet into a sexy media darling so she can join TV exec Farley Flavors (also Cliff De Young) on a new show called Faith Factory. Oh, and it’s a musical, so there is a lot of singing along the way.
I have never considered The Rocky Horror Picture Show to be a good movie. However, a movie doesn’t have to be good to be entertaining, and I certainly recognize that film has a certain level of entertainment value. Shock Treatment, on the other hand, is an atrocious movie. Period! Anything remotely resembling entertainment value hopped the spaceship back to planet Transsexual with Riff Raff and Magenta. Those last two paragraphs where I described the plot…that’s the best I could do! I still don’t have a clue what this idiotic movie was about! It makes absolutely no sense.
Several key players from The Rocky Horror Picture Show came back for Shock Treatment. Both films are directed by Jim Sharman. Richard O’Brien, who played Riff Raff in the original movie, wrote both films. Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, and even Charles Gray all return as well. None of their characters in this film, however, have the magnetism that their Rocky Horror counterparts had. While we’re on the subject of magnetism, one of the things Rocky Horror had that this film does not is a performance on par with what Tim Curry brought. Please don’t tell me that the character Barry Humphries plays was meant to fill the Curry void. I mean come on…Dame Edna or Tim Curry? Which would you pick?
While what has happened with The Rocky Horror Picture Show was wonderfully spontaneous, Shock Treatment may be one of the most shamelessly contrived movies ever produced. It has nothing to do with the previous film except for it centering around the characters of Brad and Janet…and they feel shoehorned in. These characters bear no resemblance to the Brad and Janet in Rocky Horror, and it’s not because they are played by different actors. It’s very clear that the folks behind this film were trying to manufacture another Rocky Horror phenomenon. In fact, the movie was released on Halloween 1981, exclusively as a midnight movie. I’m sorry guys, midnight movies evolve…they aren’t born that way.
I will give a little credit to Richard O’Brien for his songs. While not as memorable as something like “The Time Warp,” a few of them were at least somewhat catchy. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the film’s only saving grace. Honestly, Shock Treatment was an ordeal to watch. Actually going through the psychiatric procedure which inspired its title may be a more enjoyable experience.