A Review of Shock Treatment

Well, The Rocky Horror Picture Show had a sequel. Sort of.  Kind of.  Actually I have no clue what the ultimate endgame for the film was supposed to be.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for those five of you who have not heard  about it, is considered to be the top cult film of all time.  Basically it was an attack against the Nixon conservatism that was still predominant in the mindset of the youth by injecting the sort of free love mentality that was quickly retreating back to the underground.  It used a cheesy 1950s science fiction and rock & roll backdrop in order to get the message across.  So far, so good. Five years later, after the cult of Rocky grew, Shock Treatment was released. Reagan was about to become president and the creators seemed to wish to comment on neo conservatism using cheesy 1950s television and cheesy rock & roll.

You would think that is the case, but no. Those elements are certainly present, but they never really decide what it is they want to comment on.  At times, the film seems downright atavistic, something a Rocky Horror show should never be. The TV studio setting doesn’t really work, and the characters never really come to any sort of understanding about their lives and their surroundings.  Did the previous sentence sound hopelessly confused?  Now you know more about the film than I can put into words.

The film, again, follows the two perpetual squares Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick has been replaced by Cliff De Young) and his new wife Janet (Susan Sarandon has been replaced by…no kidding…Jessica Harper) as they return to their hometown of Denton. However, the entire town has been converted to a television studio, with the townspeople appearing in shows and the studio audience.  Brad and Janet appear on some game show hosted by the eccentric (and possibly blind) Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries).  Janet reveals she is unhappy, and Brad is sent to the hospital to be cared by the brother and sister team Dr. Cosmo and Nation McKinley (this is a sequel to Rocky Horror – you can probably take a very educated guess as to who plays these two). As part of the “care” Janet is given a makeover and becomes a celebrity to….actually it’s never explained how that will help Brad.  The real reason is that Janet has caught the eye of Farley Flavors (also De Young) Brad’s long-lost twin brother and new owner of the television station. He seeks to make Janet renounce Brad and declare love for him in front of the entire town.

First, the good, because there are some good elements in the film. I do not know whose idea it was to cast Jessica Harper, but I hope they were given a medal.  Harper is not a better actress than Sarandon, but she is a far better singer (check out the song below) and frankly fits the material far better.  She was fairly well known at the time and had already been in similar material. Her Janet is simply far more memorable, and considering the filmmakers decided that character was to be the linchpin of the film…well, maybe a recast was necessary


Also, I can admire the fact that the creative team did not wish to repeat themselves.  Sticking Tim Curry in stockings again would have no doubt been popular amongst the fans, but that had already been done before. Doing it again would have offered no one anything new, and it would have been forgotten far more quickly.  Yes, I am aware that a script exists in which Frank comes back to life.  I also do not really care; it is not a good idea to do that.  It is a far better idea for a creator to challenge his rapid fan base.
Right, now that is out-of-the-way, let’s talk problems. There are two enormous problems; first, the film does not seem to have any sort of desire to supplant Brad and Janet’s world.  Second (and this may be the more important one) the film goes out of the way to criticize the fans of Rocky Horror, the people it should absolutely not be trying to alienate.

Let’s start with the second item first, since it is easier to address.  There are several scenes in which the studio audience is shown watching the shows with a militant fervor – shouting, singing, throwing items, and basically adopting the mindset of brain-dead twelve-year olds whenever Justin Bieber breathes. In other words, it is the exact people who show up at Rocky Horror screenings, and for Richard O’Brien to not put these people on a pedestal rather than insulting.  Yes, there could be a film made about  this fervor, but for the people who owe their careers to these people, it comes across as nothing but ungrateful.

But then we come to the biggest problem the film has, what makes it fail and why it was not embraced by the midnight crowd or any crowd-the characterization of Brad and Janet. I did say that Harper’s Janet was more memorable, but that is in spite of the script rather than because of it. Most of the time, she moans endlessly about her desire for fame and to make Brad healthy again (even though there was nothing really wrong with him). Her best sequences feature her quest for fame on television – those work pretty well, but there are not enough of them or of the consequences to make the film work.  And Brad is pretty much sentenced to be tied to a wheelchair with a gag in his mouth for the entire run time. By the end, the two end up together again, but they have not changed at all.  Viewers get the feeling in Rocky Horror that what happened changed their outlook completely.  Here, they do not even bother to acknowledge it – not once does one ask they other “hey, remember that drag wearing alien that lived in a castle and tried to rape us both?  That was frightening.”  It doesn’t happen. Nor do they seem to learn anything about this encounter.  I guess Brad learns to value Janet, but again, this is returning to the traditional values that were so gleefully destroyed the first time around. They have reverted back to their idyllic conservative lifestyle and feel that they are better off. I always thought it was weird at the end of the first film that Frank was punished for “his lifestyle being too extreme” but I never thought that this was the ultimate message the film was getting at.

I guess I was wrong. And now I feel cheated.

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