AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 11th September, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 94 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Brad and Janet are now married and living in the town of Denton, which has been taken over by fast food magnate Farley Flavors and is now entirely encased within a television studio for the DTV [Denton Television] network. Residents are either stars and regulars on a show, cast and crew, or audience members. Brad and Janet, while seated in the audience, are chosen to participate in the game show Marriage Maze. When Janet admits there are problems in their marriage, Brad is imprisoned on Dentonville, a soap opera that centers upon the local mental hospital, while Janet is groomed by Farley [who wants her for himself] to be the new star of Denton Dossier, a show that tells people how great Denton is….
To paraphrase a line from one of my [and many other people’s] favourite Westerns; “There are two different kinds of people, those who like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and those who don’t. I don’t”. I’ve watched it twice, the first occasion being one of those cinema showings where people dress up as characters from the film, sing the songs and throw rice at the screen, and on both occasion it left me cold, despite it containing much for a person like me to enjoy, be it the catchy songs, the John Waters-like love for freaks and outcasts, the love for old science-fiction and horror movies, or the fact that it was mostly filmed at Hammer House Bray Studios with even some Hammer props….though I will say that’s been about ten years since my last viewing. In any case, perhaps I’m not the best person to do a review of its semi-sequel Shock Treatment, the big draw for me actually being the fact that it starred the luminous Jessica Harper who made this and two other cult classics The Phantom Of The Paradise and Suspiria and then all but disappeared from the screen. But there’s no doubt that Shock Treatment is quite a different film. Yes, the music is very similar – in fact it’s sometimes virtually the same – and there are some stylistic similarities, but this film is really a satire, one that takes jabs at many aspects of modern Western civilisation, especially the brainwashing effect of TV, and it even predicted that disease in our culture we call reality TV. You could even call it a satire on the whole Rocky Horror phenomenon. It’s a very clever film and may have influenced The Truman Show.
It’s worth remembering that Rocky Horror was a big flop on its first theatrical release and took its time to become a huge hit on the midnight curcuit. Richard O’ Brien’s initial idea for a sequel featured many of the same characters, with Janet pregnant with Frank’s baby, Brad and Dr. Scott turning gay, and a revived Frank attempting to convert the entire town into a new cult of Transylvanians. Director Jim Sharman and Tim Curry were resistant to revisiting the material but O’Brien had put some work into the songs, so he decided to retain some of them and simply revise the story. Susan Sarandon [Janet] wanted too much money, Jonathan Adams [Dr .Scott] just turned it down, Curry dropped out of playing Farley and Brad thinking he could not pull off a convincing American accent, and Barry Bostwick [Brad] supposedly wasn’t even asked. Then just before shooting in the real Denton, production came to a halt when the Screen Actor’s Guild went on strike. With only a small window when cast and crew were available, production designer Brian Thompson came up with the idea to set the whole story in a giant TV studio, and the role of Dr. Scott morphed into game show host Bert Schnick. While some Rocky Horror alumni were present, the only cast member to reprise their previous role was Jeremy Newson [Ralph Hapschatt]. The film was an even bigger flop than its predecessor though it did soon garner a cult following, albeit nothing like that of Rocky Horror.
It takes a while to get used to having Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper in the roles that Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon played, but then this whole film seems to exist in a weird alternate reality to the other film considering that several Rocky Horror characters show up played by different people while some Rocky Horror cast members play new characters, and in the meantime one can enjoy Barry Humphries in outrageous form as blind game show host Bert Schnick. The first number Dentonville introduces the world of the film very well and is catchy though it features a section almost exactly like part of Time Warp and this will recur several times later in the score. The main studio this number takes place in is so important in people’s lives than audiences actually sleep in their seats instead of going home for the night, one of many telling and predictive details in the film considering that we live in a world where consumerist zombies spend the night outside shops which the next morning will have a sale on or will introduce the latest incredible electronic device that can probably do everything except have sex with you [though that’ll probably happen one day]. This film is crammed with stuff like this, from the the constant advertising all over the place, to the crassness of Janet about to become ‘Miss Mental Health’, to the Me Of Me song which could have been sung by any number of the narcissistic celebrities today who think they have a right to be famous by doing nothing of interest or worth.
Janet makes the mistake of admitting flaws in her marriage with Brad, and it’s off to the funny farm with him, a TV soap opera that takes place in a location where even the hallways are padded as if they were cells, a good example of how the low budget was used creatively. In fact, it’s quite nightmarish. It has actually been arranged by fast-food magnete and DTV sponsor Farley Flavours with the aid of two doctors, incestuous siblings Cosmo and Nation McKinley, who intend to keep Brad there because Flavor wants Janet for himself. And Janet’s parents, Emily and Harry Weiss, are brought onto Marriage Maze and promised a prize if they offer a [read “the right”] psychological assessment of Brad. Meanwhile Janet is foisted on the public who, like so many so-called stars, are told they are stars before they’ve really done much and we are just supposed to accept it. The only hope Brad has of proving his sanity and saving his wife from Flavor’s greedy clutches lies with two DTV presenters: Betty Hapschatt, who has recently been fired from her gig as a TV morning show host and whose ex-husband Ralph is currently dating the hot blond reporter Macy Struthers who gets promoted to be the new co-anchor, and Judge Wright. Wright is played by Charles Gray virtually reprising his role from Rocky Horror but given more screen time. And he dances. And trips [see if you can spot it].
Storywise it’s all kept simple but there’s a nicely cynical, even dark, finish to some of the plot, and O’ Brien attacks seemingly everything that bothered him in 1981 [some of which have got worse since]: conformity, machismo, celebrity, the absurdity of the American Dream, you name it. The glut of horrible reality TV shows today which a brainwashed public enjoy shows that O’ Brien knew where things were going, while he also seems to be mocking the straight-laced folk who revel in the weirdness of Rocky Horror for two hours then go home to their normal lives – which may be one reason why this film failed to catch on with many people who adored Rocky Horror. The sets are either drenched in exaggurated early 80’s TV advertisement style, or drowned in red and blue lighting, almost as if Jessica Harper was still in the world of Suspiria. The sometimes rather too familiar-sounding songs often reflect emotional states of the characters, though Bitchin’ In The Kitchen is just plain bizarre as Brad and Janet address various items in their house [“O toothpaste, don’t you put the squeeze on me“]. Lullaby is interestingly filmed with the camera continuously peeping in through the windows of the various characters in one huge take. Little Black Dress has some of O’ Brien’s best wordplay and Look What I Did To My Id is just clever. With the exception of some great stuff with mirrors which must have been hell to stage, the dance numbers tend to be limited in terms of technical skill but are usually visually pleasing and there’s a wonderfully kaleidoscopic final shot.
Director Jim Sharman helps keep everything focused. This film could have possibly gone out of control in less sure hands. The two lead performances are terrific. Cliff De Young is almost unrecognisable playing both Brad and Farley, and he even manages to sing in two completely different accents and styles during the Duel Duet number. Harper, who does much of her singing in extended takes looking right into the camera, proved she could carry a tune in The Phantom Of The Paradise so it’s no surprise that she’s good here, though come to think of if her character in that film wasn’t entirely distinct from this one either. Acting-wise she’s especially impressive when her character begins to become the archetypal vacuous, self-interested, rude celebrity. Sadly O’ Brien isn’t much of an actor though Ruby Wax shines in her part and there’s a fairly substantial early role for Rick Mayall too. Sometimes Shock Treatment feels too claustrophobic for its own good and its determination to keep everything family friendly results in a a slightly uneven piece which often seems to want to break out from its restrictions and get really weird, dark and daring [something I also partly felt, though not at all to the same extent, about Rocky Horror]. But it has a hell of a lot to say and says it well, lightheartedly and without a feeling of preaching but is still easy to pick up. It’s probably more pertinent today than it was in 1981. Watch it and worry – but not so much that you’re not entertained because I found Shock Treatment to be quite a delight….
This was the first time I’d seen Shock Treatment, so I can’t compare it to any previous release, but this Blu-ray restoration is of as high a quality as you could wish for. It’s sharp but not so much that it doesn’t seem like a 1981 film, it has just the right level of grain so you know you’ll still watching something that was on celluloid, and the colours often pop out. It seems that most earlier home release versions of this film had the wrong end title music, but that has been corrected here so that the song Shock Treatment mostly plays over a black screen as exit music. You also have the option of watching the film with an old recording of O’ Brien enthusiastickly [yet he later called it “an abortion”] introducing it.
On to the special features and Arrow have really treated fans of this film here with a great mixture of old and new stuff. First up are two short featurettes from the DVD release, DTV Presents: A Shockumentary and Let’s Rock N Roll: Shock Treatment’s Super Score. Cast and crew members wax nostalgic about the film, its origins, and what it was like making it. They’re good though the first is full of unneccessary background music [not from the film] much like all those TV previews for new movies. The Rocky Horror Treatment is a wonderful inclusion – the first half looking at the Rocky Horror phenomena and taking us into a screening [wierd flashback I got here] and a convention – and the second half introducing and showing clips from Shock Treatment. Then we have a 2016 interview at the National Film Theatre with Mark Kermode talking to actress Patricia Quinn who was in both Rocky Horror and Shock Treatment. It’s great to watch and rather funny because Kermode, a huge fan of these films, can’t stop grinning nor get many words in edgeways while Quinn seems to have on the sauce beforehand. Then there’s some interesting fan videos of lovers of the film being interviewed, rehearsing and performing roles in a stage production. And finally there’s three cover versions of songs by a singer called Marc With A C which I could have done without, though kudos to Arrow for cramming this release with as much as they could find.
The commentaries are accessible via the ‘audio options’. Arrow have recorded a new one with Quinn and co-star Nell Campbell. I initially wondered why the two didn’t have a moderator to keep putting questions to them, but it turned out that they didn’t need one. The two are great and often very funny company, clearly loving watching the film in Hi-Definition though perhaps spending bit too much time laughing at what’s unfolding in front of them. Quinn wishes she had a circular cell she could put naughty pizza delivery boys in, while Nell says that, in contradiction to what is generally thought of, Curry was never actually asked to be in the film. While not that full of stories, they do provide an amusing one about Humphries as well the interesting fact [well, to me anyway], that it was Sharman showing The Phantom Of The Paradise to Andrew Lloyd Webber that gave the latter the idea of doing The Phantom Of The Opera. The gaps are all very short and unlike the more dry kind of commentary, this one really feels like Quinn and Campbell are sat right beside you watching the film. Then we also have the old DVD commentary from Mad Man Mike Ellenbogen and Bill Brennan, the two presidents of the Shock Treatment fan club. With Mike tending to take the lead, the two provide lots of information [and several times comment on how wonderful the DVD picture is!] and point out lots of details while keeping things moving, though I must point out a mistake Mike makes when he says that Gray played the James Bond villain Blofeld twice and even supposedly corrects Bill when he thinks that instead Gray played a smaller role in another Bond film. In fact, as any 007 fan will tell you, Bill was right. Overall though it’s a good track though and the two very different commentaries coming from different angles complement each other.
Several times it’s pointed out in the special features that you can’t deliberately make a cult film – they’re movies that are accidently made that way and then discovered. In many cases I think that’s true. But I can’t really say that is was a mistake to make Shock Treatment because it’s great fun and, in its own way, very intelligent. Arrow’s special feature-packed release is an essential purchase for the cult movie lover.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
*Digital transfer from original film elements
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
*5.1 and Mono audio options
*Isolated Music and Effects Track
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Archive audio introduction by Richard O Brien
*DTV Presents: A Shockumentary featurette, featuring Director Jim Sharman, Rocky Horror fan club president Sal Piro, Shock Treatment Fan Club president Ellenbogen, Mikeproducer John Goldstone, music collaborator Richard Hartley, and actors Pat Quinn, Sue Blane, Cliff De Young, Betsy Brantley
*Let’s Rock ‘n Roll: Shock Treatment’s Super Score featurette
*The Rocky Horror Treatment vintage behind-the-scenes documentary
*Patricia Quinn in Conversation with Mark Kermode
*Fan featurettes & cover songs
*Promo gallery featuring trailers, radio spot and stills
*Brand new audio commentary with actresses Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell
*Archive audio commentary by Mike Ellenbogen and Bill Brennan
*Exclusive digipak packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
*Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Michael Blyth
*Set of exclusive Shock Treatment Mix n Match Cards
*Exclusive double-sided D-E-N-T-O-N poster
*Complete Soundtrack CD