Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


After the action-packed thrills and chills, the gorgeous gals, the romance, the lotsa larfs and sex, the Transylvanian parties and 18 great songs comes the next chapter in the adventures of Brad and Janet...

"...if you have been affected by any issues raised by the characters Reckless Rick and Pat Quinn keep playing, there is a helpline number available..."

Our first exposure to Shock Treatment came back in 1986, and - at the tender age of 12 - we honestly didn’t know what to expect from it.  We were already ardent fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and there was obviously something lurking within which wanted to see a direct continuation of the first movie – but initially, we were disappointed. No Frank-N-Furter, no Riff-Raff nor even Magenta to speak of. The completely alien/suburban setting and largely new characters counted against the movie, though this was probably true for most fans expecting more of the same. Never-the-less, certain elements in Shock Treatment endeared themselves to us, not least the cool sight of actor Jeremy Newson reprising his role of Ralph Hapschatt, and even though it was a bummer they were played by different actors, Shock Treatment brought us the further adventures of Brad & Janet, with Betty Hapschatt (nee Munroe) along for the ride.

Some award for understatement would be in order to say that Shock Treatment wasn’t the film originally envisioned by Richard O’Brien, who wrote it as a direct sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show entitled Rocky Horror Shows His Heels. We’ve read that particular iteration, and it ranks just behind John Waters’ unproduced sequel to Pink Flamingos, Flamingos Forever[/i] as being the most unfilmable script in movie history. In order to provide some context as to just how far the finished film deviated from O’Brien’s original intent, allow us to spent a couple of paragraphs filling you in on what would have been the direct sequel to Rocky Horror

Despite bombing upon initial release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show eventually turned a profit and became a surprise smash hit, thanks to the staggering popularity of midnight screenings and the audience participation that developed around it. In light of this Lazarus-like rebirth, the powers-that-be at 20th Century Fox gave the go-ahead for another chapter of  the adventures of Brad and Janet in the small Mid-Western town of Denton, USA. Starting life as a direct sequel to Rocky Horror and sporting the title of Rocky Horror Shows His Heels, it was one of the few that TRULY lived up to the aforementioned  classification of “unfilmable“.  Therein lay the problem…

As close to a TV as you'll get in this Rocky Horror sequel...

Where to start? OK, deep breath…Brad and a pregnant Janet are married, with the birth imminent. Three friends of the late Frank-N-Furter bring him back from the dead, whereupon the Sweet Transvestite discovers that Janet is in fact having HIS baby, prompting him to transsexualise the entire town of Denton to get them on his side. Brad confesses his latent homosexuality and leaves Janet as he struts out the door in a pair of heels on his way to visit the now gay Dr Everett Scott, who has been persuaded by the reborn Rocky to mix the right chemicals to permanently keep Frank alive. The pregnant Janet is swiftly abducted by Riff Raff and Magenta whist Brad, along with Dr Scott vie for Frank’s very personal attention.

Another deep breath: The baby is born in Denton hospital and seized upon by Frank who, besotted by his son-and-heir, throws a town party to celebrate and sprinkles them with fairy dust to get their juices flowing. Frank collapses, where it’s determined that he needs an infusion of eleven pints of blood from young male virgins to sustain him. Frank is revived with the requisite plasma as his baby is kidnapped by Riff Raff and Magenta (again) and Janet is informed that the baby is dead. A distraught Janet tells Frank the news, and he is furious, confronting Riff Raff and Magenta, but it’s too late: one of the donors lied about being a virgin, and Frank rapidly decomposes as a result. The townspeople revolt against the Transylvanians and go after the aliens, Riff Raff and Magenta driving off with Janet and her new baby, who gurgles in the Rock n‘ Roll stylings of his father.   There - not convoluted in the slightest, was it…?

The script for the direct Rocky Horror sequel hit the skids when submitted to Fox, and a more commercial attempt was quickly launched in order to salvage something filmable from it. In an attempt to recapture lighting in a bottle, O’Brien and producer Lou Adler re-signed Jim Sharman for directorial duties, and all looked rosy. It might have started out as a direct sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but little did O’Brien and Adler know that Sharman allegedly set about ordering re-writes of the script upon viewing each new draft, inexorably stripping away of all the Rocky Horror elements and O’Brien’s original intent until it became purely a tale of Brad and Janet. It’s been suggested that Sharman was seeking to produce a movie with little-or-no audience pre-investment, and this included anything to do with Rocky Horror.  O’Brien eventually saw what was happening, but was powerless in the face of those pulling the strings.  In the early nineties, he remarked that the redrafting meant that “…they threw out the baby with the bathwater and fucked the whole thing up.” This candid comment was bolstered a few years later by O’Brien saying that the original script was great, but they chose the wrong director. “The Brad & Janet Show” was no more: Shock Treatment was full stream ahead.

Uptown adoptee Brad Majors.

The plot of Shock Treatment goes something like this - a few years has passed since that fateful November evening when Brad Majors and Janet Weiss both tasted forbidden fruit. Brad and Janet (here portrayed by Cliff DeYoung and Jessica Harper) are now married and still living in Denton, but marital bliss is nonexistent and Janet has secretly organised them to appear on Marriage Maze, a bizarre TV show hosted by rather suspect Viennese psychiatrist Bert Schick (Barry Humphries). Under the pretence of merely sitting in the audience, they are plucked out and thrust in front of the cameras for the most popular show on Denton’s DTV channel, run by the mysterious, Howard Hughes-like Farley Flavors.  He’s planning to package and sell mental health to the entire nation, running alongside his fast-food restaurants to feed docile minds and bulging stomachs with rubbish.

Brad is carted off to the local asylum under the watchful eyes of Drs. Cosmo and Nation McKinley (Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn - playing another couple of somewhat incestuous siblings) whilst Janet is groomed for super-stardom by the shadowy head of the DTV. Is this just the natural conclusion of an unhappy marriage, or are more deliberate and sinister forces at work? Janet’s parents, Harry and Emily Weiss, aren’t much help as far as getting them back together - “thank God he was born an orphan, we’d have killed his parents!” chimes Emily at one point, as she muses on the mental state of her son-in-law. All three of the Weiss’ are signed to star in Dentonvale, a docu-drama following the sectioning of Brad and the effect upon the family, whilst simultaneously charting the meteoric rise of Ms Janet Majors as she is being set up for the big-time.

"Looking For Trade".  Oh come on - how is that NOT a repurposed song about being bisexual???

Almost as though to appease previous fans, many of the Rocky Horror cast returned for round two - as well as O’Brien, Quinn, Newson and Grey, Little Nell (now billed as Nell Campbell) appears as Nurse Ansalong and Christopher Malcolm, the original Brad from the original stage production of The Rocky Horror Show plays security guard Vance Parker, getting one of the biggest laughs by way of a blunt reference to a certain Taylor-Coleridge poem…

But what about everybody’s favourite android-fighting heroes? Well, Jessica Harper's take on Janet is radically different from Susan Sarandon’s, who supposedly priced herself out of stepping back into Janet’s sensible shoes, but every bit as valid.  Harper's transition from timid and reserved to arrogant and intoxicated on her own hype is both extremely plausible and great fun to watch. For any fans of Jessica Harper’s rich tones, it is worth mentioning that she REALLY lets out the clutch during Shock Treatment’s kick-arse tunes to wondrous effect, endowing all of her songs with a ballsy depth that Susan Sarandon just wouldn’t have been able to match. Whilst many criticise Cliff De Young for playing Brad as something of a buffoon, there’s a good reason for this, being that he needed to clearly differentiate Brad from his other role as the enigmatic Farley Flavors. If you are wondering why Barry Bostwick didn’t return, he allegedly couldn’t get out of filming commitments (but later admitted that he wasn't asked).

Betty Hapshatt in Wax rip-off - nasty!!!

Where both actors excel is in their singing voices; Harper is possessed of a stunning contralto style, that most unusual of female pitches, first heard in Phantom of the Paradise, which enables her to smoulder her way through some of O’Brien’s most bewitching tunes. While Barry Bostwick certainly had a fine voice on him, De Young has a little more flair in his range, keeping it straight and steady until required to slip the chain for some impressive punch. In Duet Duel, the two contrasting styles he adopts for Brad and Farley are easy to distinguish even when only listening to the album, proving his abilities even further.

Richard O'Brien and Pat Quinn practically ignite each other as a couple of confidence tricksters, whilst Barry Humphries goes OTT as a Viennese (and supposedly blind) psychiatrist, prone to peeping on women taking showers when he thinks nobody is watching. In earlier drafts, this character was originally to be the return of Dr Everett Scott (a scientist), but some of the Nazi references escaped the redrafting to make it into the finished movie. Charles Gray returns in a role similar to, but different from, The Criminologist in Rocky - allowing him to have a certain charm and sweetness missing from the previous outing. He also gets some of the funniest lines, too delivering them with his customary - and velvety - gusto.

What makes Shock Treatment fascinating these days is that it was able to predict the rise of reality television. It is a satire on the possibilities of television being taken to ludicrous extremes, where almost round-the-clock viewing of subjects under a battery of cameras has the ability to pluck somebody out of obscurity and groom them for short-lived televisual stardom. O'Brien's screenplay predicted this now-omnipresent aspect of society long before it started happening. Indeed, Frank-N-Furter's venomous line from Rocky - "I made you, and I can BREAK you just as easily!" - is an eerie precursor for not only the events in Shock Treatment, but also for the stars/victims of reality television. These ideas were nearly two decades ahead of their time and make for fascinating viewing as these uncanny concepts play out in front of you. Upon initial release, Shock Treatment could have seemed like a desperate warning from the future, rather like the subliminal broadcast in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.

We still love the movie in our own way!

Back in the day, Britain had fallen under the hypnotic spell of all-American food, with branches of McDonalds springing up across the UK like weeds between paving slabs, and O’Brien put pen to paper to address the growing menace, the former Riff Raff responded to the threat of fast-food fascism by creating Farley Flavours, megalomaniacal head of a nationwide chain of burger restaurants, promoting its “nutritional” product to children via the iron grip of television. Is it any coincidence that his F F logo seems rather familiar? Flavours also intends to package and sell mental health to America in much the same way he does burgers, coming a time when the US was mired in solving mental health issues by either popping tranquillisers or seeing overpriced analysts.

Satire aside, the film has surreal, almost claustrophobic feel to it, borne of everything being shot in the studio to save money and avoid an impending writer’s strike, all just adding to the bizarre atmosphere of the piece. Director Jim Sharman opens the film with an impressive 360° shot which both starts and ends on the same piece of set, introducing all of the main cast and the various component parts of the DTV studio as it does so. The climax of the film has an equally impressive overhead shot of the set, which incorporates most of the locations of the film and all of the characters, demonstrating the ensnaring mass insanity of the medium of television.

There are some great, witty lines in the screenplay by O'Brien and Sharman, with the cast delivering them with gusto and the songs - a number of them intended for Rocky Horror Shows His Heels - are even better than those in Rocky, showing O'Brien's maturing style, weaving humour, clever wordplay, satire and drama together.  The finale sees a brilliant dissection of the winner culture central to all things America, where Janet’s parents are watching as their daughter is ousted as the face of Faith Factory as a new, interchangable visage hastily replaces her. Janet’s mother is moaning that she let them down, whilst her father snaps: “Quiet, Emily - now listen to a success story!” Irrespective of injustice, of family and morality, a winner will always be pushed to the forefront, no matter how they got there.

It’s arguable that Richard O’Brien was at the peak of his song-writing powers with Shock Treatment, as there is a maturity to many of the songs that weren’t present in most many of the ones in Rocky. There are musical motifs that tie several songs together and In My Own Way, dealing with the end of a relationship and the changing nature of love is a heartbreaking stand-out. O’Brien also manages several songs about sexual identity, including one about the joys of wearing a little black dress and an almost punk-like ode pains of keeping your sexuality under wraps.  Whilst most of these are taken out of context when re-purposed for Shock Treatment (where they’ve been mainly heterosexualised) they are just as cool irrespective of the underlying themes.  The musical themes dovetail in the most wonderful way, with pieces of certain songs interwoven into others. Take a listen to the deliberately crappy organ music playing during the Dentonvale scenes, as it’s a soap-opera-like version of In My Own Way.

Bonus round: Little things to watch out for. Keep watching during the “Anyhow, Anyhow” routine where Charles Gray nearly trips over when trying to dance along a row of chairs, Ruby Wax instinctively reaching to grab him as he stumbles. In Betty Hapshatt’s office, you might spot a book on cult movies on the left-hand side of the frame, on the cover of which is the unmistakable lips design from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Keep an eager eye out for the most unprofessional extra of the lot. She’s easy to spot, particularly when during the Denton Overture she is the one member of the audience hardly bothering with the swaying motion the rest of them are doing. Still can’t pick her out? A minute later, she’s the one frantically waving at Wax and Gray as they walk past her. She was either trying to get noticed or get an equity card by doing this stuff, and they even had to dub in a line - supposedly by her - saying hello to them to explain just why she was so intent on waving.  Our theory is that she did it on every take, and with the lower budget, getting the two actors and all of the audience together for the one shot was costly, so they just papered over the unprofessional extra waving on the few takes they could afford in the dubbing suite.

Those going into the film for the first time expecting to see something taut and cohesive are going to be a little disappointed; Shock Treatment is a surrealist fantasy served up with a heavy dose of satire and not without it’s weaknesses. De Young & Harper are both accomplished, well-respected actors but their portrayals of the much-loved characters bear almost no resemblance to those of Bostwick and Sarandon - Janet is a bullish, whining bitch and Brad is a feeble-minded flake: surely the De-Medusa ray couldn’t have altered them that much? The link between Brad Majors and Farley Flavors is one of the most trite plot-twist in history, but seeing the two of them square off against each other in duel of minds more than makes up for it. Barry Humphries, as mentioned before, is WAY over the top and at times threatens to derail scenes with his performance - Humphries allegedly didn’t fully ’get’ the story and, presumably just decided to dial his performance up to eleven and hope that it covered his ignorance. Dentonvale is continually referenced, but never fully explained to the viewers as to what it is and what it entails - it could be argued that is a metaphor for the enslavement of the viewing public to the lure of television, possibly preceding some of the central concepts in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which followed a couple of years after Shock Treatment.

They got there two years earlier! Up yours, Cronenberg!

Video


For a title that has been languishing in relative obscurity, Arrow have seen fit to present Shock Treatment in high definition for the first time. Previously released on DVD back in 2006, this 1080p/1.85:1 transfer has a nice amount of grain present and is generally pleasing. The lurid colours - often vibrant red and neon-pink are faithfully represented here. Those of us who have suffered all of the previous releases on all formats will be happy to see the movie with a dose of stability, and not the smudgy, ill-defined mess we’ve been accustomed to. The resolution is to such a standard that you are easily able to read a crucial newspaper article on a certain adoption, and it’s a pleasure to find that it’s a full-written article, revealing some amusing information! Some fans are of the opinion that O’Brien has been delaying various releases as long as possible, which isn’t such a ridiculous thoery, given that both the DVD and Blu arrived when both formats were being superseded. While there are voices decrying an aging master, that there is a Blu-ray edition of Shock Treatment at all is nothing short of a miracle, as it’s unlikely that the original materials will ever be accessed again.

Audio


Here’s where the pain begins.

When Shock Treatment was released on DVD in America in 2006, it came with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which was problematic, most notably the sound-during the opening number completely collapses right during the rousing reprise of the chorus toward the end of the song.

Arrow were aware of this issue (fans contacted Arrow and the information was passed onto the production team), but sadly, it has not been rectified and is present and correct in the DTS-HD MA 5.1 option on this disc. It’s the same drop-out and can now be heard with depressingly greater clarity than on the DVD release. There IS the option to listen to the film with the original 2.0 audio, which thankfully doesn’t have the same audio black hole, but it’s still a bummer that the 5.1 track couldn’t have been patched up, as the MA track has far greater depth and clarity than the 2.0 one.

On particular error on the DVD release has been corrected here - the closing credits originally contained a reprise of the overture and the Richard O'Brien version of the title song. The DVD butchered them both. The closing credits are as they should be, even if there IS a substantially drop in fidelity when the O'Brien song is on, but it‘s great that it finally returns it in its entirety on the home format since appearing on the original rental edition.

You're spotting a theme with vibrant reds, aren't you...?

Extras


Isolated Music & Effects Track: Presented here as something of a novelty, audio tracks like this used to be made available for foreign territories when dubbing their own languages onto films.

Archive Audio Introduction: Richard O’Brien is surprisingly enthusiastic as he introduces the film; this audio recording appears to have been made by International Rocky Horror Show president, Sal Piro, as his distinctive tones can be heard introducing O’Brien. The writer/actor also seems a little guarded when it comes to the new film, saying that he didn’t want to insult the audiences intelligence by just making a direct sequel to Rocky Horror - hmm…

Audio Commentary: Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell provide much in the way of illuminating little titbits all through this entertaining commentary. The former Lady Stephens and the once Little Nell have a great rapport, even if there are occasional moments where the two of them have conflicting recollections of events surrounding Rocky Horror and Shock Treatment.

Audio Commentary: Carried over from the US DVD, “Mad Man” Mike and Bill Brennan are on-hand to present a surprisingly in-depth and informative look at the film. They guys certainly know their stuff as their point out interesting little bits and pieces that might even have passed by even the most ardent of fans. They even explore the torturous journey from Rocky Horror Shows His Heels to what ended up on-screen as Shock Treatment.

DTV Presents A Shockumentary: Also ported over from the US DVD release, this is an entertaining but not particularly informative look at the making of the film. Several cast members are on-hand to give their recollections on the film, most notable Patricia Quinn and Cliff De Young, but sadly, there is no participation from Richard O’Brien. Members of the production team are also interviewed, including the fabulous Sue Blane, who recounts an amusing story about a production recce to America, back when it looked as though the movie was actually going to be filmed out there.

Let’s Rock ‘n Roll - Shock Treatment’s Super Score: This short featurette -you guessed it - ported over from the US DVD has members of the cast commenting on their favourite songs from the film, with De Young opting for Bitchin’ in the Kitchen as his song of choice.

The Rocky Horror Treatment: This is a real oddity that had been lurking in the darker corners of YouTube for some time, and a treat that we now get to see in in pretty good shape. Essentially a 25 minute documentary in the guise of celebrating the success of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s actually a promotional piece for Shock Treatment. There’s some fascinating and amusing behind-the-scenes footage featuring the cast of the latter in costume, particularly with Quinn, Campbell and Rick Mayall, as the man with legs ‘made for dancin' notes that he was 14 when the ladies first played their characters!

Patricia Quinn in conversation with Mark Kermode: The outspoken actress meets the Exorcist enthusiast in a dialogue that encompasses the making of Shock Treatment, which Quinn now admits that she finally understands after being exposed to the film three times in as many days just before the interview. After the venom she spat on social media about not being paid for the inclusion of this particular piece on the Blu-ray, she clearly must have trouser’d something from Arrow after the dust settled.

Fan Featurettes: There are three featurettes which examine the more die-hard enthusiasts of Shock Treatment, including a look at some of the people who ape the midnight live-on-stage screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show - whilst you have to applaud their devotion and ingenuity, to call such hardened worshipping a niche thing is something of an understatement. It’s akin to walking in on someone else’s sex act, and whilst being dressed in fetishistic outfits is the most natural thing in the world to them, it’s awkward, embarrassing and uncomfortable for those innocently wandering in.  Just looking around, Bert Schnick seems to be the character of choice, given how many of the fans interviewed are dressed as him - wonder how many younger fans realise that Schnick is a former Nazi...? Even though we have been fans of The Rocky Horror Show for over 30 years, the thought of standalone hardcore Shock Treatment fanatics scares the hell out of us, but we take comfort in the fact that at least when they’re in character, the men in white coats are never far from them…

Christ, it’s a good job that we didn’t contact Arrow and let them know that we - along with a couple of cohorts - actually filmed our own version of the film back in 1987. Some kids remake Raiders of the Lost Ark, but we march to the beat of a different drum, guitar & bass, and chose to obsessively knock up our own version of Richard O’Brien’s lost Rocky Horror follow-up. We still have a copy of our efforts somewhere - but that’s NEVER going to see the light of day again…

Cover Songs: There are three reinterpretations of songs from Shock Treatment, all from the same artist; to be honest, they all sound the same and have that same vibe as you find with slowed-down, almost emo cover versions used in television advertising to try and make you buy a new car or a box of tampons or something.

Promo Gallery: This covers the various ways in which Shock Treatment was promoted, including the two cringe-inducing trailers that feature O’Brien’s mouth superimposed upon the classic poster image for the film. Watching these really poor trailers, it leaves you with a mixture of sadness and bitterness at how Fox practically chucked the thing in the bin, the advertising pushing the movie in no positive way at all. A radio spot and some handsome promotional stills are also included here.

Soundtrack CD: Thrown in for good measure is the CD soundtrack to the film. It’s all great, but a pity that the O’Brien-only version of the title song couldn’t have been included, too, but you can’t have everything.  You too can experience the correct decision to remove a verse of Thank God I’m a Man in the final edit of the movie!

Booklet: Bumping up the value is a booklet looking at the film, and how much you get out of the thing will depend on who much you agree with the writer in question, as the views expressed do seem rather trenchant. Sure, that’s the very premise of opinions, but there are some thoughts which are almost unfathomable, including notion that Little Black Dress is the slacker of the soundtrack, being a thinly-veiled retread of The Time Warp, offering only that it comes with instructions in the chorus, a-la Rocky’s finest hour. “Fancy a dance?”, “Yeah, great - get the sewing machine, some material, approximate measurements and let’s boogie!” When taken away from the songs’ transvestial origins in Rocky Horror Shows His Heels, then it does lose a little something, but it’s still a damn fine song.

Is this universal ad campaign pulling you in?  Nope, thought not.

Overall


Shock Treatment will certainly not appeal to everyone - those not around when the film was released will struggle to get past some of the satirical elements that are firmly rooted in late seventies/early eighties television - but those who can appreciate what Richard O'Brien was trying to do when addressing the fleeting nature of fame and celebrity will find much to enjoy. Oh, and the songs are great, too. The problem with the 5.1 soundtrack is a bit of a bummer, not to mention the higher price-tag of this title, but don’t let that distract you from this disc, produced in strictly limited quantities.

It’s been a hell of a long time since we found Shock Treatment at our local video shop (the hallowed Star Videos, which closed 20 years ago almost to the day of publishing this!) where it was erroneously stuck in the ‘horror’ section, and we rented it not knowing what to expect. The owners gladly sold it to us, as it was a ’dead’ title, pulling in no money whatsoever, and after that, we became devout lovers of Richard O’Brien’s unappreciated sequel.  There’s a lot to see, so much to like and a musical score to love.  

Yes, Shock Treatment is one of the last hold-outs of the format for us, and it’s a Blu-ray release of a film where its mere existence in high definition means that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are not far behind…

*Thanks to dickdarlington for the HD screen-caps!


Links: