Eye For Film >> Movies >> Shock Treatment (1981) Film Review
Reviewed by: James Benefield
The Rocky Horror Picture Show was (and is) about as cult as anything can ever get. A sequel was almost inevitable. But it took six years, and almost never happened. Filming fell victim to the 1979 Screen Actors Guild strike, forcing Richard O'Brien and Richard Hartley to perform a complete rewrite. US on-location filming was abandoned, and the whole thing was subsequently shot in a UK studio.
Shock Treatment finally saw the light of day in 1981. It received a limited release, much like its predecessor. The hope was to target the same audience as the initial movie, and become a similarly word of mouth hit. And, like the first movie, it initially flopped. But unlike Rocky Horror, it never bounced back.
However, recently the movie has been reassessed as a forward-thinking piece. It's funny how time changes people's perceptions. Some people have even, and whisper it, called it a lost classic.
It does seem to predict reality television, and satirise it, in a frighteningly prescient way. Set in a studio in which the audience never seem to leave, a game show constantly runs in which married couples are subjected to the producer's mores.
The central couple from Rocky Horror return as two the victims we see the most of. But things have changed; they're played by different actors, and they are now married. And unhappy. Brad (Cliff de Young) gets picked for Dentonvale, in which he is trapped in a psychiatric hospital, whilst Janet (Jessica Harper) is transformed into a singing superstar by local town megalomaniac Farley Flavors (also de Young).
There are many superficial similarities to its predecessor. The songs are in a similar cod rock and roll style. The costumes and sets are stylised and camp. And the film has a brassy, theatrical and self-consciously amusing directorial style.
Yet it's clearly a more sinister affair. Barry Humphries leers and cackles as the supposedly blind TV show host. O'Brien and Patricia 'Magenta' Quinn play brother and sister again, but their relationship is more clearly incestuous here. And Brad spends much of the film in an oversized birdcage.
And it's also harder to come to terms with. There's little of the familiar gender swapping, stockings or sci fi elements here. There's plenty of mirth to be had in the songs, but the TV show setting and plot make the film incredibly claustrophobic. Its three styles (paranoia, mirth and surprising MTV-style musical numbers, before MTV was born) do produce a jarring and inconsistent tone. That said, it's no simple sequel. It takes surprising risks and is full of ideas. It all adds up to an unusual, but not wholly successful, curiosity.Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2010
If you like this, try:The Rocky Horror Picture Show