I did not realize until I posted a Vintage Image of the Day for Shock Treatment that the "not a sequel" to The Rocky Horror Picture Show was one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Two days after I posted the photo, I bought the DVD and threw out my old VHS copy, so I can enjoy the highest resolution, most gorgeous images and sound possible when I indulge my secret love for the 1981 cult classic.

In my Vintage Image of the Day post, I called Shock Treatment the sequel to Rocky Horror. As others have noted, this isn't strictly true. However, some of the characters are the same. Remember Brad Majors and Janet Weiss? (Keep your audience-participation nicknames to yourself.) In Shock Treatment, the happy couple is now married, but something's wrong with their relationship, something they themselves can't quite express. The characters are played by different actors -- Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper take over the roles held by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon in Rocky Horror. On the other hand, cast members from the first movie also appear in Shock Treatment, but as different characters. Brad and Janet are attending the taping of a TV show when suddenly they are plucked from the audience as an example of a Marriage In Trouble. Next thing they know, they're being shuttled from show to show in the TV studio, their every move observed by the studio audience, and unsure who they are or what's going on. Brad is locked in a psychiatric ward and strapped in a straitjacket, and Janet is being groomed for some nebulous TV stardom. Their fate seems to be in the hands of two doctors, Nation McKinley (Patricia Quinn) and Cosmo McKinley (Richard O'Brien), but what about their boss, studio head Farley Flavors ... who looks surprisingly similar to Brad himself?

I'm not denying that Shock Treatment is a mess at times. Many filmed attempts at parodying and satirizing TV tend to fall flat. There are too many characters, and we're not entirely sure what they're doing in the movie. Nell Campbell's Nurse Ansalong provides nothing but background chatter, except for that one significant line: "Sign the contract tomorrow." Rik Mayall is practically wasted as Rest Home Ricky. Neely and her crew, who are filming a documentary about all the TV show filming, seem entirely superfluous. And I have no idea why two characters stay up all night reading "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," except to set up a silly gag. The entire movie is filmed on a British soundstage, set inside the Denton TV studios, allegedly because an actors' strike made it impossible for the movie to be shot on location in the U.S. (I'm truly sorry that Denton, Texas wasn't the actual location for the film's setting of Denton, The Home of Happiness.)

So why should you bother with Shock Treatment? For one thing, I loved some of the music so much that I bought the soundtrack. Shock Treatment is a musical, like Rocky Horror before it, and often the songs are equally campy. What is there to say about a number entitled "Look What I Did to My Id"? The "Little Black Dress" song is my favorite -- I've always felt it should be covered by some grunge-rock band. (The songs were co-written by Richard O'Brien and composer Richard Hartley.) Jessica Harper manages to rock the house in "Me of Me." The film also provides an opportunity to watch O'Brien and Quinn together again, with their completely bizarre onscreen chemistry.

Normally I believe firmly that you shouldn't have to watch a movie more than once to enjoy it. However, I didn't find Shock Treatment all that interesting on a first viewing; it took more than one try for me to grow to like the film. Part of the problem may have been that awful second-generation VHS copy I watched back in my college-era Rocky Horror days. The new DVD clearly displays all the marvelously garish color schemes (and also Harper's pink eyeshadow, which may induce scary 1980s flashbacks). And I haven't even mentioned Ruby Wax and Charles Gray and a non-Dame-Edna Barry Humphries. When you're in the mood for something culty and fun that doesn't have to be all that high-quality, try renting Shock Treatment.

[Image courtesy of Shock Treatment Daily.]
categories Features, Cinematical