For a long time, Shock Treatment, Richard O’Brien’s follow-up to cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a mysterious footnote in cinema history relegated to second-hand VHS or an occasional obscure late night TV showing.
Now though, thanks to Arrow Video, it’s been released in fully restored high-definition from as part of a Blu-ray collectors pack along with the soundtrack CD and the usual other bits and bobs.
The film is, in some ways, a direct sequel to Rocky Horror, continuing the story of the now married Brad and Janet Majors (sadly not Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon but Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper, of Suspiria fame).
Set in the studios of DTV, an apparent Black Mirror-ish all-encompassing reality TV network (long before the phrase came to mean anything) in their hometown of Denton, it echoes its forebear in many ways.
Firstly it has the feel of a series of loosely connected vignettes, secondly the antagonists are a brother and sister/incestuous lover duo played with creepily surreal brilliance by O’Brien and Patricia Quinn (with more than a hint of Riff Raff and Magenta), thirdly it features a selection of suitably rock ‘n’ roll songs to string it all together.
The setting is also very suggestive of ‘The Frankenstein Place’ from the original, with the feeling of being a kind of separate realm to Brad and Janet’s usual reality, but the transition to it is less well handled so we don’t get such a clearly defined other space that it really feels like the film needs to make sense.
Along with this we get some great production design that makes it feel like we are really trapped in a low-budget local TV network along with Brad and Janet, while the selection of cast members is one to behold; from Barry Humphries as a kind Frank like ringleader, to a very young pre-Young Ones Rik Mayal and Ruby Wax to several recurring performers from Rocky Horror which help tie things together, including Charles Gray and ‘Little’ Nell Campbell.
Not only are some of the cast recurring but the entire main production team also returns, helping the at least stylistic similarities.
While it’s all rather ‘bonkers fun’ (to quote my immediate reaction on Facebook) it’s falls down when compared to its predecessor in a couple of crucial ways.
First is that it lacks a central figure, like Tim Curry’s Frank N Furter, to really lead us through the vignettes. Janet is arguably the lead here but never quite grabs the screen enough, while Humphries’ vampiric TV host Bert Schnick fills the physical space but not the thematic one, though there are hints that in a different world he might have.
Second is that it doesn’t have such a strong over arching message though it feels likes its trying to reach for one. Rocky Horror struck such a chord with its anthemic cry of ‘Don’t dream it, be it!’ while Shock Treatment feels more like a warning against the cult of celebrity and reality TV. In that it is impressively prescient, but it just never quite gets it across in the way you feel it wants to.
So, while its obvious why Shock Treatment hasn’t found a place in the pop culture pantheon that its predecessor did, even O’Brien admits it’s a mess, it remains more than the footnote it had been relegated to and if it’s anything like Rocky Horror its appeal will grown with familiarity.