Shock Treatment (1981)

Technically Shock Treatment is not a sequel to Rocky Horror Picture Show, but as it does heavily feature several same actors returning in completely different roles, plus Brad and Janet are again the central figures in the story (as a married couple, which would thus indicate the story clearly taking place after Rocky Horror), the movie kinda is and isn’t a follow up at the same time. It’s probably best defined as more of an isolated, spiritual successor to the previous film than anything else. And because of those vague, but clearly visible ties between the two, you can’t help but to make comparisons.

Diving in, I had no clue what so ever what this was going to be like. Knowing Richard O’Brien, I just knew it was going to be something considerably weird and outlandish with an undercurrent of bizarre humor attached to it. Even after finishing watching the movie, it’s really hard to wrap your head around it. It’s so out there in certain ways that it becomes very hard to even get a proper handle on it, and that is more than likely the main reason this never found the same level of popularity as Rocky Horror did. With Rocky Horror Picture Show you at least had a very simple B-list Frankenstein retelling wrapped around a clear message specifically told through the song “Don’t Dream It, Be It.” It encouraged you to be yourself, not matter how freaky and different you were. With Shock Treatment, you’re not really sure what the message is. The plot itself is sort of an insane musical version of Network, but with more straight comedic glint to it, with this amazing out of nowhere twist involving Brad’s long-lost, evil twin brother at the end. See, I told you it was going to get weird. The central theme seems to be, from what I can gather, this surreal satire of the consumer driven Reagan era of America, but you never really get the sense that you’re getting the joke as you’re watching it. The movie even tackles the subject of reality TV and turning ordinary people into celebrities solely on the merit of being on TV, via the whole premise of the entire town being one giant TV station where the inhabitants work for the shows they broadcast, which makes the movie be a bit ahead of its time with its crude parody, which might again also explain why it failed to really click with the early 80s audiences.

The main problem I have with the movie is that while it is filled with deliciously odd and just insane ideas, it ever seems to manage to take them to the extreme so that it would become really engaging and entertaining, like Rocky Horror did by mixing Science Fiction tropes and B-list movies to a message about sexual freedom. The songs for the most part were pretty good, but like the plot itself, they don’t quite manage to grab you as well as you’d like. They’re funny, but not that catchy and the movie suffers from a terrible lack of the right type of flair and extravagance that musicals generally need to sell the excitement and energy. There’s also a distinct lack of Tim Curry, as he declined to participate in this because he felt he couldn’t  fake an American accent convincingly enough. It’s a pity as his magnetic charisma might have been just the thing that this movie needed in order to pull itself together and finally click.

Shock Treatment in the end is a delightful mess that is enjoyable as a curiosity watch. The sheer absurdity of the subject matter should be enough to keep you entertained even when the plot doesn’t. It doesn’t live up to the expectations set by its predecessor, but nor does not ever bore or annoy you. It simply fails to reach its full potential. It might actually be interesting to see a remake of this. There’s plenty of good stuff here that could be refined and done properly today under the right creative force.

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