By Loryn Stone
If you paid any attention to yesterday’s blurb, we were talking about different kinds of movie sequels. We effortlessly segued into a discussion about Mannequin 2: On the Move, the most incredible second installment of all time. To reiterate for the back row, movie sequels come in a multitude of flavors. Some pick up where you left off, continuing the adventure with the same characters on a new adventure (such as Star Wars or Indiana Jones). Others take liberties and do it Final Fantasy style, where it’s the same universe with different characters and a whole new adventure (this is what Mannequin 2 does, although there are some loose tie-ins to remind the viewer that this is in fact the same world). Or, you have another scenario, which is a different movie, a different universe, with just enough overlapping content to convince audiences that this might be a sequel or at the very least, a very clever marketing ploy.
Which is most likely the case with today’s sequel, the American-produced 1981 dark comedy Shock Treatment, the very, very, very odd follow-up to the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now, my older sisters and their friends were obsessed with Rocky Horror, weekly midnight showings and all. I definitely went to a few of them and was fascinated by the movie (pretty sure at one point I knew the entire script start-to-finish, but we don’t need to talk about those strange points in obsessive fandom). So, when my sister’s friend (looking at you John) announced the discovery of the Rocky Horror sequel Shock Treatment, it was an event. If memory serves me correct, he called a million video stores until he found an old VHS copy of Shock Treatment. Upon looking at Richard O’Brien’s face on the cover, I wasn’t sure if we were in for anything Rocky Horror related. A bunch of us crowded around the television and we popped in the movie.
And we were overtaken by rage.
This. Was not. A sequel.
Shock Treatment begins with an audience crowding into a movie theater, much like a Rocky Horror audience getting ready to watch a midnight showing. Among the patrons in the crowd are a bespectacled man called “Brad” and a deep-voiced woman called “Janet”. The opening musical number in the film is called “Denton USA”. Rocky Horror fans will remember Denton as the town where Brad Majors and Janet Weiss are from. And those are the familiar elements viewers are given to convince them they’re being pulled back into a universe that overlaps with Rocky Horror.
The bulk of the story is more or less a commentary about reality-tv stardom, which was truthfully ahead of its time. Brad is institutionalized to get him out of the way and Janet is whisked away into a world of insular stardom at the hand of Farley Flavors, played by Cliff De Young, the same actor playing Brad in the film. And per the film’s title, there is playful addressing of mental health and its jargon.
The husky voiced Janet is played by Jessica Harper, who received instant hate from everyone craving more of Susan Sarandon’s girlish depiction of the character. I once read in a review (and I wish I remembered the site so I could credit the author) that if Sarandon is Janet Weiss, a girl, then Jessica Harper returns as Janet Majors, a woman in control of her own agency. The movie doesn’t have the same sexuality (any of it really, for that matter, except for Little Nell’s legs and panty shots). Even the song number about Janet’s “Little Black Dress” contains a dress that looks more like a smock.
Now then, where are the Rocky Horror ties in this movie? Well, viewers are treated to their favorite delicious Transylvanian threesome, Riff-Raff, Magenta, and Columbia (Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, and Little Nell) as Dr. Cosmo McKinley, Dr. Nation McKinley, and Nurse Anasalong. They make some faces and do some poses during song numbers that are throwbacks to their Rocky Horror characters, which is a little bit exciting, but they never take it as far as you would have wanted. At least Cosmo and Nation, like Riff Raff and Magenta before them, are another weird incestuous brother and sister duo, as at least the good stuff was kept intact. The threesome is joined by a fourth, the delicious late and great Rik Mayall as “Rest Home Ricky”, whose leering performance is one of the highlights of the movie.
The biggest loss of the film is felt by the absence of Tim Curry. You have to wonder if it’s in Farley Flavors where you’re supposed to feel inklings of Dr. Frank ‘N Furter, or in the odd character Bert Schnick, who might be more of Dr. Scott meets the Criminologist. Regardless, that lack of “confident character controlling this circus” is definitely a place where Shock Treatment suffers.
The music? Sure, I may have special ordered the album from Moby Disc because if everyone else like Rocky Horror, I had to like Shock Treatment (teenage rebellion nonsense), but it’s not particularly memorable. There are a few anthem style songs and ensemble pieces, but Janet sure has a lot to sing about. For me, the strongest pieces are “In My Own Way”, “Shock Treatment” and “Farley’s Song”, even if it’s a little one-note.
Were there rumors of an actual RHPS sequel? Yes, there were. Is there a script for it floating around the internet somewhere? Yes, there is. Is that a movie anyone really needs? No, it isn’t and you know why?
Because if The Rocky Horror Picture Show had a legit sequel, I wouldn’t get to drool over a young Rik Mayall all up on Little Nell as an asylum worker.
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