Shock Treatment (1981)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show may have failed when it was first released, but somehow, midnight showings have kept it in limited release four decades after its premiere, making it the longest-running theatrical release in history.

In 1979, writer/cast member Richard O’Brien wrote a sequel called Rocky Horror Shows His Heels. I remember reading about this in an issue of the teen magazine Bananas. If you remember this magazine, you are officially old. Anyway, this script would have featured the return of all of the characters from the original film, even the ones who died. However, director Jim Sharman didn’t want to revisit the film and Tim Curry had no interest in coming back.

Two years later, Sharman and O’Brien reunited for this movie, which had the tagline “It’s not a sequel… it’s not a prequel… it’s an equal.” This infuriated fans, as they wanted Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick instead of new cast members. And where Rocky is strange, Shock Treatment is near lunatic in its depiction of the town of Denton.

Complicating matters was that the Screen Actor’s Guild strike led to the entire being shot on a sound stage in the UK, which I feel adds to the proceedings. Your mileage may vary, but there’s plenty to like here if you keep an open mind.

Brad and Janet Majors have gotten married and settled into the town of Denton, USA. Brad is now played by Cliff De Young (The Hunger) and Janet is Jessica Harper (seriously, do you think she was tired of playing in films that only maniacs like me enjoy, like this one, Suspiria and Phantom of the Paradise?).

Denton is really owned by fast food magnate Farley Flavors, also played by De Young, and is now totally encased within a TV studio to create a strange reality where town residents are always on TV, either as stars, cast, crew, regulars or audience members.

Our heroes are selected for one of the TV shows that make up the life of Denton called Marriage Maze, which is hosted by the supposedly blind game show host Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries, who you may know better as Dame Edna). For winning, Brad gets placed on the soap opera Dentonvale, where brother and sister doctors Cosmo and Nation McKinley (O’Brien and Patricia Quinn, pretty much playing similar roles from Rocky Horror) conspire against him, while Farley molds Janet into a singing superstar.

Meanwhile, Betty Hapschatt (Ruby Wax, the script editor for Absolutely Fabulous) and Judge Oliver Wright (Rocky Horror narrator Charles Gray) learn that everyone is just a character actor and that Farley is Brad’s evil twin, out to take Janet for himself.

The cast of Shock Treatment is pretty amazing and absolutely filled with talent:

Little Nell comes back as Nurse Ansalong, Young Ones star Rik Mayall is around as “Rest Home” Ricky, while Officer Vance Parker is played by Chris Malcolm, the first Brad from the Rocky Horror stage show. Betsy Brantley, who played Neely Pritt, was the body model for Jessica Rabbit as well as playing Dolph Lundgren’s girlfriend in I Come In Peace. And you can catch Rocky Horror fan club president Sal Piro in a brief cameo.

Barry Dennen, who plays auto dealer Irwin Lapsey had an interesting career. He helped Barbara Streisand develop her act and lived with her romantically for a year before learning that he was gay. He’s in a ton of movies, appearing as Mendel in The Fiddler on the Roof and Pontious Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as Claude LeMont in the “High Adventure” segment of The Kentucky Fried Movie. He’s also in The ShiningDark CrystalMadhouseThe Shadow and Trading Places, as well as voicing tons of video games and cartoons. Sadly, he never recovered from a fall in July of 2017 and died a few months later.

Ironically, Brad from this movie and Janet from Rocky Horror — DeYoung and Sarandon — are a couple in The Hunger.

Shock Treatment never achieved the levels of fandom that Rocky Horror did. But man, it has some great songs, Jessica Harper in gothy makeup and a “Little Black Dress,” and predates the world’s fascination with reality TV by several decades. It’s worth tracking down — it’s really something else.

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