Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment By L. Rob Hubbard. There are some films that fall in-between the cracks upon releasenot finding favor with an audience at the time, they are labeled with the pejorative "bomb" and disappear without a trace, leaving a bad, but fading memory in the minds of studio executives and theater exhibitors...
There are some films that fall in-between the cracks upon releasenot finding favor with an audience at the time, they are labeled with the pejorative "bomb" and disappear without a trace, leaving a bad, but fading memory in the minds of studio executives and theater exhibitors. A good number of these end up in oblivion, but some, whether by midnight screenings in theaters, repeated showings on cable, drunken evenings with friends in front of the VCR or DVD player, or by osmosis, manage to gradually find their audience and continue to flourish.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the example of cult film success. Nearly three decades have passed since the film was first exhibited, and it still draws an audience at screenings. It’s practically become a cottage industry. After earning a tidy sum of money for Twentieth Century Fox, a sequel was inevitable.
Rocky Horror Shows His Heels
Our story begins a few years after Rocky Horror has become a sensation in midnight screenings. Creator Richard O’Brien approached The Rocky Horror Picture Show producer Michael White, about doing a sequel. White was definitely interested, and O’Brien came up with the scenario Rocky Horror Shows His Heels.
The script picks up about nine months after the end of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Rocky Horror—the creation of Dr. Frank N. Furter—still alive. Our heroes, Brad and Janet, have married but our former Miss Weiss is in trouble. She’s pregnant and the child is from her union with either Rocky or Frank. Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem that the Majors’ marriage has even been consummated. The pressures of marriage and Janet’s pregnancy drive Brad away. He visits Dr. Everett Scott and, as fate would have it, so does Rocky with Frank’s lifeless body. Rocky insists that Dr. Scott find a way to revive dear old Frank. Dr. Scott determines the blood borne chemicals necessary to revive the over-sexed Transylvanian.
The next day, Frank, Rocky, Scott and Brad don their gay apparel—little black dresses (a garment with a song that survived in Shock Treatment)—to pay Janet a visit in the hospital where she has given birth. Frank immediately assumes control of the baby, upsetting Janet’s Mom and Dad. Frank and the gang hit the town, sprinkling "fairy dust" that transforms people into transsexuals (or at least transvestites). All of this tires Frank out. He collapses and realizes that he needs more blood; eleven pints from young male virgins should do it. Brad procures the blood from teens thrilled to help out a celebrity. At the party, Janet’s Mom and Dad and various Dentonites are converted to Transylvanian lifestyles. At the hospital, two mysterious figures steal Janet’s baby. They convince her that the baby is dead and take her to the party being held in Frank’s honor.
At the party, Frank unmasks the figures, who turn out to be Riff Raff and Magenta. Suddenly, Frank starts to decompose—one of the boys wasn’t a virgin after all. The townspeople revolt—attacking Frank and overwhelming Brad and Scott. Rocky and the Transylvanians escape. Riff Raff kills Frank...again. Riff and Magenta drive off with Janet and the baby, who is clearly Frank’s child.
Rocky Horror Shows His Heels was a literal sequel to Rocky Horror, and it’s quite possible that this version would’ve been welcomed with open arms by Rocky Horror cultists. It was Jim Sharman, Rocky Horror director of stage and screen versions, who nixed any idea of going in that direction. According to Richard O’Brien, Jim Sharman said, "I have no interest in doing that sort of movie: write a new story." O’Brien had no interest in writing another story and, instead, wanted to find a way to use the 10 songs he had already written. In other words, he worked to find a new story to fit the songs rather than the other way around.
Eventually, both Frank and Rocky fell away from the story, leaving Brad as the main protagonist. This displeased O’Brien and Sharman. Again, rather than rewriting, the simple solution was to attribute all of Brad’s dialogue to Janet and vice versa. The script went through several more drafts—five total—before getting to a version that everyone signed off on.
It’s Gotta Be DTV
Conceived to be shot naturalistically on location in the U.S. with a sizeable cast, The Brad and Janet Show (the original, and O’Brien’s preferred title) was budgeted at about $5 million from Fox. The film was a ‘go’ until trouble hit in the form of the SAG Strike of 1980 which delayed shooting and which caused Fox to pull out of its commitment. In this atmosphere, attempting to find a way to salvage the work that had been done, O’Brien and Sharman played with the idea of adapting the script for the stage and filming the stage show. This was the seed for re-conceiving the project, now called Shock Treatment. The budget came down to $4 million (with production designer Brian Thomson garnering a credit for "additional ideas" on O’Brien’s and Sharman’s script) and the film was shot on soundstages in London in the fall of 1980.
Shock Treatment is the continuing adventures of Brad (Cliff DeYoung) and Janet (Jessica Harper), years after the events in Rocky Horror in the town of Denton. Now married, they find themselves caught up in the machinations of another charismatic individual and his associates.
The entire film takes place within the studio of local television network, DTV. Brad and Janet are chosen as contestants on DTV’s "Marriage Maze"—hosted by popular TV personality Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries AKA Dame Edna). Here the problems of their marriage are revealed and Brad is railroaded into "treatment" at the local asylum. The sanitarium is the setting for the popular soap opera program, "Dentonvale" and run by the incestuous duo, Cosmo (Richard O’Brien) and Nation McKinley (Patricia Quinn) with support staff Ricky (Rik Mayall) and Nurse Ansalong (Nell Campbell).
Schnick and the McKinley’s are in the pocket of the network’s sponsor, fast food magnate Farley Flavors (also Cliff DeYoung), who is readying the debut of a new show, "The Faith Factory." Flavors has designs on Janet. She’s groomed into a media superstar (under the guise of making her more desirable to Brad) to sell Flavor’s "Faith Factory." Only DTV personalities Betty Hapschatt (Ruby Wax) and Judge Oliver Wright (Charles Gray) seem to notice that something slightly nefarious is going on and attempt to get to the bottom of things.
Sanity For Today
If Rocky Horror was O’Brien’s look at changing sexual mores in changing times as filtered through the world of 1950s B-movies, then Shock Treatment can be considered as his take on the gender roles and socialization via mass media. It’s also more of a personal puzzle with some interesting insights on fame and celebrity. Shock Treatment is the work of someone with more than Rocky Horror on his mind, and therein lays the conundrum.
Very little of Rocky Horror Shows His Heels made it to the final cut of Shock Treatment apart from the idea of the Majors’ marital troubles. Looking at The Brad and Janet Show, much of the dialogue and set pieces survived when the project morphed into Shock Treatment.
The main difference between the two projects is scope: Where The Brad and Janet Show clearly took place in a natural environment, Shock Treatment takes place in a hermetically sealed world within the confines of a television. No exteriors are ever seen, except for a misty limbo outside the studio doors. Once the audience enters, they remain in their seats. Their attention is given to either the monitors or the show on stage.
The studio audience is a cross section of society. They also are very vocal and easily stirred up by impresarios such as Bert Schnick. Swayed by any form of celebrity, animosity from members of the Rocky Horror cult about Shock Treatment stems from the belief that this reactive audience is a negative aspersion on them.
A major flaw of the film comes from the lack of definition of Brad and Janet’s marital woes. Interestingly, it’s always someone else telling Janet that Brad is an "emotional cripple" as Brad is trussed up and drugged up, unable to speak for himself. In the Rocky Horror Shows His Heels treatment, Brad and Janet’s marriage fails because Brad has come out of the closet; his impulses awakened by Frank N. Furter. By The Brad and Janet Show that idea was largely abandoned (although implied with the dialogue between Janet and her parents, and the song, "Thank God I’m A Man").
In The Brad and Janet Show the Majors’ marriage is strained due to Janet working long hours at the television station (under manager Dr. Everett Scott—who became Bert Schnick, another ex-Nazi, in Shock Treatment) and making a name for herself while unemployed Brad watches television amid drinking, smoking, and doing housework at home; emasculated by Janet’s rising status at the station.
Eliminated in Shock Treatment, that information would have greatly helped clarify Farley Flavors’ character. Flavors is the twin brother of Brad—separated at an early age by adoption. Brad went to an ‘uptown’ family while Farley went ‘downtown’, his success measured in terms of wealth, fame and opportunism. Farley is the flip side of Brad, of what a ‘successful’ Brad would be. Ironically, only Janet registers the resemblance between the two men in her stupor.
Flavors is a cross between televangelist and politician. Considering that the movie was conceived and shot in the wake of the ’70s malaise and the dawn of Reagan’s "Morning in America," this is undoubtedly a deliberate choice. "Madness" and "Sanity" are the only choices offered—the "madness" of Brad versus the "sanity" of Farley and his Faith Factory. Flavors offers the audience everything they could want: "innocence, decency and the illusion of a happy ending." Ultimately, the Faith Factory is revealed to be a sanitarium, which is the DTV station. The audience, still part of the show, is straightjacketed and "normal," while the "mad" outsiders ultimately escape the outside.
The closing song, "Anyhow, Anyhow," originally had several opening verses (found in The Brad and Janet Show draft) that shine some light on the moral of the story:
Was I a victim of his heart
Or a victim of his schemes
Did he love me or resent you
Like a player in his dreams?
Why don’t we all get out of here
There’s nothing left to lose?
No. We have the power to think and feel
We have the power to choose.
There’s a cancer here among us
And it’s gnawing at the heart
We can shake off the fetters
Of quacks and go-getters
And the way to begin — is start!
The Sun Only Sets On Those Who Ride Into It
When the film debuted in late 1981, Shock Treatment was met with hostility and disdain, especially from the core The Rocky Horror Picture Show cult. Despite the recurring phrase of casting the film as "not a sequel, or a prequel, but an equal," the movie alienated the audience who came expecting another slightly naughty romp through B-movie land and instead got... something else.
Everything is observed either by someone, or by a camera. Documentary crews roam the aisles and stages to gather footage. The audience is made privy to a kitchen discussion between Janet and her parents and presented as part of the "Happy Homes" show. Action switches back and forth from "real life: to television screens. Even private activities in the sleeping quarters of the "Dentonvale" staff plays out as cheap television drama during the "Lullaby" musical number. Reality and entertainment blend seamlessly into each other.
The film fits in snugly with several others released in the early 1980s that cast a satirical eye in examining the public’s interest and obsession with media, television specifically, and celebrity such as The King of Comedy, Wrong is Right, Videodrome, Looker, The Osterman Weekend, and the British and American versions of Max Headroom Most of those films also did poor box-office at the time, but have since been re-evaluated and re-appraised. Shock Treatment deserves no less for tackling the same subject matter in a manner more unorthodox than these other films.
Ultimately, Shock Treatment is linked with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, not in a literal way (cast, crew, characters), but in examining society, conformity, and the role of the outcast. Part of the popularity of Rocky Horror was due to the attraction that Frank N. Furter character had for the audience. He’s sexually free-spirited and unbound by the conventions of society. It’s ironic that, Rocky Horror ends with the free-spirited character killed because his "lifestyle’s too extreme" and the two main characters in a state of spiritual limbo. Meanwhile, Shock Treatment ends with the main characters escaping from a spiritual asylum into the freedom of The Unknown. Yet, Shock Treatment is still considered a miserable failure.
Downplayed in the Rocky Horror phenomenon, Shock Treatment seems to have been consigned to oblivion except that the film has gained a loyal following of fans over the last 20 years. The negativity towards the film stems from the unmistakable fact that the film is not The Rocky Horror Picture Show 2, and that is what people were expecting (and wanting). Coupling it with Rocky Horror does a disservice to both films. This includes the lame attempts to give Shock Treatment the Rocky Horror "audience participation" treatment with props, shouted out quips, and acting out the film. At times it feels like Lou Adler directed Shock Treatment with these shenanigans in mind, adding apparent pauses for participation. Likewise, parts of the script seem custom ordered for yelling out profanity (such as the "five F’s" of the Farley Favor’s fast food commercial).
Shock Treatment is a more mature work than Rocky Horror. It’s as clever as Rocky Horror, but the humor is much drier; going for the obscure pun or the oblique reference (such as the Orpheus and Samuel Coleridge Taylor). In terms of its satirical look at manipulation through the television medium and the cult of fame, Shock Treatment was years ahead of its time. At home in an era of "reality TV," Shock Treatment could have been made two years ago instead of over twenty. It avoided the easy path of treading old ground, which was its best and worst feature. Shock Treatment is ripe for rediscovery by people who can look past the Rocky Horror cult and judge it on its own merits.
However, that may not come anytime soon. Despite it being a prime candidate for DVD release (it has gone through two VHS releases and laserdisc release in Japan) there is no indication that Shock Treatment is imminent. The film remains an "embarrassment" for the Rocky Horror people. While it has a following, it still isn’t known by the mainstream public and not as readily accessible as Rocky Horror. It seems that, in this game, only winners count.
For those a bit more adventurous, who have a taste for satire, especially one with bite, Shock Treatment remains poised for discovery by a new audience, one who can appreciate its ties to Rocky Horror, but who won’t let that connection totally influence their reaction to it.
The Moon-Drenched Shores Of Transylvania
In the ’90s Richard O’Brien’s career was revitalized when he hosted the British game show The Crystal Maze from 1990 to 1994. In 1995 O’Brien played the Mephistophelean host of "Club Inferno" in his stage show Disgracefully Yours. He also released a solo album, Absolute O’Brien in ’95. He had substantial roles in Spice World (1997) and Dark City (1998).
The late ’90s also brought about the 30th anniversary of the The Rocky Horror Picture Show and, with it, programs on VH1, AMC, and re-releases on CD and DVD. This raised the question again of a direct Rocky Horror sequel and, since Shock Treatment didn’t fit the bill, it seemed a return to basics was called for.
O’Brien penned a script for a film sequel entitled The Rocky Horror Picture Show Part 2The Revenge of the Old Queen. It’s set on both the planet Transylvania and Earth and picks up with Magenta dead. A grieving Riff-Raff summoned by the Transylvanian Queen to return to Earth to retrieve her son, Frank N. Furter. She’s unaware of Riff Raff being her son’s killer and Riff intends on keeping her in the dark. On Earth, Steve Majors (the brother of Brad), heads a government agency investigating alien incursions (the hook being that the events of Rocky Horror were real), and he picks up Riff’s trail when he returns to Earth. Throw into the mix a lot of transvestitism, government conspiracies, teleportation devices built in shower stalls, and Sonny Majors whose questionable dress and behavior recalls "absent friends."
Revenge of the Old Queen never got the green light. Undaunted, O’Brien began writing a stage sequel entitled Rocky Horror: The Second Coming, which made it to a first draft but is now currently on hold. There’s no word if it will ever see the light of day. Until that day arrives, Rocky Horror fans will have to content themselves with endless screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
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