Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.
DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all. The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least. Remember - ART IS ART!
"Once upon a time, in a town not far from yours, there lived a real fast guy.
His life was fast, his friends were fast, and, even his food was fast. But, he was still not satisfied. He wanted to share his fast philosophy with someone else... a beautiful girl.
Trouble was ...she was in the arms of another man."
And thus begins one of the finest films ever made; and I truly mean it. A film three decades ahead of its time.
Like almost every college student in the mid 80s, I spent many a Friday and Saturday night at the student union watching the midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (and picking rice out of my hair the next morning). Only one thing could make that film better...stumbling upon the follow up film on video in 1984.
Shock Treatment was initially released in November 1981, only to receive a reaction similar to that of RHPS upon its release 7 years earlier. It did not perform well. At the time of its release, I'd never seen the original film, but, thanks to many of the fanzines available at the time I was very aware of it and looked for the film to play my small town...it never arrived.
However, I stumbled upon a lone copy of the video tape in November 1984...and I've had a torrid love affair with the film since. And, at each viewing of the film, I am endlessly amazed at how accurately it predicted (intentionally or not) America's endless fascination with reality television, groupthink and celebrity.
In fact, to accurately describe the plot of this film I could simply say - take a look at America today...and add Brad and Janet. The film Shock Treatment takes places in a world where Denton (The Home of Happiness) is nothing but a television sound stage...and let's face - in Denton and America today - if you aren't on television you're nothing and if didn't happen on television, well then, maybe it didn't happen at all.
We find Brad and Janet having marital woes (now played by Cliff DeYoung and Jessica Harper). Roles have reversed (perhaps due to the events portrayed in RHPS). Where Brad was the strong reassuring one in Rocky, he is now milquetoast, clumsy and unable to stand up for himself. Janet is strong and resents his failings. After a stint on one of Denton's most watched shows - Marriage Maze - Brad finds himself committed and Janet is catapulted into fame by mogul Farley Flavors (also portrayed by Cliff DeYoung) who intends to use her as a poster child for "Sanity for today". Or, as Flavors says "We're going to package and sell some mental health to the nation with my dream of the girl next door". To help Flavors get what he wants (because Farley Expects!!), are a colorful cast of characters: Bert Schnick (portrayed brilliantly by Barry Humphries), Dr. Cosmo McKinley (Richard O'Brien) and Dr. Nation McKinley (Patricia Quinn).
But, as the Criminologist was the all-seeing voice of reason in RHPS, Judge Oliver Wright (played by the late, great Charles Gray) and divorcee Betty Hapschatt begin to investigate the odd events happening in Denton...and what part Brad plays in all of it.
Although I am endlessly stunned by the biting criticism of commercialism and ego portrayed in the film, this was not the film the creative team set out to make. The film was to be shot in Denton, Texas and include Frank's love child borne of Janet...and even crazier scenarios. However, an actor strike in the US and Alan Ladd Jr.'s departure from 20th Century Fox (do film lovers really understand how much they owe Alan Ladd Jr.?) derailed the initial plans. The brilliance we have today was plan B! And B stands for brilliance.
I will say this, although I fear having my home firebombed, I honestly prefer Shock Treatment to RHPS. Please don't misunderstand me - I love RHPS and always will. It is a beautiful and twisted tribute to horror and sci-fi from the 30's through the 60's. It allowed me to hang out with people who understood me and didn't judge. It has a storied and vaunted past; how it came to be should be turned into a film.
Nevertheless, the story is certainly more layered and nuanced in the follow up and the songs...well, I just love the soundtrack. It was only 15 years ago, with reality TV taking over television as shows like The Lone Gunmen, Freaks and Geeks and Firefly were being thrown into the ash bin, that I began to love the film for an entirely different reason. Now the warnings of Shock Treatment are complete and I'm more likely to hear about Bruce Jenner's transformation or that Kim Kardashian farted in public than I am to hear about literally a trillion other things..... that actually matter.
In the last minutes of the film, things are wrapped up in a way only Richard O'Brien could conceive and the film closes with an anthem to doing what you have to do...with one of the most poignant lines you'll ever hear in a film...
" The Sun Never Sets On Those Who Ride Into It...."