Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Shock Treatment: 25th Anniversary Edition

A featurette on Shock Treatment's 25th-anniversary-edition DVD briefly discusses the film that might have been: Planning the sequel to his cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Richard O'Brien concocted a story in which the first film's whitebread heroine Janet (Susan Sarandon) discovered she was pregnant with the child of goofy transvestite villain Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry). But the idea was rejected, and Curry and Sarandon declined to reprise their roles. So O'Brien and Rocky Horror director Jim Sharman headed in a new direction, with Janet and her bland husband Brad sucked into the giant TV studio that's taken over their blah little hometown of Denton. The results land somewhere between Rocky Horror and a musical version of Network, but mostly, they're a flailing muddle. By comparison, even Rocky Horror had a cohesive theme.


Part of the problem is that the action never leaves the TV studio. Budget limitations and an actors' strike confined the movie to a single elaborate set, so O'Brien and Sharman recast it as an outsized satire of media saturation, but their blurring of the line between offscreen "reality" and TV performance is more confused than meaningful. Denton's inhabitants form a vapidly enthusiastic audience that cheers whatever the studio presents them with. When Brad (now played by Cliff De Young) and Janet (Jessica Harper) arrive, they're whisked onstage to address their ailing marriage on a relationship-themed game show, but De Young's reluctance gets him dragged off to a cage and a straitjacket on a hospital show run by conniving, incestuous siblings (O'Brien and Patricia Quinn, in roles fairly similar to their Rocky Horror bit parts). Meanwhile, the producers set out to remake Janet as a shallow pop idol. Shock Treatment's problems begin with this disjointed, vaguely metaphorical plot, but it suffers more from the many, many unmemorable songs, which slam the film to a standstill so the cast can cavort around, flashing their legs and smirking as though they're being much naughtier. Rocky Horror at least had the lure of forbidden sex and a pro-transgression stance; the squeaky-clean Shock Treatment instead pays some sloppy lip service to misbehavior without ever figuring out what that means. The film looks great, with vivid colors and sharp, snappy staging, but its 92 minutes drag by interminably. Tim Curry in fishnets might have helped, but a coherent storyline would have been far better.

Key features: Talking-head featurettes, trailers, and a commentary track by two Shock Treatment fan-club presidents.