Although The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn't much of a box office success during its initial theatrical run, like we all know it went on to amass a huge cult following that remains as active today as it was two decades ago. When it came time to make a follow-up film, however, things went a little differently – enter 1981's Shock Treatment which reunited Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien as well as a bunch of Rocky Horror cast members such as Little Nell and Patricia Quinn for another off the wall musical.
The film once again follows the misadventures of Brad and Janet, now married (and played by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper instead of Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon as it was on Rocky Horror) and living in Denton, U.S.A. – a small town that appears to be the very definition of normal in every way possible. On the inside, however, the citizens of Denton as obsessed with television and the local broadcaster, DTV, is king – in fact, the whole town is more or less a television studio, and the citizens are the live studio audience.
Unfortunately for our newlyweds, they're not doing as well as they had hoped they would be. The upside of this marital stress is that it's landed them a spot on a game show. When it's all over with, Brad is deemed a nut and taken off to the local psychiatric hospital whereas Janet comes to enjoy her new found popularity and looks to be the 'next big thing' in TV-land when DTV's sponsor, a fast food big-wig named Farley Flavors (Cliff De Young again in a fun second role), takes a shining to her. In order to keep Brad out of his way he recruits Cosmo and Nation McKinley (Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn respectively), two actors who pretend to be doctors to keep the troublemaker locked up. The only hope Brad has of proving his sanity and saving his wife from Flavor's greedy clutches lies with Betty Hapschatt (Ruby Wax), who has recently been fired from her gig as a TV morning show host, and her husband, Ralph (Jeremy Newson).
Anyone expecting the flat out camp and sci-fi trappings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show might be disappointed to find out that Shock Treatment is a very different film even if it is, like its predecessor, a rock and roll musical and it deals with 'Brad and Janet.' The movie is less an exercise in schlock and more a satire of American culture's obsession with television and celebrity and it's a very clever one at that. The movie definitely predicts the onslaught of reality TV programming that the networks are bombarding us with these days and it even manages to note some of its inherent flaws long before it even really existed. While the film is far from mean spirited it's very much making digs at the audience and to those would allow the media to spoon-feed the latest trends to them without questioning anything. What makes Shock Treatment work is that O'Brien and Sherman manage to wrap the whole package up in as a shiny, happy musical that ends up being a whole lot of fun in spite of what is actually rather barbed material.
Rocky fans will enjoy seeing O'Brien and Quinn play similar roles to those they made famous in the first film and the return of Little Nell, who is quite ravishing in this movie, is also very welcome. That being said, it's hard not to lament the loss of Tim Curry as no one here has quite got the same kind of screen presence as he did as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Jessica Harper, best known for her performance in Dario Argento's Suspiria does a good job in Sarandon's shoes and at times Cliff De Young is just as good as Barry Bostwick as Brad. Charles Gray, who played The Criminologist, shows up here as a judge which is a nice touch and look for the one and only Rik Mayall of The Young Ones here in a small part.
The music in Shock Treatment is also quite good, the main title theme and Denton U.S.A. standing out alongside other great tracks like Little Black Dress and Lullaby. It all seems like superficial pop music on the outside and in a sense it is but taken in the context of the script some of the music is very clever indeed – not to mention catchy as can be. As a sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which it really isn't) the movie stumbles a fair bit but taken on its own as a follow up rather than a direct continuation, Shock Treatment is a lot of fun.
It should also be noted that the end credits have been changed a little bit on this DVD, just like they were on the R2 PAL release that Fox put out a few months ago in the United Kingdom. Instead of Overture playing over the credits with the Shock Treatment remix following, Overture doesn't kick in until the credits have started so the timing is off. The old VHS release from Fox that came out in the eighties and theatrical screenings of the film did have the credits sequence right. It's a small thing, but those familiar with the VHS release of the movie and who tend to sit through the end credits will pick up on it right away. This happens on both of the English tracks and on the Spanish track as well.
Shock Treatment arrives on region one DVD in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is a bit of a mixed bag. The good news is that there aren't any issues at all with edge enhancement or mpeg compression artifacts and that the image is properly flagged for progressive scan playback. Likewise, the picture is very clean without anything more than mild film grain or the odd speck that shows up now and again. The only flaw with the picture here is that in a few scenes the colors are noticeably less vibrant than they should be and in some scenes the picture looks a bit on the flat side because of this. You can adjust your monitor and play with your display settings a bit to tinker with this and if you do you'll see some improvement but that doesn't change the fact that the colors are definitely not as strong as they could have been. That one issue aside, however, Shock Treatment looks nice and it's a vast improvement over the old fullframe tapes that were previously the only easy way to see the movie.
You've got your choice of checking out the film by way of the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track or the newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. Both tracks sound quite good without any hiss or distortion issues and levels are balanced properly from start to finish. Dialogue is consistently clear throughout the film and bass levels are strong but not overpowering. English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided, as is an English closed captioning option and a dubbed Spanish language track. Unfortunately, there's a really odd audio drop out that occurs about towards the end of the first musical number around 6:14, Denton U.S.A.. While this might sound minor (and really it is), it's hard not to notice it and it is there whic his a shame as it mars an otherwise very nice audio presentation.
Starting things off, in terms of supplements, is a feature length audio commentary from Mad Man Mike Ellenbogen and Bill Brennan, the two presidents of the Shock Treatment fan club. While it definitely would have been more ideal to have someone directly involved with the making of the movie provide the commentary track, these two don't do a half bad job keeping things moving with this discussion. They manage to provide a lot of good information about the history of the movie, it's relationship to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and along the way the manage to provide some interesting facts about the cast, the crew, what they've done outside of this film and more. These two also discuss the fandom that exists around the film and the impact that it's had in addition to some basic production history details.
Fox has also included two featurettes here, the first of which is DTV Presents: A Shockumentary (roughly fifteen minutes) and it's a basic 'making of' retrospective and the second is Let's Rock N Roll: Shock Treatment's Super Score (approximately six minutes) which is, as you could probably guess, a piece about the music that appears in the film. A few of the cast members show up here, as do some of the crew members – director Jim Sharman, Rocky Horror fan club president Sal Piro, John Goldstone, Richard Hartley, Pat Quinn, Sue Blane, Cliff De Young, Betsy Brantley and Mike Molloy to be precise -and everyone waxes nostalgic about the film and the music for a few minutes and shares their experiences and their memories of the film and what it was like working on it. There are also some interesting production sketches and behind the scenes photographs here to look at.
Rounding out the extra features are two trailers for the film, as well as animated menus and chapter stops for the feature only.
Inside the packaging is an insert booklet that contains some production notes and trivia related to the film in addition to a few pictures from the movie. The keepcase sits inside a cardboard slipcase, both contain the same cover art.
While it's a shame that there's a noticeable audio glitch and that the video quality isn't better, but even with those flaws in mind Shock Treatment is a fun ride. Enjoy the film for what it is and try not to keep comparing it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and you'll find yourself enjoying a funny and intelligent musical comedy with some great songs and quirky characters. The extras add some value to the package and this release comes recommended for fans of the film, and works as a solid rental for the curious who have yet to see the movie.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.