To any musical fan, the song titles ‘Sweet Transvestite’, ‘The Time Warp’ and ‘Dammit Janet’ are all unmistakable hallmarks of the 1975 classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show – even the mere mention of them generally leads to a full five minute singalong. However, give someone song titles like ‘Bitchin’ in the Kitchen’, ‘Duel Duet’ or ‘Anyhow, Anyhow’, and watch as they give you a blank, confused expression at your seemingly incoherent nonsense. This is because they’re songs from Richard O’Brien’s 1981 Rocky Horror follow-up, Shock Treatment, a tragically lesser known, but completely equal continuation of Rocky Horror’s spirit.
The film follows the continued adventures of Brad and Janet, Rocky Horror’s protagonists, with performance duties taken over by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper respectively, as they enter into the world of reality television. Their home of Denton has been turned into a television studio producing constant trash TV that promotes the comically traditional values of a ‘real OK town’, run by corporate magnate ‘Farley Flavours’, a ruthless and cynical fast food businessman. Perhaps this now seems like the typical fodder of a Black Mirror episode, but considering the era it came out in, it seems staggeringly prescient.
Watch as the audience jeer at Brad and Janet’s failing marriage on hokey television show ‘Marriage Maze’, and try not to think of the sneering audience laughing at participants on The Jeremy Kyle Show. Or look at the publically beloved ‘blind’ presenter, Bert Schnick, who fakes his disability so as to get away with being a peeping tom, and try not have the recent Hollywood sexual harassment scandal come to mind. And though it is a cliché to draw Trump comparisons in the media these days, it is near impossible not to look at the flashy Farley Flavours and think of the current US President, with his obsession around the objectifying ‘girl next door’ aesthetic, and nonsensical conservative baiting questions like ‘why aren’t we doing tomorrow’s new dance moves, the way we used to yesterday?’.
the energy never lets up, zipping through each laugh and each song
But whilst this darker, more wry undercurrent runs throughout the film, it would be a crime not to mention just how fun the whole thing is too. The songs are O’Brien writing at his catchy best, the cast (including O’Brien himself, Charles Grey, Barry Humphries, Ruby Wax and even a young Rik Mayall) are all having a ridiculous amount of fun with the outlandish material, and the energy never lets up, zipping through each laugh and each song. For all its subversion, Shock Treatment also revels in the joys of the traditional musical, and wants a party just as much as it wants to satirise.
Initially a commercial and critical flop, forgotten for years, the film has recently been gathering a new following, who recognise it deserves just as much attention as its predecessor. Whilst some criticise it for being messy and not entirely coherent, does it matter? Rocky Horror was hardly the epitome tight plotting either. Shock Treatment is a film that is totally worth your time (and your vocal cords) as a fan of Rocky Horror, or simply as a fan of musicals.bookmark me