Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shock Treatment (1981)

This is one of those movies for which I, due to a scary unknown reason, develop a deep obsession and watch, watch, re-watch, sing along to, buy the soundtrack of, and then watch again. Wow that sentence is convoluted. Oh well. This was another of my "Oh my god I have a paper to write, let me have something familiar and musical on while I work" movies. Also this post will be a media extravaganza so get ready!

Shock Treatment is a sort of sequel, sort of equal to 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with different actors playing old roles and old actors playing new ones. The entire town of Denton ("The Home of Happiness") has been transformed into a television station (in a way), with the majority of the population living in theater seats, lots of other people involved in reality television shows, and various machinations happening on and off screen. Brad (Cliff De Majors) and Janet (Jessica Harper), now married, are slotted to appear on a marriage counseling show hosted by blind Bert Schnick (Barry Humphriese aka Dame Edna). Due to being "an emotional cripple", Brad gets sent to a mental hospital, part of the "Dentonvale" TV program, run by Cosmo (Richard O'Brien) and Nation (Patricia Quinn) McKinley. Janet feels sorry she let him get taken away but believes it will help save their marriage. Her parents (Darlene Johnson and Manning Redwood) try to console her, reminding her that because Brad is adopted she should have been prepared to possibly inherit craziness.

After being propositioned by the powerful fast food magnate Farley Flavors (Cliff De Young) to be his new TV show's it girl, Janet teams up with Cosmo, Nation, and Bert to become the most highly-rated star on D-TV. Meanwhile Betty Hapshatt (Ruby Wax), who has long since divorced Ralph (Jeremy Newson, the only actor to return to his original role)- remember their wedding at the opening of Rocky Horror?- is now a talk show host. Along with sociologist Oliver Wright (Charles Gray), she tries to unwrap the supposed conspiracy at the root of D-TV and Brad's wrongful hospitalization, since Janet has gone mad with fame and it seems there's no one to help him get out or stop Farley from gaining complete control of Denton. It's really Janet's story for the most part, so until she's able to stay true to herself and defend Brad, who knows what bad things will happen!

So please don't ask me why I am so obsessed with this movie, as I will never really know. Its plot is confusing and often doesn't make sense, the characters are silly, its nowhere near as fun and quotable as RHPS, but by golly I love it. The music is (maybe) better than RHPS, and the musical sequences are done really well. "Lullaby" was shot in one take, sliding the camera from window to window outside of Dentonvale. "Duel Duet" (below) is one of my favourite songs/musical scenes ever. Often the actors sing to the camera to maintain the idea of their lives being filmed, which was a cool element to add, I think. Pretty much every song is as awesome as the next, with the added benefit of having lead actors who can actually sing (there's nothing wrong with Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick in RHPS, they just didn't have trained voices). The color schemes and costumes are slightly surreal and highly saturated, along with an inventive set design. I love the concept, imagined before the dawn of mainstream reality TV like The Real World; Richard O'Brien really shows his interest in American consumerism and celebrity.

The performances are great, especially Cliff De Young, who is amazing in the duel role of Brad and Farley. I didn't even realize they were the same actor for a while, since he has given them such distinct characterizations and singing styles. And of course the old team of Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, and Nell Campbell, with the addition of Rik Mayall and Barry Humphries, are swell as the Dentonvale staff. I like the idea of the RHPS actors coming back in different roles, as it really adds to the sequel-or-equal question raised by many fans. I'd say it's a sequel, since Janet's mother expresses relief that Brad didn't "turn out like that Slipstreami boy", who was found naked with several men, in (I believe) a reference to the possibility of Brad being gay after his experiences with Frank. Also the fact that they're married now, and that Betty and Ralph are divorced, clearly puts it in later time. Anyway in the end it's a very enjoyable and nonsensical film, but somehow addicting- maybe because the music is so good? Unclear. Watch it if you're a Rocky Horror fan or dig campy and silly but well-done musicals.

4.5/5

"Bitchin' in the Kitchen"
"Little Black Dress"
"Duel Duet"

"Shock Treatment"

"Duel Duet" (There is a spoiler here so watch out if you care about that sort of thing.)

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