Sunday, February 20, 2005

Crappy Musical of the Week: Shock Treatment

If you're a hardcore Rocky Horror Picture Show fan, no amount of outside nattering will stop you from seeking Shock Treatment, Rocky Horror's 1981 sequel.

Hell, Shock Treatment's obscurity alone served as a siren song for me. And even though I received ample premptive cautions, I had to find out, for myself, that the movie bites like a pitbull gnawing at a toddler. So, if you think you want to see it, hunt up the VHS tape (ST has yet to see a DVD issue) and knock yourself out--just remember, you've been warned...

Comparing Shock Treatment to its predecessor is like comparing a sandwich made with stale white bread, butter, and a candy cane to a messy-but-tasty chocolate mousse. It's sure different from the original, and there's a vivid red and white color scheme at the center, but what's the point?

Rocky Horror's naive newlyweds Brad and Janet Majors (Cliff DeYoung and Jessica Harper pinch-hitting for Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) have somehow found their way back into their hometown of Denton, USA and onto a TV talk show to air their marital problems. Brad ends up in a sanitarium curated by a wacky incestuous doctor/nurse sibling team (Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn, artlessly hearkening back to their Rocky Horror roles), and Janet becomes a TV star and gets pursued by Farley Flavors (also played by DeYoung), a sleazy fast food magnate who wants Mrs. Majors all to himself. Uninspired zaniness and uninspiring musical numbers ensue. The End.

In its defense, Shock Treatment does take great pains to create an identity distinctive from its cult-iconic kin, largely bypassing RHPS's mascara-smeared Broadway/Glam score in favor of a shorter, punchier, new-wave musical motif. One or two of the songs stick to the ear favorably, and Jessica Harper (an underrated actress for whom the phrase, "endearingly quirky" was likely invented) maintains her dignity as Janet (her singing ain't half-bad, neither). Bonus points to Rocky Horror mastermind/Shock Treatment majordomo O'Brien for prefiguring reality TV somewhat, too (Janet's every move is televised to an attentive TV audience, and even her family members start altering their behavior for the sake of the camera). And spot-the-actor geeks may get a whiff of amusement from seeing a pre-Dame Edna Barry Humphries, future talk show host Ruby Wax, and Young Ones Britcom yukster Rik Mayall in key roles.

But try sitting through this soggy thing and you're likely to get irritated. O'Brien's whole condescending approach at lampooning TV Americana feels slapped together; he obviously knows a lot less about his comedic target than he thinks. God knows this tube-happy moron nation deserves as many satiric kicks in the seat as it can get, but if you're gonna deride, do it well, for pity's sake. Or at least don't bore me: In the end, Shock Treatment commits the worst crime that a bad film can be charged with--it's no damn fun.

Director Jim Sharman's insistence on a mostly-unwavering red neon color scheme quickly grows monotonous, and most of the songs fall flat. The pacing couldn't be more sluggish; characters take so long to respond to one another that you wonder if (as Gene Siskel once posited) O'Brien and company deliberately wrote in the long pauses, hoping that audiences would fill in the blanks with Rocky Horror-style shout outs. For most of the movie's 81 minutes, one sentence kept rolling 'round in my head, mantra-style: Get to the fricking point.

My friend Jennifer loaned Shock Treatment to me. Jen says her husband Ray has watched it repeatedly. Ray, your masochistic streak leaves this lapsed catholic in awe.

No comments: