Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Retro Review: Shock Treatment (and The Rocky Horror Picture Show)

 Alas, I couldn't find Double Take between last week and this week, so instead of trying to piece together a movie I think involves a train and Orlando Jones and Eddie Griffin, I thought I'd try to focus on something I could actually remember. It turns out that when it takes three times to get through a movie that you actually can recall it. Well, sort of. This is the true story of the Cap'n and Shock Treatment.

 I include The Rocky Horror Picture Show in parenthesis (instead of, you know, doing it the other way around) because it's necessary to contextualize Shock Treatment. For as long as I could peruse the weekend section of the newspaper, I was aware of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was the only movie that was playing - every Friday night at The Rialto. The midnight show. I didn't know what the film was, or the phenomenon surrounding it, but I knew it existed. When I was in middle school, The Rocky Horror Picture Show aired on television for the first time - on VH1. I don't know if anyone remembers this, but it was a big deal in 1993(?). It was the first time most "normal" people ever had a chance to see the legitimate cult sensation - the long(est?) running "midnight movie" of the original gang*. I only saw parts of it - the content was too salacious, even watered down, for middle school Cap'n to be allowed near VH1 that night.

 Actually watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show came later, just before I saw the midnight show for the first of many, many Fridays. I bought a copy of the recently released VHS edition while working at Suncoast and watched the film to "prepare." I'll tell you right now that watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show at home, alone, is an underwhelming experience. All of the film's deficiencies are immediate and glaring, and without the communal atmosphere of callbacks and performances, TRHPS lacks that "oomph" associated with it rowdy reputation. The live show, on the other hand, more than makes up for the let down of watching the film in isolation.

 Like I said, we went nearly every weekend for two years straight, and then on and off during college, where I played the Criminologist and one of the callback "assholes" in student run spin-off's of the Rialto production. To this day, I can sit down at any part of the film and immediately spout off callbacks, and it's been years since I last attended a live show.

 But anyway, this isn't about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's about Shock Treatment, the only movie more of an enigma than Rocky - the infamous sequel, an ill conceived and despised continuation of characters from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Shock Treatment allegedly has a hard core contingent of fans (some recorded a commentary track for the eventual DVD release), but I've never met one. Shock Treatment wasn't something I ever heard about from Rocky Horror fans. In fact, I read about it in Martin and Porter's Video Movie Guide (probably the 1986 edition), where they generously awarded the film a "Turkey." The phrase that stuck out was "sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show," an inconceivable notion to me when I finally understood what Rocky Horror was.

 How could there BE a sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show? How does that happen? Why would that happen? But sure enough, Richard O'Brien and company got together in 1981 and continued the story of Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, back in Denton and contestants on some elaborate game show that's the secret plot of Drs. Cosmo and Nation McKinley. Only Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon were nowhere to be found. Brad and Janet were now played by Cliff DeYoung and Jessica Harper (yes, of Suspiria). Richard O'Brien was Dr. Cosmo McKinley and Patricia Quinn was Dr. Nation McKinley. Little Nell was Nurse Ansalong, Charles Gray was Judge Oliver Wright, and I'm sure there were some other Rocky alums I'm forgetting. Tim Curry was also MIA, and the songs...

 Oh goodness, the songs. That brings us to the "three times to watch it once" part of the story - I finally found Shock Treatment on VHS at Video Bar (or North American Video or whatever they called it after it moved into the fabric store) and tried to watch it. The first two times, I made it as far as the "Denton" song that opens the film before I turned it off. I couldn't watch it - it was unbearable.

 The third time was the charm, and I soldiered through "Denton" only to discover the incomprehensible narrative that was Shock Treatment. Maybe it was just that I was so bored I tuned out halfway through, but I can't tell you what it is that happens to Brad and Janet after they become "trapped" by the game show, or why it is that the mad Doctors want to separate Brad and Janet, or even how the whole thing ends. No clue. I can't conceive of a reason I'd watch Shock Treatment one more time, so I may never know for sure, and I'm okay with that.

 Most Rocky Horror fans never try to watch Shock Treatment - it's reputation is such that there's no good reason for them to subject themselves to it. I would say I did it So They Won't Have To, but I can't even satisfy your curiosity. I don't recall much about the movie other than I hated it from beginning to end and that it was more endurance than experience. If there's really a cult following for Shock Treatment, it's surely more devoted than even the most die hard Rocky Horror fans. That's saying something, and while I can't say I admire their dedication, I will say to each their own. A guy like me who preaches The Happening to anybody listening can appreciate when something that isn't my cup of tea is yours, but that's serious devotion. Shock Treatment sucks.

* According to Midnight Movies, that would also include El Topo, Night of the Living Dead, Pink Flamingos, Eraserhead, and Reefer Madness.

No comments: