"Shock Treatment," opening a weekend midnight run at four area theaters, is a woeful consequence of the success of "The Rocky Horror Show." One hesitates to call it a sequel, even though it was written by "Rocky" creator Richard O'Brien, revives the humdrum lives of super-straight Brad and Janet Majors and features several cast members from the most successful midnight cult film of all time.
All the redeeming qualities of "Rocky Horror"--naive wit, enthusiastic invention and absurb plotline--have been approximated in "Shock Treatment" without ever approaching the original. Unlike its inspiration, which fans have returned to time and again, "Shock Treatment" is hard to sit through once.
Britisher O'Brien's satirical hooks are sunk this time around into that ample wasteland, American television. The story takes place in Denton, a mythical town so inextricably bound to the boob tube that it's become a giant soundstage for "Denton TV," whose characters--audience and stars alike--weave in and out of shows the way most suburbanites visit their neighbors. Enter Brad (Cliff De Young) and Janet (Jessica Harper), fresh from their Transylvanian travails in "Rocky Horror." She's still the wholesome girl-next-door, he's still a hopeless nerd, a situation that leads to his incarceration in a sanitarium after a bumbling appearance on "Marriage Maze," an odd (but not unlikely) bridge between " 'The Newlywed Game" and "Divorce Court."
The Majorses are lined up against a fearsome trio: evil fast-food tycoon Farley Flavors (De Young again), vampiric game-show host Bert Schnick (Barry Humphreys in a curious synthesis of Milton Berle and the Drs. Strangelove and Caligari) and Dr. Cosmo McKinley (O'Brien), the proprietor of Dentonvale, a combination sanitarium-game show whose patients are in far better shape than their keeper. There's also a bit of sibling ribaldry between Cosmo and sister Nation, a theme that reappears as a subtext in the larger story as well. Plot? That's what the filmmakers did, not what they came up with.
"Shock Treatment's" shortcomings far outweigh its minuscule achievement, the brilliant set where all the action takes place. The music, wallowing between Broadway-rock and Cars-like pop, is thoroughly insipid and unmemorable. Since the script is ludicrous, it's little wonder that the roles are grossly overplayed, as though going through the motions of driving a tank could conceal the fact that there's no gas in the vehicle. The bald, sinister O'Brien is the most charismatic presence on screen, while Harper as the loyal but decidely curious Janet is quietly intriguing (her deep singing voice sounds exactly like Rita Coolidge's).
Still, there's little to recommend "Shock Treatment," particularly with "Rocky Horror" entering its umpteenth year at the Key. "Denton TV" isn't half as funny as "SCTV"; in fact, one ends up wishing Woody Allen would buy "Shock Treatment" and wipe off its soundtrack as he did with "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" many years ago. The film could be salvaged; right now it's just junk.