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Shock Treatment

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Mark Kermode | 15:37 UK time, Friday, 16 September 2011

After The Rocky Horror Picture Show Richard O'Brien made Shock Treatment - describing it as 'not a prequel, not a sequel but an equal'. Very few people have seen this wild musical satire of reality TV - made before there such a thing existed. For my money it's the perfect cult movie.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Not seen it, but if you want a prophetic piece about reality telly then watch Nigel Kneale's 1968 TV play The Year of the Sex Olympics.

  • Comment number 2.

    I remember turning out for a screening of Rocky Horror (at which the completely uncool cinema staff went ape because the audience was shouting, dancing and - gasp! - firing water pistols during the movie!) and, unbilled, it turned out to be a double feature with Shock Treatment ... which they showed first. It wasn't amusing, it wasn't bemusing, it was confusing. By the time Rocky Horror started, most of the audience was asleep (well, it was a late night screening). But I'd love to see Shock Treatment again, 20+ years later. Some things are just way ahead of their time.

  • Comment number 3.

    Rik Mayall starred in the same year's An American Werewolf In London as a denizen of The Slaughtered Lamb. That film probably paved the way for co-star Brian Glover's subsequent appearence in the hilarious Bottom as Mr. Rottweiler.

  • Comment number 4.

    I must confess that I saw it, was baffled by it, and have since given it away without a second viewing I just didn't like at all.

  • Comment number 5.

    Mr O'Brien is something of a personal hero of mine, everything from Rocky Horror through to the stage production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (in which he managed to play an even creepier Child Catcher than Robert Helpmann), via The Crystal Maze.
    Whilst Shock Treatment can't quite live up to the gothic high camp of Rocky Horror, it is still a wonderful, funny, esoteric treat and the song are sublime;
    Oscar Drill and the Bits' 'Breaking Out' is every bit as good as any Undertones or Buzzcocks single and "Looking For Trade" is genuinely haunting.
    My Halloween will be spent with the triple bill of Rocky Horror, Shock Treatment and De Palma's Phantom of The Paradise, and it shall rock!

  • Comment number 6.

    Mark just when i think ive seen or least heard of everything you pull it out of the bag again, i'll track down Shock Trearment. Meantime can you do a "great films you've never heard of" blog so we can share titles.

  • Comment number 7.

    I think the initial problem with Shock Treatment is that it was released as a follow-up to Rocky Horror, but it wasn't Rocky Horror. The RHPS event was still going strong in Atlanta when I first saw it. The trailer was shown (along with Tim Curry music videos) before RHPS, and it premiered as a midnight movie at the same theater showing Rocky Horror.

    It was marketed exclusively to the Rocky Horror audience, but it wasn't the same.

    The biggest issue was that Brad and Janet were performed by different actors. If I had seen Phantom of the Paradise before seeing Shock Treatment, I probably would have appreciated the appearance of Jessica Harper, but I hadn't, so I didn't.

    I've seen Shock Treatment within the past ten years or so, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the first time.

  • Comment number 8.

    Performance - that is the ultimate cult movie

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm a big Rocky Horror fan (who isn't?) and saw Shock Treatment recently on DVD. Thought it was a total mess. A great idea squandered by a paper-thin plot, a squandering of the cast and the second-rate nature of the songs (although 'Bitchin' In The Kitchen' is kind of alright). I was reminded of what your mate Kim Newman said about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - that it seemed to have been directed by someone who not only didn't make the first film, but who never actually saw it.

    For me the ultimate cult film is Flash Gordon. I loved it as a child, I was dismissive towards it as a teenager, and now that I get all the jokes I love it like a brother. Any film with Timothy Dalton in green spandex, Brian Blessed with wings, Max von Sydow being speared by a spaceship and Queen doing the wedding march is just utterly irresistable.

    Honorable mention for The Magic Christian as well - such an odd little film, and a very bitter satire.

  • Comment number 10.

    Oh - and The Bed-Sitting Room.

  • Comment number 11.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Shock Treatment, although it's many years since I've seen it. Looking at your blog, am I right in thinking that Jessica Harper and Cliff De Young are in it. If so, at the time, I didn't realise how wonderful those two are. I was only a wee bloke at the time!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Sorry, off topic here. but im very frustrated,being an old apes fan myself,about not hearing your review of `Rise of the Planet of the Apes.`My guess is itll be like `Waynes Worlds` Wayne`s opinion of Start Trek The Next Generation!! In my opinion Not brutal enough,which is what makes the first Heston movie a cult classic, and a film you can watch again and again.

  • Comment number 13.

    I thought that _I_ was the only one who remembered this, amazing film not seen since the family Betamax died, but just ordered on DVD

  • Comment number 14.

    While I appreciate your inclusion of this film, why I will always prefer Rocky Horror is because of Tim Curry. That's how much a particular actor can sway my opinion, especially with respect to this sub-genre. I agree that there are numerous, good songs in Shock Treatment, and it is visually spectacular. But missing Tim is like how I think Ghostbusters 3 would turn out if Bill Murray were not in it.

  • Comment number 15.

    Just watched it on your recommendation. Thought it had some good ideas but the direction and narrative lacked coherence and overall it's a bit of a mess. Perhaps it improves with repeated viewing.

  • Comment number 16.

    "Rik Mayall, long before he found big-screen success in Drop Dead Fred"


  • Comment number 17.

    I also like Shock Treatment too Mark, it's a very very strange disturbing film, very trippy but the prediction of reality TV is chilling and it does have some great songs.

  • Comment number 18.

    "1.At 16:43 16th Sep 2011, jlc37 wrote:
    Not seen it, but if you want a prophetic piece about reality telly then watch Nigel Kneale's 1968 TV play The Year of the Sex Olympics."

    I compelely agree with the above post. It was rubbished by certain critics but it now looks horrifyingly propethic in what a population dulled (and desensitised) with a diet of violence and cheap pornography will put on TV. Another brilliant (and scary) TV play by the late, much missed and much under rated Nighel Kneale is The Stone Tape which is one of the most frightening ghost stories ever made for television.

    Getting back on topic, a great cult movie that I shout from the roof tops (and have done ever since it was released in the UK in 1998) is Dark City which stars a very creepy Richard O'Brien in a supporting role. It is so much more deeper and intelligent than The Matrix which came out a year later.

    I did see Flash Gordon last year and love it. It so gloriously cheesy and OTT (especially the Queen soundtrack) and campy.

  • Comment number 19.

    I often think a cult movie can be a movie that was intended to be viewed one way but the audience views it another. So for me, the big screen comedy epic that is "Showgirls" is my favorite cult movie. Yes, I've spelt it right.

    PS - I personally hate The Rocky Horror Picture Show and all it stands for. So I won't bother with Shock Treatment, thanks all the same.

  • Comment number 20.

    I remember first seeing RHPS late night on ch4 back when I was 15 way back in 1985. I didn't know anything about it before watching it on my small black n white portable tv. It had everything a teenage boy could want. I later caught a little of Shock Treatment but have never seen it from start to finish. In a way I always saw Little Shop of Horrors as more of a natural pairing for RHPS.

    @Touchfinder: " I personally hate The Rocky Horror Picture Show and all it stands for" I not sure what you could possibly object too. It's a true morality play for our times.

  • Comment number 21.

    Love Shock Treatment. Love it. Have loved it since I was one of the very few who caught it in the cinema on it's blink-and-you've-missed-it theatrical run. Damn near wore out my VHS copy and was thrilled when it finally turned up on DVD a few years back. It's superior to Rocky Horror in nearly every way - the songs, direction, production design. The only aspect of Rocky Horror that trumps Shock Treatment is the powerhouse performance of Tim Curry.

    Mark's right about the prescience of Shock Treatment regarding reality television, but this was through accident rather than design. The original script was set in the town of Denton rather than the television studio. Due to a strike, the filming was cancelled. Someone (I believe it was the director, Jim Sharman) came up with the idea of slashing the budget and setting it all in the studio.

  • Comment number 22.

    Go Mark!

    Ever since I was a little boy
    Dressing up has always been my greatest joy
    But when it's time to be discreet
    There's one thing you just can't beat
    And that's a strapless backless classical little black dress
    Well first you go rip rip rip
    Then you go snip snip snip
    Then you whip in a zip zip zip
    And split it up to the hip hip hip
    And as you strip strip strip
    You shiver, and quiver, for that soft caress
    As you slip slip slip
    Into that little black dress.

    Classic stuff, this.

    I've been a fan since first catching this as a VHS rental back in the mid-eighties. Now, anybody here who hasn't seen this forgotten little gem needs to get hold of a copy (it's available on DVD) and give it a whirl. Jessica Harper does a nice turn as Janet and you'll still be humming at least two of Richard O'Brien's jaunty tunes for days.

    Now, I'm off to go 'bitchin' in the kitchen!'

  • Comment number 23.

    Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) is also worth taking a look at if left-field cult musicals are your thing.

    Back in the mid-nighties I met with DOP Oliver Stapleton (one of the nicest guys in the business and a terrific raconteur) and just couldn't help myself when during conversation he revealed that he'd shot EGAE for Julian Temple. I was delighted (and felt less of a nerd) when he went on to revealed to inform me that it was one of the those rarely seen films but one that he was particularly proud of. He then talked about his experience on it at length. Needless to say, I was enthralled.

    Give this one a whirl if you've not already seen it. I'm guessing it's available on DVD? Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans star, with toe tapping bubblegum tunes penned by Julie Brown.

  • Comment number 24.

    Oops! Typos left and right! Sorry, was rushing.

  • Comment number 25.

    Shock Treatment was a huge huge huge let down, and was obviously trying to gain the same cult status as RHPS but failed big time.

    For true classic cult movie alongside RHPS, I'd sooner watch The Apple (1980) over Shock Treatment any day.

  • Comment number 26.

    I agree 'Cult' movies do not have to be underground independant films, for me Grease and the Sound of music are perfect examples of this.
    Every year hundreds of people dress up and go to independant cinemas to sing the songs and cry as one.
    Let's face it how many world of cine's would do that for your hard earned cash?
    But my favourite cult film is Die Hard every line quotable and every performance over the top, and a s a great film critic once said 'Where are my detonators?'.

  • Comment number 27.

    Love RHPS, but never seen Shock Treatment. Another one for the DVD library to find and enjoy on the Good Dr's recommendation.

    Kitschy and classic. What a great combination.

  • Comment number 28.

    my fave cult musical film nobodys ever seen is 'The Pied Piper'. the 1970's version directed by Jacques Demy.. fab cast - John Hurt, Diana Dors, Donald Pleasence, Roy Kinnear, Micheal Hordern, Peter Vaughan, Jack Wild and great songs by Donovan.. and its grim as you like, not a kids films at all.
    And lets not forget 'Hedwig and the and angry inch'

  • Comment number 29.

    oh.. and how about the oddest musical of them all.. 'Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire' directed by Alan Clarke!! written by The Sweeneys Trevor Preston and starring the great Phil Daniels..certainly the only snooker, western, vampire musical i can think of!

  • Comment number 30.

    When talking about cult films my favourite would be 'The 5,000 fingers of Dr T' made in 1953 by a mainstream Hollywood studio (Columbia) and produced by Stanley Kramer better known for his dramas. This was written by Dr Seuss and concerns a young boy lost in a labrinthe trying to thwart a maniacal piano teacher. This is a true cult film as i think it pre-dates the term "cult film" and is enjoyed more by adults than children, i've only ever seen this as an adult so my opinion isn't coloured by nostalgia, it's my 'Dougal and the blue cat'.

  • Comment number 31.

    "Repo - the Genetic Opera" must surely be up there with Shock Treatment and RHPS?????

  • Comment number 32.


    New Forest Film Festival... didn't get to attend but was that 'Evil Dead II' being screened in the woods???

  • Comment number 33.

    I liked RHPS back in the day, until I spent a summer at uni working at a cinema that showed it. Needless to say, whatever screening policy the theatre used on punters, enough newspaper, toilet paper, etc. got in, and wet and mixed with the usual floor grue of soda, popcorn and chewing gum, an update on the Stygian stables. Although it meant a bit of overtime, being up to four or five in the morning, cleaning gunk, in the stinking humid summer -- not a fond memory.

    I won't discuss how I severely injured myself doing the Time Warp, although I still don't remember whether it was the jump to the left, or the step to the right.

    So when Shock Treatment came out, I avoided it on principle, and a friend told me it was rubbish, so I left it. I did see this weekend's screening, and with my expectations lowered even further, by Richard O'Brien himself, I actually enjoyed it, even though it is by any estimation, a mess. It throws you in the deep end, doesn't really have clear protagonists, and just when it start to make sense and give you some reasons to care about the characters, it ends.

    It might have been more workable if it had something to make the "Brad" and "Janet" characters sympathetic, something more than sharing names with RHPS characters. Maybe a single number at the beginning introducing them at a happier time and showing how they end up in TV hell.

    O'Brien was really sweet, he maybe went on a bit too mea culpa about how deeply flawed it was and that he didn't like his own performance in it (his performance is fine, but there's not much to his character). He said he was proud of the score, and on only one listen, I'd say he has every right to be. Perhaps best enjoyed as a collection of vintage music videos, Nice song, Nice video, Shame about the Plot.

    Also, ditto on 'The 5,000 fingers of Dr T' a great mind warp for kiddies.

  • Comment number 34.

    Oh and @ArchStanton: I'm not sure that the secret film in the secret woodland location can be revealed. But your guess is.....

  • Comment number 35.

    CANNOT BELIEVE I missed that screening. Ho hum, such is life. I hope it was every bit as wonderful as it sounds.
    I have loved Shock Treatment for many a year (got the Rocky/Shocky boxed set a few years ago and both 'sides' are well-worn)...I think that possibly the problem with it, so far as there is one lies in the complexity. Rocky Horror, although it is extremely clever, has a very simple plot. Very linear, very understandable, and of course Richard O'Brien has compared it to the garden of eden/the fall. In any case its a fairly classic tale of temptation and corruption with some big numbers which we can all relate to. Shock Treatment on the other hand is mind-bendingly complex, with TV programmes slotted within reality and reality within the TV programmes like an endless maze, and the songs are far more complex too. With overlapping dialogues, far more characters, sudden insights into bit characters thoughts, constant double-meanings, puns, misdirections, lies and cheating, you really have to watch it several times to get all the layers, and put 'effort' into it that you don't in Rocky. Any thoughts m'dears?

  • Comment number 36.

    @Brian - New Forest;

    Groovy... really? Damn I wish I'd caught that screening. You just can't see that film too many times. Classic.

    I read recently that Lionsgate have given it a complete Hi-Def restoration for a new 25th anniversary US Blu ray release. Fingers crossed it's not region locked.

    Now that would be "groovy!"


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