The first time I saw this movie I thought it was horrendously bad.
But I had a lot of time on my hands, so I saw it again. And again. And again. And each time I saw it, it got just a little better. Until finally I found myself thinking... yes, you guessed it: "MY GOD - IT'S BRILLIANT"!!!
But now for the film itself.
Shock Treatment is a complex, multi-layered, and genuinely interesting piece of work. In a way it reminds me of the description of Anton LaVey (author of The Satanic Bible
) as a "junkyard intellectual". This film has much of that quality about it. Think classic, Danté-esque journey through Hell , but painted by Andy Warhol, and filled with all of narcissistic celebrity's neon intensity of self love and self loathing. Finish that off with a splash of early 80's new wave, and you begin to understand the cocktail-filled Jacuzzi you're dipping yourself into.
But even that doesn't do justice to this film. Shock Treatment is smarter than that. Like I said before, more complex and multi-layered. Many reviewers before me have commented on this film's almost prescient vision of the reality TV phenomenon. I also liked fellow Amazon reviewer Animagess's comparison between Phil McGraw ("Dr. Phil") and this film's resident psychiatrist of the airwaves, Bert Schnick. The "junkyard intellectual" analogy continues to hold good, because this is a film that not only utilizes pop-cultural iconography: it also has serious and probing things to say about the industry that manufactures it. This film foresaw the future not because of any straightforward attempt on the part of its creator to do so, but rather, simply because it was the product of a creator with a genuinely penetrating understanding of the nature of the beast he was riding, and of where that beast was headed.
Just as the film itself is a complex one, the same might be said of its relationship with its predecessor, The Rocky Horror Picture Show
. I have read that Shock Treatment's producer stated that "It's not a sequel... it's not a prequel... it's an equal", and this is as good a way of putting it as any. There is a connection between the two, but not in any straightforward, plot-oriented kind of way. The logic of the association is more like dream-logic: the connections are there and make sense on a very deep level, but they're also the kind of connections that can easily evaporate into apparent nothingness when you try to drag them forth into the light of day. The best way I can explain it is by saying that many of the same characters _are_ being depicted in both films, but in each film they are shown as they would exist in that film's own reality. Just as Sailor Moon is really the goddess Dianna, the "Brad" and "Janet" of Shock Treatment and the "Brad" and "Janet" of Rocky Horror are fundamentally the same protagonists, but existing in wholly separate realities. Parallel lines that do not intersect.
You know: like the DC Animated Universe Superman and the DC comic books Superman.
Leaving now the filmic netherworld and returning to our own reality, O'Brien made Shock Treatment in 1981. That was after Rocky Horror had found its niche as a cult phenom, and no doubt the studios were looking to cash in. Much like Rocky Horror, Shock Treatment initially bombed at the box office. Unfortunately, unlike Rocky Horror, it never found that cult niche. In a way, I'm not surprised. Whatever else one may say of it, Rocky Horror is not a difficult film. Whether you love it or hate it, it is not hard to understand.
This film does require some thought on the part of the viewer. Perhaps that's why it will never have groupies. But, as Kenneth Clark once said of the paintings of Raphael, it's worth the effort.