Six years after 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show began its ascent as a midnight classic, its creative team returned to put Brad and Janet in a new adventure called Shock Treatment.
Once again, Jim Sharman directed a script he co-wrote with Richard O’Brien, who collaborated on the songs with Richard Hartley. But the project ran into problems from the start.
Originally called Rocky Shows His Heels, the first script not only had the couple, but the other main characters from the first film, including a resurrected Dr. Frank-N-Furter. As a fan site notes, that draft was scrapped when it was determined to be too expensive.
A new plot, The Brad and Janet Show, was devised and it went through a few more changes before becoming Shock Treatment. We find Brad and Janet married and in Denton, U.S.A., which has been turned into a TV studio where its residents’ lives are documented in various proto-reality shows.
The couple appear on Marriage Maze, hosted by Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries, best known for his Dame Edna character). But Brad winds up transferred to Dentonvale, a soap opera set in a psychiatric hospital, to be cured by sibling doctors Cosmo and Nation McKinley. Janet is groomed to be a singer, thanks the actions of Farley Flavors, a fast food mogul who runs the town.
We soon learn that it’s all part of Flavors’ scheme to get Brad, who’s also his twin brother, out of the way so he can have Janet for his own. It’s up to two other characters, Betty Hapschatt and Judge Oliver Wright, to reunite the couple so that all four can escape Denton.
In the years since the original, Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry had launched their careers and chose not to return. Instead, Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper played Brad and Janet, with De Young double-cast as Brad and Flavors.
The film brought back four of the actors from Rocky Horror: O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell and Charles Gray, who respectively had played Riff Raff, Magenta, Columbia and the Criminologist. But here they were in different roles (Cosmo, Nation, Nurse Ansalong and Wright). The only true continuity between the two movies was in the form of Jeremy Newson’s Ralph Hapschatt, and although his character had now married Betty Munroe, she was played by Ruby Wax instead of Hilary Farr. Meat Loaf was nowhere to be found.
Rather than given a general release, Shock Treatment was sent directly to theaters that were already showing Rocky Horror at midnight to reach its core audience, however it failed to click. In panning it, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert said that the creators’ self-awareness at how its predecessor had become a cult classic, with fans famously yelling back at the screen, was the sequel’s undoing.
“It actually is constructed with pauses that anticipate the audiences’ response,” Siskel, who liked two of the musical numbers, said. “It has no special energy of its own. So what we have here is not really a movie, but an attempt to manipulate the audience.”
Watch Siskel and Ebert review ‘Shock Treatment’
Ebert added that such pandering was subconsciously a turnoff to those who would be most interested. “Cult film audiences want to feel that they have seen the genius of something that everybody else hates,” he said. “They discovered this film, they know it’s good, the rest of the world thinks it’s garbage.”
Even O’Brien wasn’t thrilled with the results. Where he had first hyped the film by saying, “It’s not a sequel, it’s not a prequel, it’s an equal,” he later walked back those words, calling the film “an abortion.”