The Musical World of Rocky Horror

Shock Treatment (1981 Press Notes Brief)        1,016 views

All the world's a TV sound stage in "Shock Treatment." An outrageous new musical from the creators of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," 20th Century-Fox's "Shock Treatment" is set in Denton, USA, a mythical suburban community that shares with its real-life counterparts perhaps the single most over-riding characteristic of American cultural life - an obsession with television.

To lampoon our love affair with the tube, the filmmakers have come up with a unique structural and stylistic device. The entire film takes place inside a television studio. In fact, the entire town of Denton is a television studio, and its residents act like running characters in TV series that have gone wildly out of control.

Our guides through the madness of Denton are Brad and Janet Majors. The perfect young couple of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" visit the station as innocent participants in a daytime marriage-counseling show, "Marriage Maze." It's an apt title. Unbeknownst to Brad and Janet, they're unwitting pawns in a twisted scheme concocted by the station's sponsor, a fast food tycoon named Farley Flavors, who has an old score to settle.

What happens to Brad and Janet?

What strange secret links Brad and Farley Flavors?

Will Brad and Janet survive Farley's evil plot?

Will they live happily ever after?

For the answers to these and other cliff-hanging questions, tune in "Shock Treatment." The film propels Brad and Janet through a whirlwind of soap operas, quiz shows and medical serials, telling us the couple's story in the context of the kinds of programs that have addicted America to television.

The musical score is fast and raunchy, a lively mix of rock and Broadway pop. The characters are crazed comic creations. The satire is wildly impudent. The film, in short, is a true original. Nothing like it has ever been seen before - except, perhaps, in the deranged imagination of someone who's spent the last ten years glued to a TV screen.

"It's not a sequel... it's not a prequel... it's an equal," comments producer John Goldstone, comparing the new film to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." "The real relationship between 'Rocky Horror' and 'Shock Treatment' is the consistent involvement of the same creative team," adds Jim Sharman.

Sharman directed "Shock Treatment" and co-authored the screen-play with Richard O'Brien. O'Brien also wrote the book and the lyrics, composed the music with Richard Hartley and plays a leading role in the film. Lou Adler and Michael White are the executive producers, the design is by Brian Thomson and the costumes by Sue Blane. All performed the same functions on "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Newcomers to the "Rocky Horror" team are Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper, who star as Brad and Janet. Audiences who know them primarily for their acting skills - Harper in the films "Phantom of the Paradise," "Stardust Memories" and the upcoming Steve Martin comedy "Pennies From Heaven," and De Young in such TV movies and mini-series as Sunshine," "Captains and the Kings," "Centennial" and "Scared Straight" - may be surprised by the deft musical comedy talents displayed by the duo in "Shock Treatment." But for De Young and Harper the film is a return to their beginnings - both stars launched their careers in the Broadway production of "Hair". De Young, Harper and co-star Barry Humphries are joined by "Rocky Horror" cast members Richard O'Brien, Charles Gray, Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell, who play entirely different but equally off-the-wall zanies in "Shock Treatment."

"The intentions of the two films are quite disparate," says director Sharman, "the only tangible links being Brad and Janet as catalyst to the plot. 'Shock Treatment' shows a cartoon world of television-influenced lifestyles and media manipulation. By presenting our TV images, situations and characters trying to avoid reality. Rather, we're giving a new perspective on what is served up every day by the media as reality."

Observes producer John Goldstone: "We are so influenced by the media - the way we dress, the way we talk, our behavior, values and dreams - that to a very real extent, the whole world has become one big TV show." No one knows that better than Cliff De Young: "Years ago I was a regular on 'The Secret Storm' and I invited my mother-in-law to visit the set because it was her favorite soap.

She was very excited - until she actually got to the studio and watched us tape the show. Her reaction was far from what I anticipated. I asked her why she was so disappointed and she said, 'You ruined the show for me.' "She was so hooked on the show, she thought it was real. But when she saw the actors getting ready, putting on their makeup, running lines, and the cameras rolling around, it totally destroyed the reality she had going in her head.

"Our film is going to bring that out, De Young continues. "Every part of life in 'Shock Treatment' is in the context of a TV show."

Indeed, the entire film can be seen as a further episode in the continuing saga of Brad and Janet Majors, the innocent couple from Denton, U.S.A. who wandered into a Transylvanian transvestite convention in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." In that 1975 cult classic, the two young lovers were portrayed by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon.

Now, with De Young and Jessica Harper in the roles, the perfect couple is not quite as perfect anymore. To solve their marital problems, they appear as contestants on the "Marriage Maze" television show, hosted by the ever-popular Bert Schnick (played by Barry Humphries). But Brad and Janet's problems are just beginning. The station's all-powerful sponsor, Farley Flavors, wants Janet for his very own, for very strange reasons of his own, and has to remove Brad from the scene. He fixes the show to get Brad committed to the town's loony-bin, Dentonvale, a "rest home" run by Cosmo and Nation McKinley (portrayed by Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn), a pair of shrinks who are far crazier than any of their patients.

For Cliff De Young, his dual role in "Shock Treatment" is an actor's dream: he gets to play the hero, Brad, and the villain, Farley Flavors.

"I modeled Brad after David Eisenhower" De Young reveals. "Brad, with his clean-cut innocence and Mr. Squeaky-Clean-America looks, is straight out of the '50s.

"But Farley is definitely not Mr. Clean. He's a snake-oil salesman with slicked-back hair who fine-tunes the fates of Brad and Janet to serve his own evil purposes. Hears the great program director in the sky who makes everything happen."

If Farley bears a strong resemblance to actor Jack Nicholson, "It's deliberate," explains De Young. "Nicholson's screen persona in a lot of his films epitomizes that thing for me, that slick fast-talking American with the smile of a reptile, who turns out to be scheming and manipulative.

"I admire Nicholson a great deal. He made such a strong impression on me that I tried to give Farley the same qualities that many of Nicholson's characters embody."

Through Farley Flavors' Machiavellian plotting, Janet Majors becomes Denton TV's newest new face. With her Ozzie and Harriet upbringing, it should be a dream come true.

"Janet is definitely Little Miss Middle-Class," according to Jessica Harper. "She's lived her whole life in a kind of little frilly doll house, and Brad is the ideal mate for her. "In the first movie, Janet was loyal to Brad but also interested in exploring the bizarre world of Transylvania that she and Brad stumbled upon. Similarly in this movie, she is still loyal to Brad but really loves being on television and doing all these odd things with all these odd people. She's not at all reluctant to leap into this new role of TV superstar that's being offered to her. She discovers that she really is a naughty girl." "Jessica was one of the first people we interviewed for the part of Janet," John Goldstone comments. "What was so wonderful about her against all the others was her voice: it's terrific, and we were determined that the actors signed to play Brad and Janet would do their own singing.

"Jessica also understood the irony of the film. It's a difficult thing for some American performers to be objective about television and the whole underside of pop stardom. But Jessica had no trouble at all with the irreverence of our script." Like Jessica Harper, actor/author/composer Richard O'Brien has no qualms about being irreverent. Proof of that is his appearance in the stage and screen versions of "Rocky Horror" as Riff Raff, the hunchbacked handyman of Transylvania who hails from the planet Transsexual. According to executive producer Lou Adler, "Richard O'Brien's brain - that's where everything is, the inspiration for everything in 'Rocky Horror' and 'Shock Treatment."'

O'Brien's childhood fascination with trashy horror movies inspired him to write "The Rocky Horror Show," first for the stage and then the screen.

"We always knew there would be a follow-up to 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' There's always a 'Son of...', a 'Bride of...' and a 'Son of...Rides Again"', O'Brien jokes. "But we wanted to do something totally different. When we initially conceived 'Shock Treatment', Brad and Janet's home was a real place. The Dentonvale sanitarium was real. Everything was real. The film was set in an American suburb and we were going to shoot as much as we could on location in the U.S.A. But then the Screen Actors strike intervened - and it turned out to be a stroke of good luck. We had to film the picture in England, but since we couldn't recreate American locations there, the movie had to be shot in a studio. It was then that we came up with the idea of setting the whole production inside a TV studio, and making the entire film look like it was shot off a television soundstage. "The story is exactly the one we started out with, but the framework and 'live theatre' look of the film is new." O'Brien the actor has a field day as Cosmo McKinley, Dentonvale's nutty nuthouse keeper.

"Cosmo is a phony," O'Brien says. "Just because he's got a 'doctor' before his name he feels he can cure people. But he's the one who needs curing." So does Cosmo's sister, Nation McKinley, played by Patricia Quinn. "That's right, folks, we're together again," says Quinn, who co-starred with O'Brien in the stage and screen versions of "Rocky Horror." She played Magenta, Riff Raff's incestuous sibling. Nation is a somewhat different character," the actress notes. "She's all terribly clean and healthy - on the outside at least. But inside she's rotten to the core. If she wasn't, I never would have been cast. I'm always cast as a baddy. I don't know why. I'm really a very lovely person."

Also reunited with O'Brien are "Rocky Horror" troupers Charles Gray, Nell Campbell and Jeremy Newson. Gray, a distinguished British character actor, won an entirely new and decidedly rowdier following through his appearance as the Criminologist in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." In "Shock Treatment," Gray is Denton TV's favorite egghead, Judge Oliver Wright, a specialist in in-depth discussions. "I never expected to be the object of a cult," the stentorian Gray remarks with some amusement, adding that he's never even seen "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

"I never see any of my films," the actor laughs. It's quite a shock, all the madness that's erupted around the whole 'Rocky Horror' phenomenon. Sal Piro, the president of the Rocky Horror Fan Club, has the coat I wore in that film and he lends it out on special occasions. It's a sort of relic. Like I am."

Nell Campbell - Columbia, the Transylvanian groupie in the stage and screen companies of "Rocky Horror" - turns up in "Shock Treatment" as Ansalong, a nurse in the Dentonvale booby hatch. Campbell's career is straight out of an old MGM musical. Dressed up in top hat and tails, singing and tapping away like Ann Miller, Campbell performed her routine on the streets of London's theatre district, hoping to catch the eye of anyone who could give her a break. Director Jim Sharman saw her, cast her, and the rest is history.

Jeremy Newson is the only member of the "Shock Treatment" cast recreating the same role he played in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." As Ralph Hapschatt, he's the M.C. of the "Faith Factory," Denton TV's inspirational program devoted to mental health. The station's other favorite M.C. is Bert Schnick, host of "Marriage Maze." Australia's Barry Humphries plays Bert like a silent film villain of the German cinema of the 1920s, a Dr. Caligari. "He's a highly expressionist character, a blind Viennese-born game show host. Right away you know he's not rooted in any reality of any kind, except his own."

Humphries is something of a specialist at exploring the lunatic fringe of society. He first achieved fame as the star of a one-man show in which he played, among other bizarre characters, Dame Edna Everage, a Melbourne housewife. Dame Edna began to emerge during the actor's college days at Melbourne University and has since delighted audiences in London and New York. With "Shock Treatment," Humphries' one-of-a-kind comic talents will be brought for the first time to international motion picture audiences. The world of Barry Humphries is strange and fantastic. He's right at home in "Shock Treatment."