While not an outright sequel, the film does feature several characters from the previous film, most portrayed by different actors, as well as several Rocky Horror actors in new roles. The film stars Jessica Harper as Janet and Cliff De Young in a dual role as Brad and the film's main antagonist Farley Flavors, with O'Brien and Patricia Quinn playing sibling character actors.
Given a limited release on the midnight movie circuit beginning on October 30, 1981, Shock Treatment was a critical and commercial failure, not earning the same level of cult film status its predecessor received. Since its release, the film has grown a more minor cult following than its predecessor. In 2015, the film was adapted as a stage production in London.
Continuing from The Rocky Horror Picture Show are the characters of Brad and Janet Majors (now portrayed by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper, respectively), now married. The film takes place in the town of Denton, USA, which has been taken over by fast food magnate Farley Flavors (also De Young). The town of Denton is entirely encased within a television studio for the DTV (Denton Television) network. Residents are either stars and regulars on a show, cast and crew, or audience members. Brad and Janet, while seated in the audience are chosen to participate in the game show Marriage Maze by the supposedly blind and kooky host Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries). As a "prize", Brad is imprisoned on Dentonvale, a soap opera that centers upon the local mental hospital run by brother and sister Cosmo and Nation McKinley (Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn).
Janet is given a taste of show-biz as Farley Flavors molds her into a singing diva superstar in an attempt to take her away from Brad. Her compliance is assured through the use of drugs supplied by the McKinleys. Betty Hapschatt (Ruby Wax) and Judge Oliver Wright (Charles Gray) investigate Farley and other people involved in DTV, eventually discovering that Cosmo and Nation are not doctors, but merely character actors, and Farley Flavors is Brad's jealous, long-lost twin brother, seeking to destroy Brad and take Janet for himself. The pair rescue Brad from Dentonvale and have Brad confront his twin on his show Faith Factory. Farley imprisons the three and Janet, but they manage to escape in a car along with a local band.
Coinciding with the release of the film, Ode Records issued the soundtrack album on vinyl and cassette in 1981, and later reissued it on CD in 1994. The album includes longer versions of Thank God I'm a Man and Carte Blanche, as well as two unlisted bits taken directly from the film, the Farley Flavors "commercial break" (after Denton U.S.A.) and the rhyming dialogue, which directly precedes Duel Duet (after Breaking Out).
All editions are missing Richard O'Brien's solo version of the title song (which plays during the end credits and features backing vocals by Nell Campbell), though it was released as a 7" vinyl single, and included on the CD Songs from the Vaults: A Collection of Rocky Horror Rarities, which was exclusive to the Rocky Horror Picture Show 15th Anniversary boxed set.
Following the unexpected and overwhelming success of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the midnight circuit, Richard O'Brien approached producer Michael White with the idea of making a sequel. In 1978, he began work on a script titled Rocky Horror Shows His Heels, which found Frank and Rocky resurrected, Brad and Dr. Scott turned gay, and Janet on the verge of giving birth to Frank's baby. Director Jim Sharman was resistant to revisit the material and Tim Curry had no desire to reprise the role of Frank, but O'Brien had put some work into the songs, so he decided to retain them and simply revise the story.
The new script was titled The Brad and Janet Show. This version is closer to what became Shock Treatment and was planned to be produced, but the filmmakers were plagued with a variety of problems. Dr. Scott had been included in the script, but Jonathan Adams was not interested in reprising his role. Tim Curry had committed to portray Farley Flavors, but when he discovered Barry Bostwick was unavailable and he would have to play the dual roles of Farley and Brad, Curry backed out too, thinking he could not pull off a convincing American accent. The filmmakers intended to shoot on location in Denton, Texas, but production screeched to a halt in 1980 when the Screen Actors Guild went on strike.
With only a small window when cast and crew were available, the filmmakers had to get creative. Television had been a heavy motif in the script, so production designer Brian Thompson came up with the notion to rework the story and set it in a giant TV studio, utilizing a film studio in England, which shaved a million dollars from the budget and gave them the luxury of working in a controlled environment. The script endured a final draft in which all of the locations were changed to television shows, and the role of Dr. Scott morphed into game show host Bert Schnick. "I was frightened the strike was going to finish too soon and we’d have to go back to our original conception," commented O'Brien.
Although numerous Rocky Horror cast members returned for the film, only Jeremy Newson reprised his role as Ralph Hapschatt. However, due to his title of Judge, some fans have speculated that Charles Gray is also reprising his role of the unnamed Criminologist. In addition to actors from Rocky Horror, other alums filled out the cast. Many of the original film's Transylvanians appeared as audience members, while Imogen Claire was given the slightly-larger part of the Wardrobe Mistress. Raynor Bourton, who originated the titular role of Rocky Horror in the stage production, portrayed one of the singing soldiers in Thank God I'm a Man, and Chris Malcolm, who originated the role of Brad Majors, was cast as Officer Vance Parker. Founder and long-time president of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fan club, Sal Piro, also has a silent cameo appearance as the man using the payphone during the opening sequence.
Susan Sarandon's star was on the rise, so she demanded more money to return than the budget allowed. Auditions were held at The Roxy theater to find a suitable replacement, and Jessica Harper dazzled the filmmakers with her singing skills.
Cliff De Young had been Sharman's original choice for Brad in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as the two had worked together on the 1972 off-Broadway play "Trials of Oz, but De Young was starring on the television series Sunshine in California and was unable to appear. Upon learning that Barry Bostwick was unable to participate in Shock Treatment, Sharman tracked down De Young and gave him the role. This afforded De Young the opportunity to reunite with Harper, whom he had costarred with in a stage production of Hair.
As is standard with musicals, music and vocals were recorded prior to principal photography at the renowned Abbey Road Studios. The first scene shot was the Farley Flavors commercial break with Macy Struthers and a group of children. Raebeck was ill and collapsed after one of her takes.
De Young modeled his performance of Brad after David Eisenhower, and based Farley on Jack Nicholson. The elaborate opening shot begins on Farley in the overhead video booth, and the camera slowly does a 360 degree pan around the room as the crew prepares for the show and Brad and Janet enter the studio. For this scene, De Young had to do a quick change and quickly run downstairs to hit his second mark. Duel Duet was shot over the course of a day, with De Young spending the morning shooting his scenes as one character and the remainder of the day costumed as the other. He began with a very restrained performance of the song but was encouraged to go broader, and was pleased with the final result.
In spite of pre-release hype (including a promotional TV special called The Rocky Horror Treatment), the film was both a critical and commercial failure when it was released only as a midnight movie on Halloween 1981. It never received a full general theatrical first-run release. Due to its increased budget and box office failure, Shock Treatment was an even bigger flop than Rocky Horror's original general release in 1975. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 40% of five surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 5.3/10.
In one of his television reviews, Roger Ebert said that he felt Rocky Horror fans would reject a movie that was specifically targeted at them, remarking that "cult film audiences want to feel that they have seen the genius of something that everybody else hates. They discovered this film, they know it's good, everyone else thinks it's garbage." Shock Treatment was quickly dismissed by most Rocky Horror enthusiasts who were confused by the re-casting of the leads, put off by the fact that Tim Curry did not participate, and resented Richard O'Brien's infamous tagline, "It's not a sequel... it's not a prequel... it's an equal" (O'Brien later recanted, frequently criticizing the film by going so far as to refer to it as "an abortion"). Gradually, however, Shock Treatment did build up a cult following all its own and, as Ebert unintentionally wrote, many contemporary reviewers remark that it was initially condemned in part because it was too ahead of its time, being a prescient satire of reality television.
The movie first surfaced on VHS in Australia in 1982, and this was quickly followed by other releases around the world on VHS, Betamax and LaserDisc.
A special edition DVD was issued in the United States on September 5, 2006, both as a stand-alone release and packaged with the 2-disc Rocky Horror special edition. Special features include an audio commentary with fan club presidents Mad Man Mike and Bill Brennan, a making-of featurette, a music retrospective featurette, and domestic and international trailers.
Virtually every home video edition has suffered from audio flaws. VHS and Beta editions included warbling anomalies during the Overture and Farley's Song, which briefly knocked the sound out of sync. All DVD releases include a brief sound dropout during Denton U.S.A., and a chunk of the end credit Overture has been lopped off to prematurely fade into the single version of Shock Treatment. The original version features the complete Overture playing over the credits, with Shock Treatment continuing over a black screen as exit music. This edit shortens the film's running time from 94 to 92 minutes.
Director Benji Sperring is a fan of the film and pursued Richard O'Brien for a decade trying to acquire the rights to produce a stage adaptation. O'Brien finally relented and gave his consent, stipulating that it had to be staged in a very small, intimate venue, as the original The Rocky Horror Show had been. On this proviso, the show wound up at the King's Head Theatre in Islington, London, where artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher made the suggestion that Tom Crowley adapt the script. Crowley had never seen the film, and read the screenplay first to prepare for his interview. He was initially apprehensive about the project, but Sperring's vision was so concise that he agreed. It was reported that O'Brien adapted and produced the show, but he remained fairly hands-off. O'Brien, co-composer Richard Hartley and Sperring agreed on the story's direction prior to scripting, and they consulted primarily through email during the rest of the production process.
Sperring and Crowley reworked the story, eliminating most of the supporting and peripheral characters. "A big point of inspiration for me came from the screenplay that became Shock Treatment, The Brad and Janet Show," commented Crowley, "wherein the major factor in Brad and Janet's marital difficulties was that Janet had just been promoted at the local TV studio and Brad had just lost his job."
"The biggest shock is that in the original movie, there isn't any shock treatment," Sperring remarked. "They don't really explore that, so we've put that back in."
The production premiered at the King’s Head theatre in Islington, London in the United Kingdom in the spring of 2015.Julie Atherton as Janet Majors
Ben Kerr as Brad Majors
Mark Little/Pete Gallagher as Farley Flavours
Mateo Oxley as Ralph Hapschatt
Rosanna Hyland as Betty Hapschatt
Nic Lamont as Nation McKinley
Adam Rhys-Davies as Cosmo McKinley
The Stage singled out Mark Little as being scarcely able to carry a tune, but Carrie Dunn wrote in her review for Broadway World, "his sheer charisma and presence is absolutely perfect."