Friday, August 07, 2009

Shock Treatment

A little while back, I screwed up my courage and approached one of the odder looking local businesses in South Burlington, VT, a little video rental store tucked away in an ordinary suburban house.

The place was surprisingly well stocked and professional looking inside, and fairly busy too, though at least a few people were trying to sell stuff like an old game system. I had to be impressed to see a surviving example of the Mom and Pop video store when even the big chains like Blockbuster are disappearing, and I began to feel the pressure to, you know, buy something.

Well, it couldn't be something too expensive, because I'm on unemployment, and it couldn't be something I didn't want to actually own, which eliminated 99% of what I saw. I began to toy with the notion of grabbing some Twizzlers, when I spied Shock Treatment, the little known follow-up to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the #1 cult movie of all time.

My brother Ed took me and my twin brother Bill to see it way back in 1981 when it first debuted. Back then, it seemed to me that Rocky Horror, released in 1975, was some primordial relic that had been at part of civilization since Ancient Babylon, and Shock Treatment was its much belated follow up.

That was an illusion born of my young mind, but it turned out to be partially true, as Shock Treatment was from a completely different era, the '80s.

Where Rocky Horror was decadent, Shock Treatment was antiseptic, where Rocky was Dark, Shock was neon bright, where Rocky was celebrated counter culture, Shock satirized pop culture.

It was also filmed completely on one television studio set, and claustrophobic as hell to sit through. Its plot made no sense, and you began praying for Frank N. Furter to waltz in and save the damn thing. I liked some of the songs, but that was it.

So, I sat down to watch i with wifey, who likes musicals in general, figuring we could always eject the thing if we get bored.

My, my, this pic was ahead of its time.

We had a great time. Bernice even watched the "Lullaby" number three times, and I could have gladly sat through it a fourth. "This was really ahead of its time," she observed, and she was right. Now, the story of a town that loves TV so much that everyone spends their whole lives sitting in a studio audience watching game shows in which entertainers put ordinary people through marriage counseling and transform other regular folk into sex symbols and rock stars, doesn't seem absurd at all. heck, it barely qualifies as satire. And the cold, bright decor perfectly reflects the cultural change from the '70s.

It's not perfect. Author Richard O'Brien has a yen for meaningless dialogue that slows down a lot of scenes, and some of the characters and songs (there are far more of each than in Rocky) just don't add anything to the story.

But what Shock gets right, it gets very right, and it feels right at home on TV, as opposed to Rocky, which always seems a little orphaned on a tiny screen without people to yell over it.

It is now a permanent part of my DVD collection. I got it for only $2.00, but I think I would have gladly paid twice that for it.


At 8/8/09, 3:19 AM, Anonymous Boston Bill said...

Interesting. I always thought that it could be translated into a stage show, due to the one set motif!

At 8/10/09, 10:57 AM, Blogger Monster, Indeed! said...

In the "making of" documentary they admit that one of the frustrations of ST was that, unlike Rocky Horror, the musical didn't have years of stage runs and tweaking before it was committed to film.

I still think they could have made a better "maze" in the hospital. It's mostly just a "spiral" design that results in a hallway with a lot of corners.

At 8/13/09, 11:58 PM, Anonymous RPM said...

Glad you liked it. I used to play it in my store. Never gave it more than a passing glance which is unfortunately all I can ever do when I play stuff at my store.

It never gathered a large crowd like when we played Rocky Horror, but the College types with chin snatches and their female dark-framed- Plastic- glasses counterparts sat through the entire thing.

I sold it a while back for $5.00, so I think you got a fine deal. Though I'da given it to you :)

At 8/16/09, 2:52 PM, Blogger Monster, Indeed! said...

You probably didn't miss much. The plot is even more scattershot than Rocky Horror, and doesn't try to follow logic. You probably get the best idea of it by watching the videos.

Glad the college hipsters still like it. I think that's who it was made for.

Hey, I guess you owe me five bucks!


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