"It was hoped that Shock Treatment would repeat the success of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And I think in hindsight that what you realize is that you can't create a cult. Cults happen organically. An audience finds a movie, embraces it, and makes it into a cult." - JOHN GOLDSTONE, producer
When a Hollywood movie is released to popular acclaim and financial success, the next step is clear: give the audience more of the same, only with the volume turned up, as soon as possible. It helps, of course, if the first movie belongs to an easily-identifiable category (comedy, action, horror) and leaves its most popular characters alive and ready for further adventures at the end. But how do you follow up an unexpected, late-blooming hit like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a bizarre, cross-genre mishmash which ends with the death of its central and most popular character, the transvestite alien mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (played by Tim Curry)? Such was the question plaguing the executives at 20th Century Fox back in 1979 in the wake of Rocky Horror's highly unlikely reversal of fortune. British writer/actor Richard O'Brien's oddball 1972 stage musical The Rocky Horror Show had been a hit in London and Los Angeles, but an attempt to bring the show to Broadway had flopped by the time Fox's film adaptation limped into theaters in the fall of 1975. It looked like another pop culture fad had come and gone, but amazingly the movie -- about a square American couple, Brad and Janet, who undergo a night of debauchery in the Gothic castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter -- somehow became the object of intense adulation among its hardcore fans, who used the film as the center of a truly unique multimedia phenomenon. Weekly showings of RHPS incorporated live performance, audience participation, and the filmed image. Complicating matters further, as far as a sequel was concerned, the film's following was at least partially ironic: the tradition of yelling "callbacks" at the screen started as a form of heckling during the many awkward pauses in the dialogue. But, still, the demand for more Rocky was definitely there, and so O'Brien got to work on a sequel to his famous/infamous creation.
The initial result of O'Brien's labors was a screenplay called Rocky Horror Shows His Heels, conceived as a direct sequel to the first film in which Dr. Frank-N-Furter rises from the grave, Janet gives birth to his half-alien baby, and Brad reveals himself to be homosexual. This script, accompanied by a demo tape of new songs, apparently did not instill much confidence in the Fox brass, so O'Brien set about reworking the project with Jim Sharman, the director and co-writer of the original Rocky Horror film. Eventually, through a series of rewrites, Heels mutated into something called The Brad & Janet Show, which in turn became what we now know as Shock Treatment. Along the way, all three principals from the first film -- Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, and Susan Sarandon -- either became unavailable or backed out, and the entire project had to be reconceived on a much-smaller budget following an actor's guild strike. What had been planned as a location shoot in Dallas, Texas would now be filmed entirely within a British soundstage. The resulting film came out in 1981, six long years after the first, and was quickly rejected by the Rocky Horror cultists, who felt they were being manipulated by the Fox publicity machine. An attempt to show the film at New York's Waverly Theater, birthplace of the Rocky Horror cult, proved disastrous and led to a scathing editorial in the Village Voice entitled "Mock Rocky," deriding this prefabricated attempt to create another Rocky Horror. Outsiders seemingly had no interest in the film either, and it vanished into home video obscurity. And that is pretty much where Shock Treatment's reputation lies today. When the film is mentioned at all nowadays, it is used as a cautionary example of why a studio should never, ever try to intentionally create a so-called "cult" movie. The history of Shock Treatment, one would be tempted to say, has been written. Its fate is sealed. The verdict is in, and it's guilty. Right?
Well, possibly. But every defendant is entitled to the benefit of counsel, right? That's where I step in.