SHOCK TREATMENT - Packaging Mental Health with Fame
Hoopla everybody! Fame does a lot to a person, it changes them in unknowable ways. It’s like when you start a new job, you know that things will change about your life, but it’s not until all of the changes are made that you realize the way that you yourself have changed. The ways that you figure out a balance between your personal time and your work time will make things change no matter what. You never fully know what you’re getting yourself into, you can ask all the questions you want but you have to experience it to get the full picture. So you make the best decision based on the information presented to you at the time. Everyone that has some level of fame pays a personal price to get it. Sometimes it’s knowingly through a contract, Hollywood does this to their actors all the time. In recent years it can be very extreme, especially if you’re in a superhero movie. There are contracts which stipulate how an actors body must be at all times, how they act in public, what they can wear and eat/drink publicly. They’re owned, well compensated, but owned nonetheless. They have to be this persona that they aren’t normally. They have to be what the contract requires them to be to get the amount of money they are getting. However, a lot of the time it’s the hidden price that takes the largest toll; the unknown ripples from a power dynamic, manipulation, or being drugged and forced to perform. These aspects of fame are explored through a little known sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show called Shock Treatment. Most people don’t seem to know that it exists so it sits over in the corner while the bigger, more popular sibling takes all the limelight. This film is pretty smart despite its silliness, and has a lot to say about fame’s treatment of people.
A significant chunk of the cast from The Rocky Horror Picture Show is in Shock Treatment, however only one character reprises their role from RHPS and that is Jeremy Newson as Ralph Hapschatt. There have been some recastings of the main actors. Brad is now played by Cliff DeYoung. There are varying reports about why Barry Bostwick didn’t return, the most common one is that he had too many commitments and couldn’t make the time. According to the commentary, it is also said that he said wasn’t even approached to return. There are also varying reports between Jim Sharman, Nell Campbell, and Patricia Quinn as to why Tim Curry didn’t come back for this. He was apparently set to play Farley Flavors but when he found that Barry Bostwick was not going to be returning they asked him to do the twin thing and he is reported to have turned it down because he didn’t feel he could pull off an American accent. Then on the commentary for the Arrow blu-ray it’s said that he told Patricia Quinn at some point in the years after the film’s release that he wasn’t even approached to be in it. No one seems to be able to agree what the exact circumstances were and this film is sparsely documented. This really goes to show how important it is for there to be someone documenting the making of a film, the human mind is a fickle thing, and not very reliable after 30+ years. There are only two things that people can seem to agree upon casting-wise; first is that Susan Sarandon’s star was rising and she asked for too much money to return so they recast and Janet is now played by Jessica Harper. The other is that Jonathan Adams didn’t want to return for the film so instead of Dr. Scott hosting Marriage Maze, it’s another Austrian Nazi named Burt Schnick played by Australian comedian, Barry Humphries.
This film went through so many different drafts in pre-production and during production the movie seemed like it was doomed from the start. According to an interview with Richard O’Brien from 1982, he said it went through about six different drafts before it became what it is now. Originally it was titled, “Rocky Horror Shows His Heels,” and was a direct sequel to RHPS. It involved Rocky and Frank back from the dead, Janet having Frank’s baby, as well as Dr. Scott and Brad in a relationship, no Riff, no Magenta, just a baby, and a dead Brad buried in nothing but go-go boots and a choker collar. The songs in Shock Treatment originally were written for this film and then retooled bit by bit through each draft to cater to the ever changing circumstances of the beleaguered production.
The next iteration was called “The Brad and Janet Show,” which was to be shot in the US around Denton, TX. Cosmo and Nation were to have their own office, Brad and Janet their own home, scenes outside, and so on. Then there was an actor’s strike in the US, there was only so much time for the actors to be in the film, so production had to be quickly moved to a studio in the UK, and the film went through one last draft and Shock Treatment was born.
The unfortunate reason behind no one knowing about this film is that they tried to roll this movie out with midnight showings here and there. It was originally supposed to be released in September of 1981, but was pushed back and officially premiered on Halloween 1981 at the Waverly Theater in New York, which is where Rocky Horror’s shadow-cast and call-outs to the screen were born. Then somewhere around December 1981 it was rolled out in VERY LIMITED quantities to smaller markets around the US. They tried to make it a cult film without there being any cult behind it, they never gave it enough time to grow. Given a proper studio release, they may have had something on their hands. Personally I’d say it was too ahead of its time so no one understood how to market it properly. Patricia Quinn and Barry Humphries both have been known to not understand fully what was going on while shooting it.
Even though Rocky Horror’s popularity grew at midnight showings, it started out as a regular release and flopped, but this, “not a sequel, not a prequel, but an equal” flopped even harder due to them only showing it at midnight (for the most part). Once in a while a shadow cast will do a double feature, but in my 25 years of fandom I have yet to find one to attend in an area I’ve lived in, and I’ve lived in a lot of places. I would love to have a chance to see this on the big screen.
When I was growing up, there was a local video rental store that I went to for their massive selection of horror movies. They would regularly update their selection and get rid of what wasn’t being rented. I always had to see what they were selling because it was always the ones that no one was renting that I liked the best. I found so many great movies this way—this was how I found Shock Treatment. I was a HUGE fan of Rocky Horror already. I knew the callbacks, I yelled at my own TV because at that point I hadn’t seen it in the theater, my parents wouldn’t take me. They said I was too young, but still would allow me watch to watch the movie over and over at home. To this day, as a woman in my 30s, that still makes no sense to me. If you’re old enough to watch the movie, you’re old enough to go to the live show. I knew all of the names of the actors, writers, and many crew members, so when I was looking over this video tape I was recognizing pretty much all of them, and the back was talking about Brad and Janet?! Why did no one tell me about this?! I was completely flabbergasted that no one wanted to rent this and very glad that no one did because now I had my own copy. This movie is prophetic! Reality TV existed by the time I saw it, The Real World and Road Rules were already on the air paving the way for more to come. Product placement was everywhere (though that’s been the case since the advent of television). Now I’m noticing many similarities to Farley and Trump: reality TV stars that put their name on anything they can to make a brand, gaslight the population, and on top of it all, winning in the end.
Denton is a strange and seemingly very easy to manipulate place. I sometimes wonder if the entire town except a few unknowing people are Transylvanians. They all show up outside of the castle in Rocky Horror, and at one point after Eddie’s “mercy killing,” they’re gone. They’re not even there to witness the floor show. They had to have left, yet they show up in the audience and as crew members here! I can only assume that it’s the same characters since they’re never named in either movie. Apparently in the years after the events of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the entire town is bought up by a mysterious fast food magnate named Farley Flavors who has now encased the entire town within a huge television studio named DTV. If this is true, and the Denton sign that hangs over the audience is supposed to be where it was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, then the audience is sitting on the gravesites of many people and the town’s church has been replaced by a soundstage. It seems that we are witnessing the heyday of business operation in this little “town.” There’s a musical number in the beginning, “Denton, USA,” introducing everyone to the “reality” of what Denton is supposed to be (“tenderness and innocence […] conference rooms and a children’s playground, Denton is a real OK town”). This sets the tone for everything to come, because as with all of the reality television genre, it’s the complete opposite of reality. Everything is played up for drama, people are manipulated and used, and VERY FEW question it. They just take what they’re being sold straight up.
As I stated earlier, this isn’t really a sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this is more like the continuing adventures of Brad and Janet. You don’t need to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show to enjoy or understand this movie. There’s no reference to it except some under the surface commentary which really only references and reacts to the voracious fandom. The audience participation in the studio, how they live and breathe for this theatrical manipulation of reality, going so far as to sleep in their seats so they don’t miss anything, is very much showcased in the final musical number, “Anyhow, Anyhow.”
Brad (Cliff De Young) and Janet (Jessica Harper) have changed significantly since we last saw them. In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, they were newly engaged and in the honeymoon portion of their relationship; now it’s been a few years, they’ve settled into their new life and things are becoming too routine for both of them. After being plucked out of the audience to appear on a show called Marriage Maze, Janet is manipulated by Burt Schnick (Barry Humphries), the supposedly blind TV host, into having Brad committed into the care of those at Dentonvale (a hospital-based soap opera similar to General Hospital) to fix his boringness, and “infantile regression.” She is then gaslit by a couple of quack doctors; Cosmo McKinley (Richard O’Brien), and Nation McKinley (Patricia Quinn) who inject something into Brad making it seem like his “condition” is progressing. To make it look worse, they keep drugging Brad, overdosing him with various psychological chemicals to make him look crazy. If you look closely enough at some of the folders that the McKinleys have, they’re labeled “The Brad and Janet Show,” alluding to them being spun-off from Dentonvale.
If you give enough psych drugs to a “healthy” person, the more unhinged they will seem and the more they will look “crazy.” All of this is used to keep Janet and give her a room in the ward. When you at the set design during the “Lullaby” song sequence, you can see that all the back rooms of DTV are fitted with padded walls (even the rooms that the supposedly “sane” people sleep in) — the mise en scene is foreshadowing, showing how completely insane they all truly are, and giving you hint at what’s to happen in the end.
Janet is followed everywhere by cameras the moment she sits down in the audience. This propulsion into the spotlight is so fast, and is so extreme that she’s swept off her feet immediately. Everyone around her is manipulated into manipulating her, including her own parents, who are given their own reality show called, Happy Homes. They gaslight her over the course of 24 hours with the promise of fame and say that it’s the only way to cure Brad making him like her again, as well as making him less boring. So all she has to do is boost the television ratings and become a star. “We’re going to package and sell some mental health to the nation, with my dream of the girl next door,” says Farley.
Shock Treatment isn’t necessarily what you think it is in this movie. It’s emotional shock. Every character can be “fixed” if you shock them enough. The doctors bring up using both, but never actually shock anyone with electroshock therapy. To further entrench Janet’s manipulation and make her believe in this alternate method of treatment, they shock Burt by taking off his glasses, stepping on them, then flashing bright lights at him, so he can magically see, even though he’s been able to see the entire time. The McKinleys use a bunch of little steps that Janet’s not cognizant of that make her think it’s more ok to let them do what they do to her because it is a fabricated reality.
One of the unintended (?) consequences of the manipulation of Janet is that the fame starts to go to her head, and she splits between her authentic self and her celebrity self. During one of her first performances, “Me of Me,” she literally brings down the house. Cosmo and Nation keep reinforcing the split, saying that she’s her secret self. They keep her in an echo chamber saying how amazing she is and how famous she is becoming yet she doesn’t leave DTV the entire time. Even those that started out somewhat “normal” at the beginning, realize and decide to give themselves over to Farley, literally singing “Look What I Did to My Id” like they’re proud of what they’ve destroyed.
Eventually, Janet’s fame has gone to her head and she’s too hard to control so they resort to drugging her as well, making her more malleable and easy to control. The McKinleys give her downers for when they don’t need her, and uppers for when they need her to perform. They’ve chemically lobotomized her by the end, literally shoving pills down her throat. Miss Mental Health, everybody! It is only with the shock of Brad standing up for her and fighting for her is she able to snap out of it. It’s quite ironic that Brad—the “emotional cripple”—shocking Janet in this way is what “fixes” her.
One of the threads that is pulled at bit by bit through the movie are questions about Brad’s family and their history of mental illness. Since Brad was adopted, Janet never knew who his family were, so it was that much easier to manipulate her into thinking it was some kind of issue with his family. As it turns out Farley is Brad’s twin and he grew up poor while Brad grew up in a higher class and had things a lot easier than Farley did. Farley feels that Brad needs to be punished for this, and his jealousy goes so far as to wanting Janet on top of it all.
The poor usually don’t have access to adequate mental health services, so it makes perfect sense that the poorer of the twins has more issues. Being separated from the only family that he had, mixed with the struggle of being poor, how hard it is making enough money to become rich, and then all the added amount of stress that comes with having large amounts of money would make a person’s dysfunction immeasurable. When people aren’t aware of what abuse has done to them, they have a tendency to perpetuate the cycle, which is exactly what Farley is doing. Except with his money and influence, he’s now able to do this on a much larger scale. Employing character actors playing the role of doctors, Cosmo and Nation, he’s able to use them to help him to further manipulate the public at large. At the end he wins. Brad, Janet, and a small handful of others get away, but the entire town of Denton is under Farley and the McKinleys’ spell. In a song earlier in the film (“Farley’s Song”), he said he intends to take over the entire human race. Based on his small scale experiment, Farley has a way he can do it, and I have no doubt that he used it to his advantage after the film’s end.
The amount of stuff to unpack in this movie is such a great amount, I’m only going to be able to touch upon some of it. There are many layers like an onion. In preparation for this, I rewatched Shock Treatment eight times and kept finding new things. I’ve tried to incorporate everything I could find as I dove deeper. I felt it was important especially with the current television climate, the cult of celebrity, and quack doctors seemingly everywhere peddling their supplements and unfounded research.
When people experience fame they go through a series of stages, just like one does with grief. For fame, what I can gather is that it goes like this:
-Love of fame
-Hatred of fame
-Addiction to fame
-Adaptation (both positive and negative) to fame
This has deep effects on the psyche, making a person lose their sense of self and become unable to know who they are or what they would do in a certain situation. They don’t know how to deal with this. Janet in Shock Treatment split into two personae. Elvis had panic attacks on stage, purposely sabotaging his songs during shows just to be free. John Lennon used to throw up before performing. There seems to be two ways that fame can go: it’ll either feed into narcissism or it can be put to good use to make actual change in the world. Take the cult of celebrity and rally a fanbase to do some good. Most of the time, abuse paired with this fame addiction leads to some not so great places.
The first thought that comes to mind after watching what happened to Janet is the obvious parallels to Judy Garland. Born in Grand Rapids, MN in June of 1922 as Francis Ethel Gumm, she was pushed immediately into the family business, vaudeville. Her mother had forced her and her sisters into it one by one. Once Judy’s mother saw how talented she was compared to her sisters, she took her solo on the road and plied her with sleeping pills to get her to sleep at night. It was so bad that later in her life she referred to her mother as “The real Wicked Witch of the West.” Her constant pushing of Judy towards stardom escalated to threatening to beat her if she didn’t go out on stage and sing. At the age of 13 she got a contract to work with MGM. Right from the beginning she moved from one abusive situation to the next. They were always on her about her weight, making constant comments about her body, they’d take food away from her while she was eating. There have been multiple allegations over the years of sexual abuse she suffered on the set of The Wizard of Oz. She was called names by the head of the studio, one of the eponymous Ms in MGM, Louis B. Mayer called her his “little hunchback.” They felt they couldn’t market her because she wasn’t a bombshell. They considered her the girl next door type or an ugly duckling. They would force her to wear caps on her teeth and uncomfortable discs to reshape her nose. They also continued the regimen her mother started with drugging her and then put more and more drugs into her. She worked 18 hour days, six days a week. Just like Janet, she was given uppers when needed to perform, and then when they needed her to sleep they’d give her more sleeping pills. This started a life-long drug addiction, which led directly to her death at the age of 47 in 1969 from a barbiturate overdose. This was the price of fame for Judy Garland. A girl who was manipulated from a young age into show business and then taken advantage of at every turn until they were done with her and spit her out. Unfortunately, Judy’s story isn’t uncommon with child actors. Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Amanda Bynes, River Phoenix, and Lindsay Lohan come to mind when thinking about how this cycle continues even today.
Over the entirety of human existence people have been trying to figure out what to do with mental illness. They still don’t know, and they still don’t want to talk about it because of how stigmatized it is. Not talking about it makes it worse, but talking about it makes you realize there’s no easy way to help. There isn’t a one size fits all fix for imbalances in a person’s brain chemistry, sometimes it’s just the environment that a person is in that makes them act a certain way. This has been dealt with over the years in a variety of ways, and by a variety of learned and not so learned individuals. People have been locked up in their homes, becoming the shame of the family, they’ve been locked up in asylums, had the Devil beaten out of them, dunked in freezing cold ice water, given lobotomies, electrocuted, and right now the current craze is to put them on drugs. Doctors just throw chemicals at the brain and see if it works. Pair that with talk therapy and you can help some people, but again that’s not an all encompassing fix. There are issues like treatment-resistant depression that plague many, myself included. I’ve been struggling over the past couple weeks to just keep on writing and finishing what I’ve promised. It’s a never ending, uphill battle. You always have to be one step ahead of your thoughts, doing your best to stay present, always questioning your brain. You can’t allow yourself to fall into a bad state. It’s easier said than done, but sometimes you need to fight when you have no more energy. Keep going because there’s no other sane option. Alternative treatments like the ones that Cosmo and Nation peddle can be very enticing—something that your doctor may not have suggested yet, so you want to try them out. They never work. They’re snake oil, always. Many times, these unregulated homeopathic supplements can have things like lead and other heavy metals in them. When you ingest lead it seeps into your bones and teeth, replacing the calcium, slowly poisoning you over the course of your lifetime. You don’t lose lead, it stays there. It accumulates.
This is one of the reasons people like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz’s fame is so dangerous. They are the real Cosmo and Nation McKinley of our world. These people are paid by pharmaceutical companies and/or companies that make homeopathic remedies to hawk these new drugs. There is a diabetes drug called Bydurian that Dr. Phil has peddled that comes with a very strong warning on it about heightened risk of thyroid cancer. Medication should not be peddled. It should be prescribed by a medical doctor. Dr Phil isn’t even a medical doctor, he plays one on TV. He has a doctorate in psychiatry, but has not held a license to practice psychiatry since 2006. He is a paid spokesperson, and uses the fame he has to exploit.
In 2008, after Britney Spears had a very public breakdown, he allegedly tried to get her and her family to do an intervention on the show, trying to further exploit her situation. Dr. Phil hurts those he claims to help, has been the subject of numerous lawsuits due to his actions, and brings people to fame who get further hurt by being exploited by others trying to ride on Dr. Phil’s coattails. It’s another cycle of abuse. He brings people on his show and they get used because they’re either genuinely mentally ill and need help or they themselves are chasing fame. His show has been called “unethical” and “incredibly irresponsible” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Dr. Oz is a cardiac surgeon and a promoter of pseudoscience or alternative medicine. He constantly shills for these homeopathic remedies every single day on his unfortunately popular talk show. He’s everywhere. You can’t escape him. People just conform to the herd mentality and follow what he says just because his brand is “Doctor” and because he’s a doctor he must know what he’s talking about. His show is not about helping people, it’s about taking their illnesses and issues for ratings and money. Dr. Oz has helped no one, he has profited off of their suffering. Both Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz got their professional start through Oprah Winfrey. They had done other things previously but they were propelled to stardom through Oprah. My question here is why does she allow this? Her actions have hurt people, they’ve been psychologically damaged by these quacks. She has such power and uses it frivolously. It’s downright shocking. Is it just greed at this point? She knows she wields power, she has to know that this hurts people. Is that one of her blind spots due to her fame?
The final message here and the message of the film is don’t believe everything you see. Fame for many is just an illusion, another self they put on for their fanbase. Don’t just listen to someone because they are famous. Use your mind, put it to use and think critically about what you’re seeing. Is it being sold to you? Don’t blindly trust the corporations trying to sell you this pre-packaged life, go your own way, and protect yourself. Don’t just give in because everyone else is, they’re gonna do their thing. Even though evil wins sometimes, you don’t give up. After all, we just gotta keep going. The sun never sets on those who ride into it.
For Further Reading:
Amanda Bynes, Lindsey Lohan dealings with fame:
John Lennon, Elvis, and Kurt Cobain’s dealings with fame:
Judy Garland, her dealings with fame, and abuse:
Richard O’Brien 1982 Interview:
Homeopathic Lead Poisoning:
Dr Phil is a paid spokesperson, not a medical doctor:
Dr. Phil - Unethical, Irresponsible:
National Alliance on Mental Illness:
Dr. Oz - Manipulative, :
Drug-like effects of Fame on a person:
Shock Treatment - Blu-Ray commentary tracks - Arrow Films - UK ONLY:
Quick side-note: The commentary track with Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell was recorded in Orlando, FL. Arrow couldn’t get the US distribution rights for Shock Treatment, only for the UK. It’s a strange little parallel between now and then, first not being able to shoot the movie in the US and filming the movie in the UK, and now the Blu-Ray is not available in the states but the new commentary was recorded in the States.
Alice Collins (@VampAly) is a writer, musician, 'Your Horror Tran', and general weirdo. She has a variety of interests, most centered around film, especially those known as the "lesser genres". Give her your sexploitation, nunsploitation, horror, sci-fi, b-movies, low budget/no budget, and weird stuff and you'll make her a very happy girl. She is extremely sex positive, queer, trans, kinky, and full of all sorts of other labels.
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