Shock Treatment is
Richard OBriens follow-up to the Rocky Horror Show.
A musical satire about media manipulation, it was filmed entirely
within the confines of a television studioby accident
rather than design.
Report by NEIL NORMAN in "The Face" Magazine
WHEN YOU think how much of the world we view solely r through
the television screen its surprising there havent
been more films dealing with the potential of mass manipulation
via this medium. For all its attempts at objective documentation
the TV eye remains unflinchingly subjective, as much a prey
to the motives of programme makers as it is to the events portrayed.
The worlds most influential medium, it is also the most
is not the first, and certainly wont be the last person
to commit his views on the influence of TV to film but Shock
Treatment does make something of a unique statement in its depiction
of the suburhan town of Denton, USA, where the dividing line
of reality between the screen and the viewer has completely
as a sequel to his Rocky Horror Show, OBriens latest
and the final conceptthat of shooting the entire film
within the confines of a TV studiocame about by accident.
"It was because
of the actors strike in America," explains OBrien,
who not only appears in the film as Cosmo McKinley, a zany TV
shrink, but also wrote the script and the songs.
"We were going
to do location shots in the Stateswe were actually going
to have an old house for the hospital and certain location shots,
downtown Denton, etc. and with the SAG (Screen Actors
Guild) strike we couldnt turn a camera there. We had to
find another way of doing it and once wed come up with
it I was frightened the strike was going to finish too soon
and wed have to go back to our original conception because
I thought the new conception was much, much better.
a million dollars off the budget: we had a controlled environment
which meant we could shoot at any time of the year if the weather
was nasty and keep the whole thing very tight-knit and theatrical.
It became more theatrical which is nice, because Rocky had a
theatrical flavor about it and I think that element of it is
quite important. "
It seems that Jim
Sharman, who has directed all of OBriens work on
stage and screen to date, was responsible for the drastic changes
in the initial draft, which read more like Rocky Rises From
The Grave than the film it has become. Was the continuing saga
of Brad and Janet something hed wanted to do since Rocky?
It came to the stage where Rocky got into profit and I went
to Michael White to see if he was interested in a sequel. (At
that point, Rocky had made about 15 million dollars profit.)
He agreed and I came up with a script which was very much Rocky
Rides Again. Jim said that he wasnt really interested
in going with that sort of concept and I didnt want to
write a whole new script so we turned it around, chopped out
a few characters like Frank, and made Brad the protagonist.
"Then over lunch
we decided that Janet should be the protagonist so I said Thats
all right. All we need to do is every time it says Brad we cross
that out and put Janet and vice versa. Its very simple.
Two drafts later . . ."
Not as simple as
all that, then, but the TV element had been in there from the
start with all the main characters, shown watching TV as their
focus on reality. The new staging simply heightened the original
"I think that
elementusing the studio as a microcosm of society works
very well. Because you only need one of each; you only need
one security man and all he has to do is growl and be officious
to represent the entire police force of America."
easily, at himself besides others, and possesses an offbeat
charm in marked contrast with his appearance. Clad entirely
in black, his gaunt figure is topped by a cadaverous shaven
skull containing deep-set eyes and an aquiline nose that together
produces the not unjustified impression that he has watched
too many old horror movies. Born in Cheltenham, he lived until
his twenties in New Zealand where he returns to work from time
to time dividing his time between acting and writingsongs,
screenplays and theatre scriptswith enviable ease.
"I'll do anything,
as it happens. I know that sounds cheap but I will have a crack
at mostly anything. If it seems to me that Ive been too
long away from something then Ill get back to it. Thats
why I did Eastward Ho! at the Mermaid Theatre last year because
I hadnt been on the boards for about two years."
Not being a director
also leaves him free to appear in his own works. Riff Raff from
Rocky Horror Show and Cosmo in Shock Treatment being examples,
though he also cast himself in his poorly received Tarzan musical,
T-Zee ("A sad, bad British musical" enthused one critic)
at The Royal Court. I wondered if he found it easy acting in
his own stuff.
"I found it
difficult acting in Shock Treatment. I felt I didnt know
what my character was and I also found it was awfully difficult
acting in those glasses because I didnt realise how important
the eyes are until I did that. I felt that I was acting quite
heavily and quite strongly and quite positively but when I watched
a couple of rushes I could see that it wasnt enough and
I still think that I actually underplay a little too much in
Shock Treatment. Im not totally happy with my performance.
I think it could have afforded to be a little broader."
But he doesnt
have too much too worry about. Apart from Shock Treatment, he
has another musical called The Stripper, based on a Carter Brown
thriller, opening on stage in Australia in the summer and has
just completed three new songs for a film called rhe Return
Of Captain Invincible which is currently being filmed over there
with Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee.
Working on his home
ground has several advantages, not the least of which is the
availability of funds for the visual arts, but OBrien
predicts a backlash against Antipodean product soon if they
continue to make too many films too quickly.
two scripts recently. One has gone into production without the
songsits supposed to be a musicalwhich is
just nonsense. It seems to me thats too ill-advised for
"It was very
odd, the guy whod written the film wrote to me and said
Dear Richard, I was thinking the other day that I want
to do a Richard OBrien type song in the film. Then I thought,
why have a Richard OBrien type song? Why not have a Richard
OBrien song? So Im writing to you to ask if you
are interested. And it was signed Doris somebody or other
PP this persons name and I thought thats a bit horrid
"So I wrote
back and I signed it Gloria Vavavoom PP Richard OBrienIm
sorry. Up to my neck in it. And he had very pretentious
notepaper. It had across the top Palm Beach Film Productions
or something really pompous so I put Disaster Productions
across the top of mine. We used to have this company called
Disaster Productions and I remember when we formed it and the
guy went along to get the company seal the bloke there said
'Well, youre not going to have any trouble with anybody
duplicating this name . . .' "