Category: Cult/Camp

Movie Review: Shock Treatment (1981)

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This is one of those movies for which I, due to an unknown reason, develop a deep obsession and watch, watch, re-watch, sing along to, buy the soundtrack of, and then watch again. Wow that sentence is convoluted. Oh well. This was another of my “Oh my god I have a paper to write, let me have something familiar and musical on while I work” movies.

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Shock Treatment is a sort of sequel, sort of equal to 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with different actors playing old roles and old actors playing new ones. The entire town of Denton (“The Home of Happiness”) has been transformed into a television station (in a way), with the majority of the population living in theater seats, lots of other people involved in reality television shows, and various machinations happening on and off screen. Brad (Cliff De Majors) and Janet (Jessica Harper), now married, are slotted to appear on a marriage counseling show hosted by blind Bert Schnick (Barry Humphriese aka Dame Edna). Due to being “an emotional cripple”, Brad gets sent to a mental hospital, part of the “Dentonvale” TV program, run by Cosmo (Richard O’Brien) and Nation (Patricia Quinn) McKinley. Janet feels sorry she let him get taken away but believes it will help save their marriage. Her parents (Darlene Johnson and Manning Redwood) try to console her, reminding her that because Brad is adopted she should have been prepared to possibly inherit craziness.

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After being propositioned by the powerful fast food magnate Farley Flavors (Cliff De Young) to be his new TV show’s it girl, Janet teams up with Cosmo, Nation, and Bert to become the most highly-rated star on D-TV. Meanwhile Betty Hapshatt (Ruby Wax), who has long since divorced Ralph (Jeremy Newson, the only actor to return to his original role)- remember their wedding at the opening of Rocky Horror?- is now a talk show host. Along with sociologist Oliver Wright (Charles Gray), she tries to unwrap the supposed conspiracy at the root of D-TV and Brad’s wrongful hospitalization, since Janet has gone mad with fame and it seems there’s no one to help him get out or stop Farley from gaining complete control of Denton. It’s really Janet’s story for the most part, so until she’s able to stay true to herself and defend Brad, who knows what bad things will happen!

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So please don’t ask me why I am so obsessed with this movie, as I will never really know. Its plot is confusing and often doesn’t make sense, the characters are silly, its nowhere near as fun and quotable as RHPS, but by golly I love it. The music is (maybe) better than RHPS, and the musical sequences are done really well. “Lullaby” was shot in one take, sliding the camera from window to window outside of Dentonvale. “Duel Duet” is one of my favorite songs/musical scenes ever. Often the actors sing to the camera to maintain the idea of their lives being filmed, which was a cool element to add, I think. Pretty much every song is as awesome as the next, with the added benefit of having lead actors who can actually sing (there’s nothing wrong with Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick in RHPS, they just didn’t have trained voices). The color schemes and costumes are slightly surreal and highly saturated, along with an inventive set design. I love the concept, imagined before the dawn of mainstream reality TV like The Real World; Richard O’Brien really shows his interest in American consumerism and celebrity.

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The performances are great, especially Cliff De Young, who is amazing in the duel role of Brad and Farley. I didn’t even realize they were the same actor for a while, since he has given them such distinct characterizations and singing styles. And of course the old team of Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, and Nell Campbell, with the addition of Rik Mayall and Barry Humphries, are swell as the Dentonvale staff. I like the idea of the RHPS actors coming back in different roles, as it really adds to the sequel-or-equal question raised by many fans. I’d say it’s a sequel, since Janet’s mother expresses relief that Brad didn’t “turn out like that Slipstreami boy”, who was found naked with several men, in (I believe) a reference to the possibility of Brad being gay after his experiences with Frank. Also the fact that they’re married now, and that Betty and Ralph are divorced, clearly puts it in later time.

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Anyway in the end it’s a very enjoyable and nonsensical film, but somehow addicting- maybe because the music is so good? Unclear. Watch it if you’re a Rocky Horror fan or dig campy and silly but well-done musicals.

4.5/5

Movie Review: Tommy (1975)

Get ready kids this will be a long one.

Yeah so back in the days when people started to make rock operas, The Who made Tommy. First released as a concept album in 1969, the work was made into a film with Ken Russell as director and Roger Daltrey as the eponymous character. The story is… loose, to say the least. It’s like this: Nora (Ann-Margret) loses her husband (Robert Powell) in WWII and must raise their newborn son Tommy on her own. A few years later she shacks up with Frank Hobbs (Oliver Reed), a larger-than-life camp director with a penchant for alcohol and lovemaking. One night the supposedly-dead father comes home and finds his wife in bed with Frank. In a confused rage Frank kills him with a lamp, all in front of little Tommy. Nora and Frank try to convince him he saw nothing, heard nothing, and won’t speak about it. This triggers psychosomatic blindness, deafness, and muteness in the boy. Flash-forward several years later and Tommy has grown up, cared for by his mother who tries weird religious cures like the Church of Marilyn Monroe. Frank tries to get him laid by the Acid Queen (Tina Turner). One day he stumbles upon a pinball machine and is instantly a pro, prompting his rise to stardom as a world-class pinball player, even defeating the champ (Elton John). He makes his family super rich but Nora is still sad about his diminished senses. His celebrity increases to cult status (like the thousands of people worshiping kind, not the Rocky Horror kind) after a miracle occurs. But we all know fake pinball celebrity religions never last. Also all of this is completely sung.

Ok so it’s a commentary on the commercialization of famous people and their position as pseudo religious figures. I get it, I really do. And the whole “See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me” mantra speaks to the alienation we all experience due to varying circumstances. That’s ok. I dig the music and a lot of the visuals were interesting and trippy, including the highly stylized costumes and settings. It’s certainly a unique story, so that’s always good. But honestly… it just wasn’t that enjoyable. I wanted to like this movie, I really did. I’m not super familiar with The Who but I dig the songs I know, and I had heard very good things about the film/play and thought a 70’s rock opera about pinball could do no wrong. Unfortunately there were many things that felt off. A lot of the performances were sub-par. I know Ann-Margret is like this great sex symbol and of course we all love when she rolls around in soap suds and beans but her voice wasn’t that great and her acting was flat. Oliver Reed was just loud most of the time. Roger Daltrey spent most of the movie with a blank stare (which is understandable) and shirt off (also no complaints) but very little effort is made to actually characterize Tommy (this is partially shortcomings of the writing, not just his performance). Tina Turner was annoying. Jack Nicholson is very out of place. I liked Elton John and Eric Clapton, but that’s about it. I didn’t feel particularly interested in any of the characters and the story was too jumpy so I wasn’t exactly hooked there. I spent most of the movie feeling like I was missing something- why is this movie such a big deal? Was it just novel for its time? Is it just the fans’ ardour for the album spilling over into its other incarnations? It’s not that I disliked it, I just thought I’d like it a lot more than I did. It was definitely interesting and it made an impact, but it didn’t feel particularly smart or incredible. It might just something that works better conceptually than physically. The ending left me in a confused and buhhh kind of mood- suddenly religion is ok? Jesus was my co-pilot all along? I didn’t get that, honestly, so if someone can clarify things for me I’d be most grateful.

3/5

The best scene/song in the movie.

Movie Review: Smokey and the Bandit (1977)


Well, it’s that time of year again! This Thursday was the customary day for getting drunk and watching Smokey and the Bandit with friends, an activity of which I partook for the first time ever. As always, this movie did not disappoint and did not provoke anything except a rollickin’ good time.

A filthy rich, matching-suited father and son approach the dozing Bandit (Burt Reynolds) with a daring proposition: drive to Texarcana, Texas, fetch 400 cases of Coors beer and transport it over county lines to Atlanta, Georgia, all in 28 hours. This is what’s known in 1977 as bootlegging, due to antiquated laws. The Bandit accepts this $80,000 bet and enlists his old truckin’ buddy Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed, who also did several songs for the soundtrack). Snowman drives the truck with the beer, while Bandit drives a black Pontiac Trans-Am at high speed to distract any cops away from the speeding truck. Enter Carrie aka “Frog” (Sally Field), a runaway bride fleeing a “wedding posse”, who hops in with The Bandit and both helps and hinders his scheme. Enter moments later Buford T Justice (Jackie Gleason), a Texas sheriff who goes way out of his jurisdiction to take down that elusive, smart alecky daredevil.

That is pretty much the entire plot, a fairly simple premise formatted to show off some high-speed, high-flying car stunts, slip in some wiseass dialogue, reflect on relationships forged out of necessity/fate in a thrilling situation, and, of course, have hilarious hi-jinks! There are some good shots of Sally Field’s butt (or possible butt-double), several occasions of Burt Reynolds’ high-pitched laughter, seriously amazing (and destructive!) stunts, and lots of smooth truckin’ lingo. It is a carefree, fast-paced time that’s always lots of fun! Watching it drunkenly with a group of friends just makes it funner!

4.5/5

East Bound and Down“- Jerry Reed (Smokey and the Bandit theme song)