Is it possible that I read too much into horror films? Am I hallucinating subtext where there is none in order to justify my obsession? Well, I needn’t worry about subtext when it comes to Brian Yuzna’s SOCIETY (1989). If I interpret it to be about rich people sucking the life out of the poor, it’s because in the film, rich people grow giant puckering lips, seize the poor and suck the life right out of them. Actually, they do far worse than that but to describe it would mean thinking about it and I just had lunch. Much of SOCIETY operates as a paranoid mystery, so I’m sorry if I just gave away the ending. Don’t worry, even though everything suspected within the film is revealed to be true, there’s no way you can possibly imagine what that entails. Suffice to say, the wealthy are not shown in the best of light but I suppose into each life a little rain must fall.
Bill Whitney (BILLY WARLOCK son of DICK WARLOCK of HALLOWEEN II and III!) is at the age where he is starting to feel disconnected from his family and their values. Part of his mounting alienation may be due to the fact that he is adopted and part of it is probably because he’s heard a tape recording of his parents planning and participating in a deranged orgy with his sister. His parent’s obsession with garden slugs and his sister’s ability to twist and contort her body in impossible ways while showering only add fuel to the fires of mistrust. You’d think that having three-time scream queen HEIDI KOZAK (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD; SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II’s zit girl) for a girlfriend would be enough for a guy, but Bill has got his cagey eye on exotic and suspiciously limber Clarissa (DEVIN DeVASQUEZ). His psychiatrist is zero help and if you’ve watched any conspiracy movie in the history of ever you know why.
The horror genre is one that is granted some added leeway to be as bizarre and inappropriate as it can get away with, so it’s a big fat shame that more filmmakers don’t take advantage of that extra elbowroom. BRIAN (BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR) YUZNA’s SOCIETY is refreshingly oblivious to good taste and it delivers all the creativity and originality that audiences beg for and so often overlook once they receive it. I’d say it’s a little too breezy and footloose in the storytelling department but if it is that type of freewheeling attitude that ultimately opens the door for the gooey, loony, hilariously unhinged insanity that concludes the film, I’ll take it. I’d appreciate a better mapped out route but as long as I end up someplace I’ve never been, I’m happy.
There is a downside to SOCIETY though, at least for me, knowing that the last third of the movie is an explosive orgy of ferociously perverse, audaciously surreal, bold-faced bacchanalia, makes the first two thirds feel like a bit of a semi-chore. Before we’re finally gifted with the full-disclosure finale, we’re subjected to more than any movie’s fair share of stalling. Suspicious evidence is discovered, discounted and rediscovered in a tiresome loop and too much of what transpires has no relevance at all. Fortunately the cast is likable enough to keep things afloat and of course there’s always the added charm of the time period in which SOCIETY was filmed. More than anything though, if you have any interest in the art of pre-CGI special effects the work here, care of SCREAMING MAD GEORGE, is required viewing. I don’t know if it “holds up,” I just know that it’s fantastic and that it’s gorgeously grotesque and thank God it’s captured on film. So what if we end up with a half hour’s worth of material stretched like taffy to three times that length? Since that half hour is three times more potent than what is standard, I say, fair enough.