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Society (1989)

August 15th, 2012 by unkle lancifer · 7 Comments

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.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 VicarOfVHSNo Gravatar // Aug 15, 2012 at 11:36 am

    No surprise, but I absolutely LOVE this movie! As you say, there’s not much subtext, just TEXT, as Yuzna & Co. take the old “The Rich are Not Like Us” saw and pumps it full of icky, hilarious life. And you’re right to single out the effects work of the never-more-aptly-named SCREAMING MAD GEORGE–what he does here is absolutely stunning, and thanks to CG we will never see its like again. Warlock’s uncanny resemblance to contemporary-era Emilio Estevez notwithstanding, this is a truly unappreciated gem. Gotta rewatch it now! 🙂

  • 2 Eric EddyNo Gravatar // Aug 15, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Ever since I heard of this movie (about 5 years ago), I’ve wanted to check it out. It was on Netflix streaming when I first signed up for it and then it was removed out of nowhere and I haven’t seen it since. I’m also not paying $40 for a used DVD… I don’t care how out of print it is. It’s a shame that great horror gems like this one can’t seem to find the light of day sometimes. Hopefully it will get another DVD release some time soon.

  • 3 RawhideAlmondMacheNo Gravatar // Aug 15, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    This movie is amazing. Gross, but amazing. The first time I saw it, I refused to believe it was made in 1989, it just doesn’t have that “late 80s” feel or attitude at all.

  • 4 stevil1981No Gravatar // Aug 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Ha ha yes! I’ve been meaning to re-watch this one. I first saw this on late night TV and had no idea what I was in for, just some crazy paranoid story about a kid who’s trying to fit in then “WOAH! what was that shower scene all about?, Oh never mind, back to the “hmm, just what is going on with this kids family?”. Then AAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHH RRRRRRAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH GLLLLUUUUGGGGHHHHAH BLLLLLAAAAAAHHHH SPLAT!

  • 5 godmonsterNo Gravatar // Aug 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    I love this movie! I like to share it with unsuspecting friends. The message is more potent now than when the film was made; now it’s obvious. Eric Eddy, contact me godmonster at yahoo and I will send you a copy of the film if you like.

  • 6 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Aug 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    I saw this movie once, back in the early – mid-90s with a good friend of mine who was a horror newbie. I think we just rented it on a whim and she was overtaken with the grossness of it all… in a good way. She ended up buying the poster for it when we stumbled across it at an old memorabilia shop.

    I haven’t seen the movie since, and I’m not sure I want to because the memory of seeing it with my friend is so wonderful, I just want to keep everything as is.

    But your review entices me! But *all* your reviews entice me, Unk! Stop being interesting!

  • 7 gcgNo Gravatar // Aug 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Let me add my own fit of love for this film! The tactile creature effects in this movie are outstanding, and as far as verisimilitude goes, a special effect either has impact or it doesn’t, regardless of its supposed reflection of reality. The orgy sequence has maximo impact! Reality is so mediated, I don’t think people realize frequently enough that CGI approximates some kind of watered-down sheen of clean lines and precision that I used to associate with a Sharper Image catalog–certainly not with reality. I know slasher films are extolled on this site, but for me, the best stuff the ’80s had to offer in terms of horror were the dark comedies: the Evil Dead movies, Basket Case, Brain Damage, Return of the Living Dead, Parents, Re-Animator, From Beyond, and, of course, Society. And nary a pixel in any of them. Thanks for this great appreciation, unkle lancifer!

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