Brian Yuzna is an under appreciated director, starting out as the producer on three Stuart Gordon movies, Dolls, From Beyond, and Re-Animator. Yuzna has directed the later two Re-animator films, Return Of The Living Dead 3, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4, both the Dentist films, and a handful of other horror films, but they all started in ’89 with Society.
The story follows Bill Whitney, played by Billy Warlock, who would later go on to find a lasting career in soup operas, a rich high school student, who’s on the basketball team, a shoo in for school president, and dating a cheerleader. Living in a mansion in Beverley Hills with his parents, and his sister, Bill’s life should be a comfortable one, yet he is riddled with paranoia. Bill often attends therapy with Dr. Cleveland, in these scenes we see that Bill clearly has some anxiety problems.
When Blanchard, his sister’s ex, comes to Bill, and tells him he has to talk to him, Bill is skeptical of it being anything important, that is until Blanchard plays a tape he has recorded for Bill. On the tape you hear Bill’s sister and parents talking at her coming out party. The dialog is all sexually, and the sounds on the tape make it sound like a violent orgy. When Bill takes the tape to Dr. Cleveland, it is played back for him the next day, with it sounding like a regular party. This scene showcases Bill’s fall in paranoia, and leaves the audience wondering if what’s happening is real or not.
The film works on several levels, one being Bill’s paranoia. The only reason that the paranoia aspect works at all, is thanks to the set up with Bill going through therapy, we’re uncertain as to how right in the head he is from the start. Funny thing is , all of these scenes weren’t in the script, they were added during production to strengthen the narrative.
Another level the film works on is body horror, a sub-genre of horror cinema, featuring such films as The Thing, and The Fly, body horror plays on the subversion of the flesh. Society is filled with many small moments, in which characters bodies, just seem and feel wrong. One of the weirdest, and hardest to watch moments in film, for me, comes in the first half hour or so, Bill sees his sister in the shower, yet her body is twisted around so that her upper half, is turned completely around. The scene was added to the film because Yuzna felt the film needed another shocking scene in the first half.
The characters in the film all seem like they could be real people, with the exception of a hair obsessed mute giant, who’s purpose in the film seems to be nothing more than to make the viewer believe this might turn into a slasher. All of the characters in the film were written based on real people that writer Woody Keith had grown up with. The acting is good across the board in this one, though it’s clear no one is winning any awards for it. The locations of the film also lend quite a bit of strength to the film, and the school in which Bill attends, is the actual school in which actor Billy Warlock has recently graduated from.
While the film is very gore light, the effects are a fucking masterpiece, and lead to some of the most disturbing moments captured on film. The end of the movie involves an act called ” The Shunting” and while I won’t explain what it entails, it is beautifully shot, and sickly twisted. Fans of the film ” Slither” will be in welcome territory here. While filming The Shunting, Yuzna purposely decided against the use of blood, hoping to avoid any backlash from the MPAA.
Society is a great movie, that captures the 80s vibe, while still showing something that, at the time, and for the most part still is, uniquely fresh. For a first time director, Brian Yuzna shows some serious skills, and helps to cement his place in history, and disgusting the viewer at the sametime. Check it out.
Score – B+
Gore – 10/10