Blu-ray Review – Society (1989)

Cover art for the 2015 Arrow Films Blu-ray release of Society

Genre: Horror
Certificate: 18
UK Release Date: 8th June 2015
Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Brian Yuzna
Writer: Woody Keith, Rick Fry
Starring: Billy Warlock, Patrice Jennings, Devin DeVasquez, Charles Lucia, Connie Danese, Ben Meyerson, Tim Bartell, Evan Richards, Ben Slack
Synopsis: A rich Beverly Hills teen distrusts his family, convinced there’s something inhuman about them.

 

 

In the 1980s, body horror was big business. David Cronenberg had spent the UK building a movement with iconic works of icky cinema, from Videodrome to The Fly. Against this backdrop, Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna made a deeply bizarre, bitingly satirical splash in the genre with Society – which positions the upper classes as a flesh-eating cult.

Society received a much better reaction in Britain than it did in America and it now arrives on Blu-ray in the UK courtesy of Arrow Films.

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a Beverly Hills kid, pampered by his parents and loved by his attractive sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings). However, he can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t quite fit in, regularly discussing his issues with therapist Dr Cleveland (Ben Slack). When local oddball Blanchard (Tim Bartell) presents evidence that Billy’s family may have sordid, violent hobbies, he decides to investigate further, whilst dealing with the advances of mysterious young woman Clarissa (Devin DeVasquez).

| "Is it really that boring being rich? I guess you’re just naturally fucked up."

From the earliest moments of Society, director Brian Yuzna conjures up an atmosphere of foreboding. Apples spew maggots and women’s bodies contort into unnatural shapes. Yuzna’s eye for the macabre, combined with striking, Dali-inspired, practical effects work from Japanese artist and musician Screaming Mad George. Before anything obviously untoward happens – certainly before the meaning of the word “shunting” is revealed – Society is working its way into your mind.

The performances, too, seem slightly off-key. It comes off as if Society is a film populated by people desperately trying to appear human, despite the fact they aren’t like everyone else. That’s something that feels even more prescient today, given the self-conscious efforts of Old Etonian politicians to fit in with the general public. When the film concludes with what seems like a victory for the proletariat, it’s chilling how quickly the cult of wealth simply moves along with business as usual.

Perhaps it’s that aspect of the film that helped it to resonate with UK audiences and critics, who were far kinder to the film than their dismissive American counterparts. British society has class as a concept ingrained deep within it, so this portrait of the privileged few as literal predators feeding on the less wealthy is an appealing one. Den of Geek compared the film to Jonathan Swift’s seminal satirical essay A Modest Proposal.

| "If you have any Oedipal fantasies you’d like to indulge in, Billy, now’s the time."

Outside of its satire, however, Society finds its heart in the third act “shunting” sequence, in which the cult of the privileged devour their poor victims, moulding and contorting their flesh. It’s a rampant, energetic assault, pregnant with hideous overtones of sexual violence, that is a genuinely chilling payoff for the slow burning first half.

For all of its satirical context, Society works simply as a jolt of grisly energy. It’s either vigorous social commentary or a shot of pure human brutality. Either way, it’s something utterly unique.

 

Special Features

Extras are light on critical analysis of Society, but director Brian Yuzna is a persistent and intriguing presence. There’s a brand new commentary from Yuzna, a 2014 Q&A and an interview with him from the film’s world premiere. Alongside this, there are three brand new featurettes focusing on Yuzna, the cast and Screaming Mad George’s special effects work.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Society marries the best of the 1980s body horror boom with some incredibly incisive social commentary that only feels more relevant today.

The practical effects are delightfully gruesome and the film’s off-kilter world is an unsettling treat. There’s enough invention here to mask many of the film’s cinematic flaws.

It’s a little creaky and very rough around the edges, but this is cult horror at its absolute best.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

Society is available on Blu-ray from today courtesy of Arrow Films.

One thought on “Blu-ray Review – Society (1989)

  • 08/06/2015 at 11:18
    Permalink

    It has been many years since I watched this. I seem to remember it being screened on terrestrial TV back in the day; some kind of late night BBC2 cult corner thing. I really must track it down again. Thank you for reminding me.

    Reply

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