After producing Stuart Gordon’s hit Re-Animator, Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead III) turned his hand to directing with 1989’s Society, and gave birth to one of the ickiest, most original body horror shockers of all time.
Teenager Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) has always felt like the odd one out in his wealthy, upper-class Beverly Hills family. For some reason, he just doesn’t seem to fit in. But his sense of alienation takes a sinister turn when he hears an audio recording of his sister’s coming-out party, which seems to implicate his family and others in a bizarre, ritualistic orgy. And then there are the strange things he’s been seeing – glimpses of people with their bodies contorted impossibly out of shape… Is Bill going mad or is there something seriously amiss in his neighbourhood?
Packing stomach-churning gore and thought-provoking social commentary in equal measure, Society is a biting horror satire which culminates in one of the most gag inducing “climaxes”’ in all of horror history.
If the twisted love child of David Lynch and John Waters by way of an affair with David Cronenberg had directed ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ the result would surely have been ‘Society’, Brian Yuzna’s 1989 debut feature. Yuzna’s satire on the elite of Beverly Hills, in which Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) suspects that his family may not be who he thinks they are, is as relevant today as it was when it was made. Yuzna’s vision of the morally corrupt rich who think that they are above everybody and their actions are without consequence rings even truer in 2015 than it did in 1989. In ‘Society’ if you have money you have class and style (an even more absurd theory when you see the 80s fashion and hairstyles on display in an era in which the amount of hairspray used surely contributed to climate problems to come!)
‘Society’ takes the route of satire and horror to offer an opinion of a Reagan era America in which the rich ‘have always fed on the poor’, an era of the myth of trickle down economics and hatred of Democratic politics. The Beverly Hills of the film is an exaggeration, but not that far from the real thing, the City now richer than ever and as removed from the rest of Los Angeles as it always was. Yuzna saw Stuart Gordon’s approach to storytelling when he produced Gordon’s 1985 cult hit “Re-Animator” and ran with it in his own filmmaking, pitching “Society” away from the standard horror films of the day, aiming for a more surreal and absurdist form. The characters are comic variations of the spoilt and privileged that exist in the bubble of LA’s richest city, where the police are unforgiving no matter who you are. It was the perfect setting for Yuzna’s commentary on the America he saw as being “cash equals class”. The infamous final orgy and “shunting” scene is a gory, hilarious parody of 80s consumerism, one that outraged conservative America regarding the sexual aspects rather than the horror side, but was understood by European audiences and marked the beginning of a cult following that remains today.
In “Freaks”, “Island of Lost Souls”, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, and others it was the poor and disadvantaged that were shown as the grotesques in the eyes of the ruling classes. In “Society”, it is the rich and advantaged that are the monsters. “Only the poor get poorer, we feed off them all the same”.
“Society” remains witty and fun to watch, a healthy mixture of trash and satire that’s as surreal and relevant now as it was when it came out. Yuzna admits that he wasn’t experienced when he made the project, but his open mindedness to ideas during production resulted in a genuinely original film.
“Society” has received a 2K transfer using the best available video and audio elements, solid cleaning and repair, and the print is looking vivid and fresh, whilst there remains a nice sense of grain and no signs of damage or macro blocking. The film is looking good and should please fans and newcomers alike.
The special features are extensive, with many highlights including a fascinating audio commentary with director Brian Yuzna; a new interview with Yuzna discussing the making of the film, his surrealist influences and public reaction to the film on its release; new interviews with the cast looking back on how they became involved with the film and their memories of the production; and new interviews with the FX creators.
- Newly remastered 2K digital transfer of the film, approved by director Brian Yuzna
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
- Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Brand new audio commentary by Yuzna
- Governor of Society – a brand new interview with Yuzna
- The Masters of the Hunt – a brand new featurette including interviews with stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell
- The Champion of the Shunt – new featurette with FX artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson
- 2014 Q&A with Yuzna, recorded at Celluloid Screams Festival
- Brian Yuzna in conversation backstage at the Society world premiere
- ‘Persecution Mania’ – Screaming Mad George music video
- Limited Edition Digipak packaging featuring newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
- Society: Party Animal [Limited Edition Exclusive] – the official comic sequel to Society, reproduced in its entirety in a perfect-bound book
This review originally appeared on Haddonfield Horror: