By Dr. Zaius
Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 at 12:00 pm
Society Shudder Streaming
Directed by Brian Yuzna
Written by Rick Fry, Woody Keith
Starring Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson
Society Productions Inc. | Wild Street Pictures
Rated R | 99 Minutes
Original US Release Date: June 11th, 1992 (completed in 1989)
“Didn’t you know Billy boy… the rich have always sucked off low-class sh*t like you!”
In the video store days I acquired my passion for horror movies by studying each and every VHS box. Some showed gross-out imagery, and would go on to join the notorious Video Nasties. Then, after the conversion to DVD and now Blu-ray and of course, online streaming, some films seemed lost forever in the abyss. One of the those was Society, the directorial debut of Brian Yuzna, who was an assistant director and producer of cult favorite Re-Animator (1985). He would work with director Stuart Gordon again as a producer on From Beyond (1986). Gordon and Yuzna specialized in “body horror”, a subgenre of horror that focuses on the graphic destruction and dismantling of the human form. If you’re struggling with that definition, think the films of David Cronenberg, especially The Fly (1986), and Videodrome (1983). In other words, these films usually are filled with grotesque scenes of graphic bodily mutations and mutilations.
More below for Society:
Society is a lost classic of the genre. I only first heard of this film a few years ago cruising YouTube and watching Watchmojo lists. It also comes up on random lists of “grossest movie scenes” and “most disgusting horror movies.” I was sold from the get go. So imagine my surprise when streaming horror channel Shudder, added it to its collection this past weekend.
Society at its core is about paranoia. Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a member of a rich Beverly Hills family, but he doesn’t fit in. Sure he drives a cool car and dates the hot girl, but he still feels like an outsider, so much so that he tells his therapist he thinks he’s adopted. There’s an aura of incestuousness amongst his sister and parents, one that’s corroborated by his friend Blanchard (Tim Bartell), with an audio tape that hears his family in some salacious situations. Disgusted Bill tries to figure out the truth, and just seems to dig himself into a deeper hole. The tension is palpable, and the building paranoia is reminiscent of classics like Rosemary’s Baby, which Yuzna credits as one of his influences.
Everything over the first 70 minutes builds towards the infamous climax. Each scene gets more and more uncomfortable to watch, even when Playboy Playmate Devin DeVasquez graces the screen as Bill’s love interest Clarissa. And just when things couldn’t get anymore strange, we come to the climactic “shunting” scene and… oh my lord… I will not spoil it, but be sure you have a strong stomach. It ranks very high on the all-time body horror scenes, and certainly warrants the film its grotesque reputation.
I find it particularly amusing as a history teacher by day, that I finally see Society at a time where rich vs. poor politics is at an all-time high. Billionaire businessman Donald Trump is running for President as a Republican, and his Democratic opponent is likely Hillary Clinton who many feel represents Wall Street. That leaves Bernie Sanders as Bill Whitney facing the evil wealth of Society. Whether or not Brian Yuzna and friends were making true social commentary or not is insignificant. What they succeeded in doing was creating a truly original, disgustingly perverse piece of body horror, that fits very nicely alongside the Cronenberg classics. The finale definitely served as an inspiration for future films like James Gunn’s underrated pre-Guardians gem, Slither (2006).
Shudder is available online, and on Roku devices. They offer a 7-day free trial and a $4.99 monthly subscription fee. If you’re a big time horror fan, it’s well worth it, as they have a bevy of horror films unavailable on other services including mainstream hits, lost classics, and oddball collections.