The buzzword of the 21st century—economic inequality!
I wish to God I never heard of it, and I wish to Christ I wasn’t living it.
There are two really good B-movies that approach this topic with gusto, both were made back in the late 80s, and both were ahead of their time. That’s not to say there wasn’t economic inequality back in the 80s. Sure there was. What I’m saying is in the 21st century it’s only gotten infinitely worse. So worse that you can no longer work your way up a class. The only way to do that nowadays is if you win a lottery or have a rich relative bequeath all their money to you. But’s easy all hell to drop down a class.
We all know the rich are different from the rest of us, but in John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) and Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989) that “difference” is taken to the ultimate level. In They Live they’re aliens, in Society the origins are a lot foggier, but no less extraordinary and frightening. At one point our “hero” even theorizes “alien scum” and the “creature” looking back at him denies this, but offers no alternative. That feels very Lovecraftian. The “rich” in Society look exactly like any other human but at their core they’re a kind of shape-shifter. They don’t go around shifting into other people, no, their shifting is indeed much more “Lovecraftian.” They appear to have no bones; no internal organs like the rest of us; they can assume bodily poses even the most adept contortionist would envy, and can merge their bodies with others of their kind, and can “devour” an ordinary being is this manner as well. Sex seems to be high on their list and they’re very incestuous.
Society is told through the eyes of teenager, Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock), and his story, for we the viewers, starts in high school, somewhere around junior or senior high, I figure. He appears to have been born into wealth, but he routinely sees a psychiatrist because he feels something isn’t right with his parents and his life. They don’t interact with him like they do with his sister, Jenny (Patrice Jennings), they’re very cold and uncaring when it comes to his life and his friends. He even tells his psychiatrist he doesn’t even look like them, making him think he may have been adopted. And speaking of incest, he already has a suspicion they’re have “incestuous leanings” towards Jenny.
It’s Jenny’s ex-boyfriend, Blanchard (Tim Bartell), that really gets the skinny on how unlike Bill’s parents are from him and perhaps just about any other normal person. Jenny has a coming out party to attend and Blanchard bugged their car and the conversation he recorded is bizarre, utterly perplexing and at the end quite horrifying. What I really enjoyed about this flick is it’s constructed as a mystery, and one that’s full of dread. I remember when I first saw it on cable back in the day and I really could feel the dread Billy’s character feels, that something terrible is happening, but he just can’t put his finger on what it is, nor could he ever, and that something infinitely more terrible might be heading his way. This dread all culminates in the final scene, where we get to see how bizarre and “alien” the rich truly are. They have a ceremony they call, the shunting, where they take a low class citizen and gang up on him in this orgy-like gathering, but instead of straight sex, they merge their bodies with him, and each other, to the point where the room is full of nothing more than bizarre shapes of undulating, blobbish matter. The victim is essentially absorbed, with only minute traces of him left on the bodies of the rich.
The methodology to this ritual is the raising of a lower class citizen as one of their own and then sacrificing him in a shunt, sacrificing to ‘society’. This has been Bill’s destiny since birth, we never know who his real parents were, but in the end at least all his fears get validated.
Despite the grim nature of the plot there is a happy ending. Bill escapes with his best friend, Milo (Evan Richards), and Clarissa Carlyn (Devin DeVasquez), a rich girl, who actually ends up caring for him.
Aside from Baywatcher, Billy Warlock, there are three other faces in Society other B-movie fans would recognize: Brian Bremmer, Heidi Kozak and the aforementioned Devin DeVasquez. Bremmer played Bunt in Pumpkinhead (1988), Kozak was in Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) and Friday The 13th, Part VII: Thew New Blood (1988) and Devin was in House II: The Second Story (1987).
I first heard of this flick through what else Fangoria magazine (issues #87 & #118) where Screaming Mad George’s FX for it was prominently featured in #87. Let’s just say this is a movie you tend to not forget once you get any kind of slight taste of it. Looking at some of the trivia for this movie on IMDB, one of the facts states it was completed in 1989 but not getting any kind of release until 1992. Yes, I seem to remember hearing about it in Fangoria then a long period of time before I actually saw it on cable.
The movie was previously available on DVD in 2002 through Anchor Bay and then they re-released a year later as a double feature paired with Spontaneous Combustion (1989). Society is one of those fan favorites that has taken a long time to reach blu-ray and shockingly it finally does through UK distributor Arrow Video. Just in time too for until this year you could only get Arrow titles from the UK, but they recently created a US branch and as luck would have it managed to get Yuzna’s film for a limited edition DVD/blu-ray release here in the states., which happened this past June 8th. You can still purchase the UK version, which is identical, in case there are any overseas residents reading this review.
Also keep in mind even though this review is solely for the Limited Edition, Arrow plans to re-release it in September in a more conventional set with the same extras but without the digipak box and the included comic book.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.78:1 high definition widescreen—English 2.0 LPCM (stereo)—English SDH
The transfer for this blu-ray is amazing. Colors pop and clarity is fine enough to make out individual beads of sweat, and some choice camel toe on Bill’s girlfriend, Shauna (Heidi Kozak), in her itty-bitty bikini as they lounge on the beach.
- New audio commentary by director Brian Yuzna, moderated by David Gregory
- Governor of Society (16:52)
- Masters of the Hunt (22:22)
- Champion of the Shunt (20:39)
- Brian Yuzna Q&A (38:34)
- Brian Yuzna – Society Premiere (1:56)
- Screaming Mad George Music Video, “Persecution Mania” (6:09)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Arrow does booklets (a lost art now among DVD releases except for Criterion) and this one has an essay by film critic Alan Jones
- Society: Party Animal (Limited Edition Exclusive)
These extras do not disappoint. My only gripe . . . I wish there was a cast commentary included. Speaking of commentaries, this is not the ported over one Yuzna did for the 2002 release. It’s brand new and features a moderator. You’ll learn lots of things but these three stood out for: This was Yuzna’s directorial debut; Billy Warlock’s father is stuntman, Dick Warlock; Devin DeVasquez was dating Sylvester Stallone when she did this movie.
Governor Of Society is all about Brian Yuzna, briefly how he got into movies and how he transitioned from producer to director. Some of this stuff is mentioned briefly in the commentary most of what he says is new though, like his talk of The Men and how that movie fell through and how it segued him right into Society. A few years ago there was even news on the web about how he and Stuart Gordon were going to make The Men. Here he talks about it’s origins.
Masters Of The Hunt interviews actors Billy Warlock, Tim Bartell, Devin DeVasquez and Ben Meyerson. Meyerson I failed to mention earlier but he plays Warlock’s more direct nemesis, a rich high schooler who at the very end accepts Warlock’s challenge after the shunt to a fight to the death. They all share they experiences making the flick and all agree it’s one weird ass film. Devin contradicts what Yuzna says in the commentary that she was more comfortable with the sex scene than Warlock was.
Champion Of The Shunt belongs to Screaming Mad George. A nice interview where he discusses his influences, shares some behind-the-scenesphotos when they built a lot of the FX and shares the spotlight with two technicians he worked with during the shoot. He also shares his mind-blowing art at the end. Very impressed with the “optical illusion.”
Brian Yuzna Q&A/Brian Yuzna—Society Premiere, the latter is really short and dated 1989. There he philosophizes about horror in general. The former is a Q&A from a 2014 UK film festival. The most pertinent info in that one is the sequel; he talks about the plot and that he’s been in the process of trying to secure financing.
Lastly, you get a nice booklet, a reproduction of the poster and a reproduction of the 2003 comic book, Society: Party Animal, which Wikipedia states is an official sequel to the movie. I’ve never been personally big on movies that get sequels done in either novel or comic book form. It’s got great artwork though and don’t get me wrong it’s a nice addition to this limited edition, but an official sequel to any movie is another movie.
(Note: As of this review this limited edition is either very, very close to going out of print, since only 3000 units were pressed, or is already out of print. On Arrow Video’s Facebook page a week ago they started it was close to going out of print, while a poster on my page told me it already was. Regardless, it’s still available to buy on Amazon, so if you want it get it now. It’s replacement is already slated for a September release and will include more conventional disc packaging (no digipak) and will not include the comic book).