Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon acolyte, producer of From Beyond, Re- Animator (and its sequels), all-round 80’s Indy horror maestro, delivered one of his most startling projects in his directorial debut Society. A cult classic now, Society finds its way into midnight screenings and festival line-ups every year, its continual appeal fed by the immortality of its message and the strength of its practical effects.Interestingly, Society’s opening shots mimic the opening of John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece Halloween. But Society is more concerned with the wide spread evil lurking in the higher classes, than a one-off iteration of evil. When Bill (Billy Warlock- Halloween 2) picks up the knife, like young Michael Myers did, it’s to protect himself from his family, not slay them in the night. It’s a great opening to a hilariously paranoid venture, but also a nice update of where we are on cultural anxiety eleven years later. From there, Bill navigates a tangled web of secrecy, bizarre family antics, slugs, and one bedazzling femme fatale in the form of Devin De Vasquez.
Yuzna’s got a lot on his mind in Society, and it really shows. Sure, the film is a one loop rollercoaster, saving all its demented energy for its horrifying, charmingly-foul finale, but the film only works because it bothers to craft a keen pastiche of 80’s teen comedy. Wearing John Hughes like some kind of skin-suit Yuzna designs a world we’ve watched through countless films: jocks and locker rooms, sunny suburban high-class life, promising escapades from soon-to-be Yuppies, its disgustingly white-upper-middle-class. Yuzna has clear distaste for the merry-go-round of American teenage excess but more specifically the system that prises classes apart and holds them at bay. Throughout Society there’s a sense of danger and oddity infused with the inherent power of well-to-do people.
A controversial feature, Society was shelved for 3 years, proving a bitter pill for American audiences. Even after 25 years the effects are incredible, and clearly one of the main reasons for the film’s difficult beginnings. Screaming Mad George’s (Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Big Trouble in Little China) disgusting effects infuse Cronenbergian terror with a seedy discourse on the bonds of family under high-society. It’s one of the most memorable body horror sequences ever devised and certainly on of the most uncomfortably gleeful.
Yuzna’s directorial debut is a really special film so perhaps it’s best that the planned sequel was abandoned and the ending left somewhat unresolved. Society is a one of a kind cult conspiracy body-horror venture, like an uber 80’s version of The Wicker Man. The Arrow films re-release is a great way to revisit, or introduce yourself to, Yuzna’s wonderfully nuts class parable.
Has the trappings of an 80s teen comedy mixed with a whole charade of macabre undertones; incest, murder, the suburban nightmare, and slugs. Society is a prime example of fun, silly, but wholly disgraceful horror. A must see.