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The Rich Are Different -- Way Different -- in 'Society'

This movie has scenes that can never be unseen.


Director: Brian Yuzna
Cast: Billy Warlock
Distributor: Arrow Films
Year: 1989
Release date: 2015-06-09

Kids, there was a time when your dads (but probably not your moms) wandered the aisles of video stores looking for tapes (remember when we talked about tapes? and video stores?) to sate their quest for offbeat treasures. The sections for horror, sci-fi, and action could yield nuggets if you checked every unfamiliar direct-to-video box.

It was around 1992 that many of us felt a spidey-tingle when we picked up a box with an elegant black design that said the director was Brian Yuzna, the producer of Re-Animator. That had been a cult hit in theatres that grossed everybody out. What was he doing now that we hadn't heard of? Not only wasn't it hitting theatres (or not many), it turned out he'd made it in 1989 and it sat of the shelf.

That movie was Society, a film with scenes that could never be unseen. So grotesque and extreme were they, of an imagination so beyond the safety zone and so gosh-darn squishy that it seemed like a literally head-spinning breakthrough in imaginative effects -- all the more concrete for being before CGI. The oozing on the cake was the blunt social "message" that the rich are different. Oh boy, are they.

The hero is Bill (Billy Warlock), an alienated teenager par excellence, although he's from a posh Beverly Hills family that knows all the right people and he consults his own shrink. He suspects that he might be adopted, and he has special concerns when he listens to a disturbing tape of his sister's "coming out" party. We can imply the narrative path by quoting the headline of Variety's short, blunt, beside-the-point yet in its way accurate dismissal: "Society is an extremely pretentious, obnoxious horror film that unsuccessfully attempts to introduce kinky sexual elements into extravagant makeup effects." I would especially question "unsuccessfully".

I don't think it's just for nostalgic reasons that the movie holds up charmingly, and that its satirical message is at least as "relevant" as ever. It's now on a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Arrow Films, with Yuzna's commentary, some cast interviews, and a look at the effects by Screaming Mad George (that's how he's credited). Yes, we do commend it to those of you who recognize that Variety's review sounds right up your alley, and you don't have to search as hard to find it as we once did back in the day.


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