When I was a kid, I watched any and all horror movies that I could get my hands on. My best friend’s mother had a handwritten note filed at the local video store that despite our age, we had carte blanche for whatever we wanted to rent, so he and I would scour the Horror section and rent anything and everything that looked like it had copious amounts of gore and naked lady boobs. That was kind of our barometer for what was good; buckets of blood and boobs equaled two thumbs up. VHS box art was also something that was integral to the process of choosing just the right movie to add to the stack for our weekly consumption. So many classic horror movies had amazing box art that made the best of the best jump off of the shelves and made the experience of renting movies during that time so unique. Pre-internet, that’s all we had to go by…unless your local book store carried FANGORIA MAGAZINE. Discovering Fangoria magazine was a pinnacle moment in my history with horror, because all of a sudden there was this source of inspiration for not only what to consume (view), but it inspired so much artwork and imagination.
One video that I had walked past a thousand times at the video store was a film called Society. The box art really did nothing to excite me, when compared to covers like Dead Alive or Chopping Mall. It just featured a guy in a tuxedo and a lady sort of pulling her face off.
Sure, she was busty and wearing a low-necked dress, but there wasn’t really enough going there for me to ever turn the box over and see stills of one of the weirdest, grossest, campiest, and craziest films I had ever seen. Luckily, though, Fangoria did a little feature on Society, and specifically the special effects artistry of its director of special effects “Screaming Mad George”.
As soon as I saw the stills from this movie, I knew I had to see it. They kept referring to his piece de resistance in the film, The Shunting, as something that must be seen. So my best friend and I tossed it in with a stack of that week’s crop of horror films. Now, I don’t know if it didn’t stand out at the time because we had rented so many other films, or because maybe we chose to watch it so late at night that we both sort of fell asleep while watching it. Either way, as a kid, I only saw the movie once and had very little memory of it. I don’t think I made it to the end of the movie, which admittedly is a requirement of having any appreciation for this film.
To be honest, I completely forgot about this movie. For years, I just plain forgot that it existed. When you devour as much content as I did at that impressionable age, sometimes what you see gets mixed up in your pubescent mind and maybe pieces of something remain, but the source gets sort of lost. That was the case with this film. There is a specific part that stuck with me which features a girl that has her boobs and butt both on the front of her body.
I’m sure you can understand why that part in particular stuck with me. But literally nothing else. After a while, I couldn’t even be sure that I actually saw that in a movie, or if it was something I dreamt of (really, not out of the question).
Then, about two years ago, I happened upon a scene from Society in some compilation video of gore effects that I found on YouTube. Instantly I was like “ERMAGHERD…THIS MOVIE IS REAL” and I sought it out. To my surprise, the movie is available in full and in a completely watchable resolution on Youtube.
I rewatched the film, this time in full, and really got to fully appreciate what a crazy piece of late 80’s horror film making this is.
Now, since then, I’ve had the opportunity to watch it a few more times and I have to say that I seem to appreciate it a little more each time I watch it. I keep making other people watch it. For some reason it seems relatively unknown, so I get to experience so many people’s first viewings of it by subjecting them to a viewing.
As far as plot goes, this movie stars Billy Warlock (of Baywatch fame! Also, I totally bet that’s his birth name!) as Billy, because he’d get confused during filming if you called him by another name. Billy is the son of a rich family and he’s really good at basketball because one time we see him dunk a basketball, he wears basketball shorts and shoes and a letterman jacket a lot, and his license plate on his goddamn silver spoon jeep wrangler says HOOPS.
He’s also very distracted by sexy brunettes that are not his girlfriend. I’m not going to call the girl he hooks up with a slut, because that type of language is frowned upon in our current cultural climate, but I will just make an innocuous observation that she gets him out of his clothes, bangs him, and then offers to pee in his tea. Girl, getchors. I ain’t here to judge.
Billy is seeing a psychiatrist because he’s paranoid that his family is having a weird incestuous relationship (they are) and he’s constantly having weird paranoid delusions (But are they just delusions?….They’re not). He mostly just feels like he doesn’t belong. He doesn’t belong in his family, he doesn’t belong in this society. Society, you guys. Society. Oh, and the high society members of his community are really feeding on the poor people. And not even figuratively. I’m sure this film is a figurative indictment on how our society marginalizes the poor, and how our rich are like royalty, but what I’m saying is that the rich are literally consuming the poor in this movie. But not before they have a bunch of weird slimy slug-style orgy sex first!
Oh, and just in case I didn’t make it clear already, when you’re a member of society, you totally bang your parents. Doesn’t that sound fun?!
This film is chock full of scenes that will make you uncomfortable and never want to hug your mother or father ever again. The first two thirds of the movie is a paranoid mystery leading up to some pretty crazy third act special effects wizardry. It’s gross, and crazy, and stupid, and funny, and bizarre. “Screaming Mad George” creates some really fun special effects makeup and set pieces for the climax of the film that needs to be seen to be believed. This film has made me seek out more of his work, because it’s pretty bananas. If you’re not at work and want to see a particularly over the top (even more over the top than his work in Society) scene, check this out. He’s screaming mad, y’all.
Overall, I’d say this movie is worth viewing, and worth having repeat viewings. It’s a bizarre little piece of 80’s cinema that takes a poke at American culture (or…SOCIETY) maybe not quite as effectively as something like John Carpenter’s They Live, which came out the year before. It also dips its toe into the idea/genre of “Body Horror”, but maybe not quite as effectively as something like Cronenberg’s VideoDrome or The Fly. It doesn’t stack up against my favorite horror films of the 1980’s, but I take great pleasure in sharing it with people simply because of how bizarre it is.
Also, for a fun drinking game, take a shot everytime someone in this movie says the word “Society”. Also, take a shot for every time I said it in this review. Then, check yourself into the hospital.
If you don’t want to sit through the entire film, and honestly I wouldn’t blame you, I can direct you to the most notable parts of the movie.
14:09 – The only part that stuck with me from childhood. Boobs and butt on the front. Of his sister. *sigh*
21:36 – Billy getting to listen to an audio recording of his parents and sister and some dude have an orgy. *sigh*
39:00 – Billy gets some strange. And by strange, I mean that he has a post coital delusion that her body is all twisted up…OR IS IT A DELUSION?! (It’s not).
42:09 – “Sex positive term for the brunette Billy bangs” offers something extra for his post-coital tea (That’s a thing, right? Well, I guess in SOCIETY, maybe..)
45:52 – DEAR LORD, WHAT DID I WALK IN ON. *eyebleach*
1:17:12 – “The Shunting” scene begins. This is where “Screaming Mad George” throws it all out there and things get really bizarre and gross and really make you question what you’re watching and what you’ve done with your life and why you do this to yourself.
1:23:58 – If walking in on his parents and sister earlier made you uncomfortable, this is exponentially worse, and so stupid, and so great. *sigh*
1:31:48 – My favorite part of the movie. This kill is so great, and gross, and stupid, and goddammit I love it.
If you’re a big enough fan that watching these highlights of the film just isn’t enough for you, you’ll be delighted to learn the film had a Blu-ray rerelease this year and it’s got piles of special features, plus a comic book that is a direct sequel to the film.
SPECIAL FEATURES LIST:
- 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
So, there you have it. Society.
Matty Field is a standup comedian that performs throughout Wisconsin and Illinois. He enjoys snuggles, tummy rubs, and dumb movies.