05
Oct
14

Society (1989)

In keeping with the golly-gee-80’s-horror-movies-had-great-special-effects theme, Day 5 of 31 Days of Horror continues with Brian Yuzna’s directorial debut, Society. Usually when I hear Yuzna’s name, I cringe just a little bit. I haven’t seen too much of his stuff, and judging by the internet’s opinion, what I have seen is not the good stuff. The Dentist comes to mind as one big fat mistake. But hey, we all make mistakes, and everyone deserves a second (third, fourth) chance, right?
The perfect Beverly Hills family

The perfect Beverly Hills family

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a rich teen living in Beverly Hills, but he’s always had the sense that he doesn’t quite belong there – not amongst his friends, and especially not his family. The older he gets, the more he starts to believe that he’s adopted. His parents seem to have a special affinity with his sister Jenny that they just don’t share with him. Right around the time of Jenny’s coming-out party, the situation seems to come to a head. His shrink doesn’t really have much advice to offer him, except to pump him full of drugs and tell him that he’s paranoid. All that paranoia starts to gel when a friend of his takes a tape recording of his family, where they say some very strange and shocking things to one another, alluding to family orgies and cannibalism! But when Bill plays the tape for his therapist, it just sounds like a normal, wholesome family conversation about how sad everyone is Bill can’t make Jenny’s party. Either there’s an intricate conspiracy going on or young Bill is losing his mind!

Hell-bent on discovering the truth, Bill charges home unexpectedly only to find his family involved in some very outrageous behavior. This movie has one of the most surprising and bizarre endings I’ve ever seen. I didn’t know too much about what to expect when I started watching it, so its desire to shock worked 100% on me. What starts off as a pretty normal teen coming-of-age movie ends with one of the most gloriously gooey and disgusting scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I don’t want to spoil too much, but if you are sensitive to viscous fluids you might want to keep a blindfold handy. 
Mama's got a brand new hand

Mama’s got a brand new hand

It’s difficult to continue writing about Society without giving away some of its best secrets, so if you haven’t seen it and you like surprises, read no further. What Bill finds at this party is all of Beverly Hills’ most elite nouveau riche preparing to dine upon the lower classes, literally sucking the life out of the poor. Screaming Mad George’s special effects are a sight to behold; something like twenty minutes of pure gross-out slimy excess that makes the whole film worth watching (because admittedly, the first half of the film seems to drag a bit). Turns out his parents aren’t his parents at all, and that Bill was reared from childhood to serve as a special feast for the rich. Comparisons to John Carpenter’s They Live are not unfounded; it’s basically the same message, only here the rich are simply a different, superior species than you and me instead of aliens! 

It probably comes as no surprise to those of you acquainted with my politics that I loved the ending. Just like They Live, the film’s commentary on life in Reagan’s America is just as relevant today; perhaps even more so. We live in a

I'm glad she's not *my* sister

I’m glad she’s not *my* sister

time where corporations merge and grow to gargantuan, powerful proportions, paying their CEOs 300 times what they pay the automatons that work on the bottom rung. The idea that behind closed doors these privileged assholes literally feast on our flesh is depressing and hilarious at the same time. I think that particularly is what I like so much about its presentation: it is so gloriously excessive that we can’t help but laugh, even if the meaning behind it is painfully true. 

Though the special effects are awesome, the rest of the movie is weighed down by its inherent b-ness; the acting leaves something to be desired, the pacing is a bit frustrating and the soundtrack is noticeably shitty – in fact, I think a new score would improve this movie a whole bunch. But the film’s ultimate message and special effects make up for all of this. Another aspect I really liked about this movie is that it is a coming-of-age film from a boy’s perspective. For some reason, it seems all the coming-of-age stuff I’ve seen in the last few years revolves around girls and their first period, so a boy finding out he was born into a family of flesh-eaters is refreshing, to say the least. 
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