Society (1989)


Here is a crazy, ambitious, and underrated film that mixed the paranoid thriller and body horror genres with a 1980s teen comedy.  It was Brian Yuzna’s (The Dentist, Return of the Living Dead 3, Bride of and Beyond Re-Animator) first film as director, and definitely one of his best.

It starts off as a typical ’80s screwball teen movie- Bill (Billy Warlock, son of Dick Warlock who played Michael Myers in Halloween II) is a typical Beverly Hills teen- he comes from a rich family, and is popular at school, but is seeing a therapist because he feels paranoid and alienated from his family.  He has a standard issue blonde cheerleader girlfriend (played by the girl who Jason kills by dragging under the water in Friday the 13th Part 7), and a typical goofy ’80s best friend, but he feels something is not right with his parents and sister.

When his sister’s jilted boyfriend brings him proof of some twisted, underground weirdness (of the type most normal people imagine decadent rich people do behind closed doors), he begins to suspect that there’s some creepy, foul secrets his family is involved in and keeping from him.  By the end he finds out that there’s much more to it than just a bunch of rich perverts, and most of the influential people in Beverly Hills (and most everyone he knows) is in on it.  It turns out he wasn’t paranoid enough, and by the time it reaches it’s grotesque denouement, the movie has transformed from a coming-of-age teen movie into a full on horror film (tho still a bit screwball) that’s more than a little fucked up.

Yuzna keeps the humor going all the way to the end, and unfortunately some of it is goofy and full of bad puns (another ’80s staple). This makes the horror less effective, but it’s still got enough twisted humor to keep the mood black overall.  The effects are insane, and tho the body count is quite low, it’s still worth watching just for how fucked up it gets.  The first two thirds of the movie, tho mostly a teen comedy, still has a darker edge- like a teen comedy with some weird stuff going on, slowly building from the subtle to in-your-face insanity.  I once saw it described as “Lovecraft as filmed by John Waters”, and tho it’s not quite THAT cool, it still kind of fits.  The effects by Screaming Mad George (of excellent late ’70s punk band THE MAD, who has a very recognizable and bizarre style of twisted latex and slime) are somewhat cartoonish, but that just enhances the freak show.

The social commentary is quite loud and clear, and just a bit heavy handed, but certainly not outdated considering the plutocracy we live in these days.
What’s not so timely is the fashions, hair styles, and setting- this movie is as ’80s as it can get.  This might be a joy for some, and a detriment to others.  It’s also lacking in nudity for a screwball ’80s teen movie (there is just a tiny bit.  That’s an observation, not a criticism.  This movie is plenty entertaining without it).

You cannot defeat the mullet!

You cannot defeat the mullet!

We’d definitely recommend it to anyone into body horror, ’80s teen comedys, freak shows, and grotesqueries in general.  I first saw it by tape trading in 1990 or so (it was released in Europe in 1989, but not in the US until 1992).  Movies like James Gunn’s Slither owe a lot to it, so if you like that a double feature might be in order.