Film poster for Society.
|Directed by||Brian Yuzna|
|Produced by||Keith Walley|
|Edited by||Peter Teshner|
|Distributed by||Wild Street Pictures|
Society is a 1989 American horror film directed by Brian Yuzna. Though the film was completed in 1989, it was not released in the United States until 1992. It was Yuzna's directorial debut and was written by Rick Fry and Woody Keith. The film stars Billy Warlock as Bill Whitney, Devin DeVasquez as Clarissa Carlyn, Evan Richards as Milo and Ben Meyerson as Ferguson. Screaming Mad George was responsible for the special effects.
A sequel, Society 2: Body Modification, was in development, with a script written by Stephan Biro.
Bill Whitney seems to have it all. His family is wealthy and he lives in a mansion in Beverly Hills, California. He's popular at his high school, looks to be a shoo-in for class president, has a cute cheerleader girlfriend and owns a new Jeep Wrangler to drive around in. Despite this, he feels as though he does not fit in with his family or their high-society friends. When his sister's ex-boyfriend Blanchard gives him a surreptitiously recorded tape of what sounds like his family engaged in a vile, murderous orgy, Bill begins to suspect that his feelings are justified.
Bill gives the tape to his therapist Dr. Cleveland to listen to. When he comes back for his appointment, Dr. Cleveland plays the tape back for Bill. The audio has now changed and now merely contains the sounds of his sister Jenny enjoying her coming out party. Bill insists that what he'd heard before was real and calls Blanchard to get another copy. When he arrives at their meeting place, Bill discovers an ambulance and police officers gathered around Blanchard's crashed van. A body is placed into the back of the ambulance, but Bill is prevented from seeing its face.
Bill attends a party hosted by his upper-class classmate Ferguson. There, Ferguson lasciviously confirms that the first audio tape Bill listened to—with the sounds of an orgy on it—was the real tape. Angry and confused, he leaves the party with Clarissa, a beautiful girl he'd been admiring. They have sex at her house and Bill meets Clarissa's bizarre, hair-loving mother.
Bill returns home the next day and confronts his parents and sister, who are all in the master bedroom dressed in lingerie. At Blanchard's funeral, Bill and his friend Milo discover that Blanchard's corpse either needed a lot of reconstructive work for display, or is not real. Bill is approached by Martin Petrie, his rival for the high school presidency, who says he must speak with Bill and agrees to a secret meeting. Bill discovers Petrie with his throat cut. He sees someone race off through the woods then runs off to get the police. When he returns with the cops, the car and the body are missing, with a different car in their place.
The next day at school, Petrie shows up, alive and well. When Bill arrives at home, he confronts his family again, but with Dr. Cleveland's help, they drug Bill. As Milo secretly trails him, Bill is taken to a hospital. Bill awakens in a hospital bed and thinks he hears Blanchard crying out, but discovers that nothing is there. He leaves the hospital and finds his Jeep waiting for him. Milo tries to warn him, but he drives back to his house.
Back home again, Bill finds a large, formal party. He is snared by the neck and Dr. Cleveland reveals all of the secrets he has been searching for. He is not really related to his family after all. In fact, his family and their high-society friends are actually a different species from Bill. To demonstrate, they bring in a still-living Blanchard. The wealthy party guests strip to their underwear and begin "shunting". The rich literally feed on the poor, physically deforming and melding with each other as they suck the nutrients out of Blanchard's body. Their intention is to do the same to Bill, but after escaping them and running about the house—seeing his family melding with each other as well—Bill manages to goad Ferguson into a fight. As the "aliens" cheer Ferguson on, Bill is subdued, but in a surprise attack, Bill manages to reach inside the pliable Ferguson and pull his head out through his buttocks, turning him inside-out. With the help of Milo and Clarissa—who is also of the alternate species but has fallen in love with Bill—he escapes, as one of the men at the party tells another he may have an "opening in Washington".
- Billy Warlock as Bill Whitney
- Connie Danese as Nan Whitney
- Ben Slack as Dr. Cleveland
- Evan Richards as Milo
- Patrice Jennings as Jenny Whitney
- Tim Bartell as Blanchard
- Charles Lucia as Jim Whitney
- Heidi Kozak as Shauna
- Brian Bremer as Martin Petrie
- Ben Meyerson as Ferguson
- Devin DeVasquez as Clarissa Carlyn
- Maria Claire as Sally
- Conan Yuzna as Jason
- Jason Williams as Jason's Friend
- Pamela Matheson as Mrs. Carlyn
After having several of his productions fail for lack of finding a director, Yuzna decided to move into directing. As producer of Re-Animator, he held the rights to a sequel and knew he could find financing. He used this as leverage for a two-picture deal, the first of which turned into Society. Yuzna said that he wanted the safety of having two pictures to establish himself as a successful director. Society's script appealed to Yuzna partly because it was thematically similar to a failed project he had begun with Dan O'Bannon. Yuzna altered the script from a traditional slasher film climax about a religious cult to the surrealistic aliens. The production company introduced him to Screaming Mad George, who they knew to also be interested in surreal gore. For the film's most surreal and gory sequence, the "shunting," Yuzna based it on his nightmares. The sequence was further inspired by The Great Masturbator, a Dali painting. Author Jon Towlson identifies political themes imported from paranoid science fiction thrillers, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars. Yuzna later cited the film's mix of paranoia, black humor, satire, and gore as alienating mainstream audiences.
Society premiered at the Shock Around the Clock Film Festival in London in 1989. For its British release, Society was marketed in Video Trade Weekly with a picture of the film's theatrical premiere. Mark Kermode called this "stupid yet brilliant", as it demonstrated that the distributor did not know how to market the film properly but also showed recognition that traditional marketing for a genre film was irrelevant. Society was a success in Europe, but was shelved for three years before getting a release in the U.S. Said director Yuzna in an interview: "I think Europeans are more willing to accept the ideas that are in a movie. That's why for example Society did really well in Europe and in the US did nothing, where it was a big joke. And I think it's because they responded to the ideas in there. I was totally having fun with them, but they are there nonetheless."
Arrow Video released a limited edition Blu-ray in the UK on June 8 and in the US on June 9, 2015. It includes new interviews and artwork, a comic book sequel, and a music video by Screaming Mad George.
In 1990, Society won the Silver Raven award for "Best Make-Up" at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film. Tom Tunney of Empire rated it 4/5 stars and wrote, "Way ahead of its time, this is a balls-out satire on the disgraceful layers that can lurk just beneath the Avon surface. This is anti-Ferris Bueller and fiendishly funny." Variety described it as "an extremely pretentious, obnoxious horror film that unsuccessfully attempts to introduce kinky sexual elements into extravagant makeup effects". Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "No one who sees the last half-hour of this movie will ever forget it—though quite a few may want to." Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle wrote that the British press, who gave the film positive reviews, overrated it and stated that it would not play well to American audiences.
In the early 2010s, Time Out London conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors, and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films. Society placed at number 78 on their top 100 list. Bartlomiej Paszylk wrote in The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films that the film has "one of the craziest and most disgusting endings in movie history".
Scottish comic book company Rough Cut Comics acquired the comic book rights to Society in 2002, producing an official sequel.
- Brown, Phil (May 20, 2015). "Interview: Brian Yuzna talks Society Blu-ray and Sequel!". Fangoria. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- Ognjanovic, Dejan (September 28, 2008). "Interview: Brian Yuzna". Beyond Hollywood. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- Towlson, Jon (2014). Subversive Horror Cinema. McFarland & Company. p. 190. ISBN 9780786474691.
- Knight, Jacob Q. (June 22, 2015). "Target Practice: Society (1989) & Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- Kermode, Mark (2011). The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex. Random House. pp. 92–93. ISBN 9781409023494.
- Karl, Williams. "Society (1989)". Rovi. Retrieved March 10, 2015 – via The New York Times.
- Totaro, Donato (February 18, 1999). "Interview with Brain Yuzna and Jillian McWhirter". Hors Champ. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
- Miska, Brad (May 29, 2015). "Brian Yuzna's Society Gets Mutated Blu-ray Release!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- Tunney, Tom. "Society". Empire. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
- "Review: 'Society'". Variety. 1989. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
- Wilmington, Michael (1992-02-28). "MOVIE REVIEW : Shocker-Satire 'Society' Takes Raunchy Look at Upper Class". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
- Savlov, Marc (1992-07-24). "Society". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2015-03-10.
- "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- NF. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- Paszylk, Bartlomiej (2009). The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey. McFarland & Company. p. 188. ISBN 9780786453276.
- Society: Party Animal Issue 1 & 2 at Homepage of Rough Cut Comics Retrieved 13 August 2013
- Cut Comics 10th Birthday: Neill Cameron at roughcutcomics.blogspot, 14 November 2011 Retrieved 13 August 2013