For a film about the Beverly Hills elite, this film was made on the cheap!
You’ve heard the phrase, “eat the rich?” Well this is sort of like that, except the rich eat the poor in globby, oozie, body-morphing sort of way. Viva la Society!
Society looks like a film about class struggle with the haves and have nots, all seen from the standpoint of a teenage boy. But there’s something else going on here. I saw this film in college and haven’t been able to find it since. It’s a strange and grotesque film as I recall, and I’m interested to see how it stands up 30 years later.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
In Beverly Hills, at the Whitney home, young Bill (Billy Warlock) wanders around late at night. He hears strange voices and laughter, and grabs a knife from a drawer before being awoken by his mother, apparently sleepwalking. The next day he lets his therapist Dr. Cleveland (Ben Slack) know about his feelings of fear and paranoia towards his family, and even the doctor. Cleveland suggests medication.
While playing basketball outside with his friend Milo (Evan Richards), Bill’s sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings) screams and they come running. Her ex-boyfriend, David Blanchard (Tim Bartell) has snuck into Jenny’s closet in order to talk to her before she leaves for her “coming out” party. Blanchard is ejected from the house and told not to come back. Bill goes about his day dealing with his jealous girlfriend Shauna (Heidi Kozak), and making a speech for his student council presidency, against the academically inclined Petrie (Brian Bremer), while Jenny and her parents Jim and Nan (Charles Lucia & Concetta D’Agnese) go to her societal debut. Before they leave Bill accidentally catches sight of his sister through the frosted glass of the shower, making it appear that her torso is backwards in relation to her legs. What?!?
Later at the beach, Blanchard approaches Bill with an audio tape he recorded of Jenny with her parents that sounds as if the “coming out” party was instead a sexual orgy in which the three of them participated with many other societal members. Bill takes the incriminating tape to Dr. Cleveland to prove that his paranoia about his family is not misplaced. The doctor takes the tape to review. When Bill meets with him later and plays the tape, the people are the same, but the events are different. It’s a harmless tape about her actual coming out party, and the people she will be dancing with.
Bill attempts to get a backup tape from Blanchard, but David is killed in an auto accident on the way to the meeting. That evening at an elite-party hosted by fellow student (and self-identified “tycoon”) Ferguson (Ben Meyerson), Bill gets in a fight when the host confirms that the events of the original tape he heard were factual. Upset, Bill goes home instead with Clarissa (Devin DeVasquez), a fellow student he’s been admiring. They immediately sleep together. Bill notices that Clarissa’s body contorts in impossible ways. It’s over as quickly as it started, and he can’t be sure what he actually saw.
At the funeral for Blanchard, Petrie approaches Bill with some information if he will meet later that evening in the woods. Bill arrives to find Petrie with his throat slit, laying in his car. He runs for help and when he returns with the police the car has been swapped out and there’s no body. Bill tells the entire class why Petrie isn’t available for a debate the next day, when suddenly Petrie walks out on stage unharmed. Embarrassed and confused Bill heads home where Dr. Cleveland and his parents stage an intervention to have him moved to the local hospital. Milo follows the ambulance that takes him to the hospital, realizing that his family is planning something evil for him The nurse reports Bill’s condition as ‘deceased’ to Milo when he asks.
Bill escapes, but in his drug-induced state he doesn’t listen to Milo and returns home. In a scene mirroring the opening of the film, he staggers around the house hearing strange voices and laughter. He is grabbed by Dr. Cleveland using an animal control pole, and paraded past his family and all their rich friends. Socialite Judge Carter (David Wiley), makes a speech about them not being aliens, but a different species than Bill that have existed alongside humans since the dawn of time. He adds the rich have always feasted on the lower class. Bill realizes he has been adopted and bred to be part of their ritual and that Clarissa is one of them as well.
Blanchard, who is not really dead, is bought out for the ritual of “shunting,” a process where the society members engage in an orgy-type process where their flesh melts and deforms with each other, providing sustenance and pleasure. They absorb Blanchard and set to do the same to Bill. He escapes to discover his “parents” and “sister” shunting in the bedroom. Bill is recaptured and Ferguson attempts to “shunt’ with him one-on-one. Bill resists, shoving his fist through Fergusons softened flesh and out his mouth, turning him inside out. Milo arrives to save Bill, who also grabs Clarissa (she loves him, silly!) and they drive off – leaving the society life behind.
“You’re going to make a wonderful contribution to society.” – Dr. Cleveland
Society is an early body-horror film which feels like someone had an idea for some crazy scenes with creature and make-up effects, and then wrote a thinly-veiled diatribe using the metaphor of the rich and the elite eating the poor, making it a literal thing. The film was the debut effort, at least as a director, for Brian Yuzna, famously known for being a horror producer of Re-Animator, From Beyond and Warlock. He would go onto direct quite a few other low-to-middle-budget horror films including Bride of Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead III and Progeny.
For a high-concept horror film, the movie is convoluted and rather long in it’s running time, being 99 minutes. It introduces a number of non-essential characters, refuses to explain several strange elements, and has characters perform silly and contrived actions, just to please the story. As with many 80s horror films, there plenty of nudity and near-nudity with the women, all who are supposed to be high school aged, but appear to be in their early 30s. The biggest OMG/WTF moment however is the “shunting” sequence which is quite disturbing. The characters flesh all appears to be melted and conjoined to one another, such as lips to stomach, or hands inside torsos. For the sequence when Bill finds his family’s private “shunting,” mom is wearing dad’s arms for legs, with sisters head where the mom’s pubes should be. It’s all played for laughs in this sequence, as Dad is wearing his face on his rear-end, calling back to the insult Bill yelled at him earlier, “Butthead!” It’s a practical effects smorgasbord (or orgy if you will), created remarkably by Screaming Mad George, who worked with Yuzna on a number of his other films!
In terms of the body horror genre, this is no more disturbing than The Human Centipede or Tusk, it just features “other” kinds of manipulation. The subtext for Society, is actually just “text,” presenting so many sayings about people making contributions to society, or Dr. Cleveland stating that some people were “born to make rules, while others follow them”. It’s too on-the-nose, and while it feels like a black comedy, it comes off as a little sloppy and mangled. A story of this caliber might have been better served as an episode of Tales from the Crypt, or some other shorter format series where it could get in and say its piece, then get out before anyone had given too much thought to it. Still, it’s a strange entry in Yuzna’s catalog of other strange entries, but one that stands out due to the subject matter.
- Billy Warlock got his start in another horror film, Halloween 2, before a minor role on Happy Days, and then Baywatch, General Hospital and Days of Our Lives.
- Evan Richards had a small role in the Spielberg directed segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, called “Kick the Can.”
- Heidi Kozak added Society to her illustrious B-movie career, also starring in Slumber Party Massacre II, and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.
- Devin DeVasquez started her career as a Playmate of the Month in June 1985, followed by roles in the Patrick Dempsey rom-com Can’t Buy Me Love, and the horror sequel House II: The Second Story.
- Amongst the other craziness, no explanation is given for Petrie showing up alive the next day. Was he in on the fake-out, being that he was around at Ferguson’s party and the “shunting”? Was he “shunted” and re-created?
- Clarissa’s mom is also a strange case. She is a large, scary woman (looking a little like a female version of Tor Johnson). She has no lines and is obsessed with grabbing characters hair and eating it. Since Clarissa is part of the “Society” I’m assuming the mom is as well. Maybe too much “shunting” causes brain trauma? Who knows and who cares!
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.