Society (1989) Review

Society Poster

When the opening credits use the word “surrealistic” to describe the special effects, you know you’re in for something eccentric.  Of course the credits being set against a bizarre scene of what appears to be a close up of a slimy orgy may be an even bigger indication of what’s in store.  Well versed in the gory and grotesque, Brian Yuzna makes his directorial debut with this satire on the upper class feeding off of the lower class.

Bill Whitney is popular; he’s a high school basketball star running for class president.  It also helps that he lives in an extravagant house with his parents and sister in a rich neighborhood.  Despite all that he has going for him, Bill can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right behind the pristine exterior of his family life.  He sees a therapist to work on his fears that he doesn’t belong, which manifests in hallucinations and night terrors.  While the therapist tries to assuage Bill’s worry, subtle hints indicate Bill may not be wrong after all.

Society jenny

Bill notices his sister’s body is doing strange things; a pulsing lump on her back or creepy contortions in the shower that revert back in a blink.  He begins picking up on incestuous vibes from his family.  A tape recording presented to him of his sister’s coming out party reveals sounds of a horrific sex party.  He drops the tape off to his therapist in a panic, but the next day the recording plays out entirely different. Bill sinks further into paranoia as the hints escalate, his mind unsure how to process if what he’s seeing and hearing is real.  When people start dying and a mysterious socialite enters the picture, Bill is pushed to the brink of madness in his frantic desire to discover the truth.

Of course, the reality is more frightening than he could imagine.  When the curtain is finally pulled back to reveal what’s behind the veneer of high society, the audience is treated to a delightfully disturbing climax full of masterful gross-out body horror.  Twenty minutes of unctuous, elaborate excess thanks to Screaming Mad George’s repulsive yet amazing effects.  If unfamiliar with Screaming Mad George’s work, please refer to the creature effects for Predator and the gruesome cockroach transformation scene in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.

Society gf

Society isn’t without its flaws, though.  The acting tends to undermine the clever script, namely in lead actor Billy Warlock.  Billy Warlock seems to be trying hard to channel his inner Michael J. Fox, but his performance comes off erratic at best.  The actor is most known for his work in Baywatch and various other soap operas, so his inability to not over act is expected.

Because the film spends so much time building a sense of dread and paranoia as it progressed toward the finale, the satirical humor doesn’t become quite clear until the climax.  There are moments of infantile humor that feel wholly out of place, and a certain butt gag will induce groaning rather than the intended laughter.

Society

While the film looks outdated with its 80s style, the social commentary on the rich still holds up well.  The teenaged desire to fit in is still relatable in present day, too.  Society connected well with audiences in Europe, whereas the U.S. shelved its release until 1992.  Its cold reception stateside relegated it to underappreciated cult status, which is unfortunate as Brian Yuzna’s first attempt at directing makes Society a classic worth visiting.

Fans of body horror and films like The Stuff will revel in the excess of gross out horror. Be patient with the terrible acting and outdated style, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best climaxes in horror history.  A bit of advice, though: don’t read anything else about Society before viewing.  The less you know about the climax, the better.

About the Author

Meagan Navarro is a blogger from Houston, TX.  She fell in love with monsters at age four after being exposed to them via Ghostbusters, and her passion grew into an obsession for all things horror and Halloween (which is the entire month of October, as far as she’s concerned).  Meagan also loves traveling and chocolate.

8 thoughts on “Society (1989) Review

  1. This is a great review about another intriguing movie. I’m puzzled as to why the movie enjoyed an early European release, but was shelved in the U.S until 1992. Did this picture ever appear in Canadian cinemas?

    1. They actually trimmed 5 minutes of the special effects to bring it down to an “R” rating, so I suspect that’s at least part of the reason behind the delay. It was released on home video in Canada, but I don’t think it received a theatrical release.

  2. This is an amazing film, with a dead-on social critique that’s still relevant today (though I gather it was made in response to the super-spending 80s). I agree with your point that much of it looks outdated (particularly the bad 80s fashions and hair styles), but the ending is eye-popping — and while the film is gross and excessive, it feels emotionally true. I had read that there were plans to make a sequel, though apparently that never happened.

    1. If the follow up would have been a typical Hollywood sequel, then I’m glad it never happened. It would have dampened the impact of the social message. But with the right ideas and writers, there’s so much still to explore with the “society.” I guess we’ll never know, huh? Thanks for your comment!

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