All right, today’s review is for Society by Brian Yuzna with effects by Screaming Mad George. Word of warning right up front, this is going to be a spoiler-heavy review. It just seems like it would be impossible to critique this movie without discussing the final act and its grotesque imagery. Honestly though, if you have not watched this one as a horror fan, shame on you. The film is infamous, and while it might have been hard to come by once, Society is now readily available to stream in multiple places, although if you have Shudder, I’d recommend you head over there and see it with Joe Bob Briggs as your guide. His presentation is fantastic. Joe Bob adds some fun trivia, and the way he breaks up the movie with his interludes may distract you from the lack of horror in the film and the over abundance of Story.
The story revolves around Billy Whitney, played by Billy Warlock, who has anxiety concerning his family and their increasingly strange behavior. His parents are wealthy, and his sister Jenny is a popular girl whose only concerns seem to be about fitting in with the right crowd. This may all sound like your standard teenage anxiety, with there’s something else going on with the Whitney’s, Billy begins to fear may be incestuous, what with all the strange sounds he hears at night and Jenny’s ex-boyfriend’s urgent, coded messages that he has to tell Billy something about his family.
Amplifying Billy’s familial concerns are his own girlfriend’s odd behavior, as well as navigating the popular crowd at school, a caste he is supposedly born into as a Whitney, but one he has a growing schism with. As the story unfolds, Society sometimes feels more like a soap opera with thriller elements than a horror film – perfect because Billy is played by actor Billy Warlock, who was indeed a soap opera star.
The story evolves slowly, and honestly, there are just not enough horror elements in this movie. There are the remnants of a car accident with blood all over the concrete and a throat-cutting, but really, it’s not until that final act that the Horror with a capital H rears its head. Because folks, this is where Yuzna’s film goes bananas. When we get to the reveal that the popular kids in school, Billy’s parents, friends, and pretty much the entirety of the popular kids at school are all members of a Secret Society things get really interesting. And when we learn these folks aren’t human at all, but some sort of species living alongside humanity pretty much since the beginning of time with a vampiric appetite for human flesh, the film goes all out.
The whole process of shunting, the activity during which Billy learns the truth, is monstrous, with an orgy of flesh that’s soft and gooey, malleable and interchangeable, well, let’s just say you might be thankful for your gag reflex. The whole thing reminds me more of an alien on Deep Space Nine who could take whatever form he desired but had to spend a certain amount of time as a puddle in a bucket.
I don’t want to bash the film entirely. The way no one throughout the film believes Billy is done well. It really creates a paranoia about what is happening. You can never be quite sure as a viewer if Billy is disturbed, he is going to therapy after all, or if his suspicions are right. The scene when he zips up his sister’s dress and the love scene with Clarissa both create the real sense that you might not be able to trust Billy, either. From a social critique perspective, the film lavishes in its suspicion of the social elite. It’s not as thoughtful as They Live, but it still raises solid points. I feel this one could have used more of that critique and maybe some more candid glimpses of Billy. However, following that path may have proved difficult without sabotaging that shocking final act. Also, we should definitely take into consideration that this was Brian Yuzna’s directorial debut, so it’s possible he just did not have the experience as a storyteller to think of this or some of the overabundance of story in this film.
My honest take on this movie is I would be hard-pressed to want to watch it again. So much of its power comes from that ending that knowing it means I am watching through this soap opera of a movie just to get to the messed up final act. I feel like if I were to rewatch it would be a Cineray double feature to show friends who have never seen the film and wait in eager anticipation of the final act to see how repulsed they become. But Society just does not seem to have a great amount of rewatch-ability.
On a final note, it’s impressive grotesque work by Screaming Mad George but if you want to see a film that is packed with his impressive work, check out Freaked; almost every moment of that one is filled with his work.