Friday, June 05, 2015

Review: Society (1989)

Unlike the previous 'horror' film I reviewed here, Society is a bona fide horror classic which is an absolute pleasure to watch!

For whatever reasons, I'd never seen Society before. I'd heard of it, and seen photographs from it, but never seen the actual film, so it's a double treat to put that right. As a horror film, it ticks all the right boxes and presents a great little small-town mystery. In a way, there are echoes of Dan O'Bannon's Dead and Buried here, with something rotten being hidden in the heart of a small town, where everyone is in on the 'joke' except for the hapless outsider who is trying to figure it all out and to escape with their life at the end.

With Society, though, the secret is part and parcel of the town's very being, and the 'outsider' is actually the son of the leading family, the Whitneys. He's just not really part of the family, being adopted, and thus his Mother, Father and Sister's behaviour seems mysterious at first, and then just darn strange as we peel back the layers to reveal what is hidden beneath.

Brian Yuzna does a great job of directing, presenting things as almost-normal to start with, but then becoming increasingly strange as deaths occur, and young Billy starts to discover things about his family which he wished he hadn't known ... but then the facts change, a tape with incriminating dialogue on is different when listened to again ... and Billy is left out on a limb. There is an effective paranoia at work here which is compounded and enhanced by small elements, like his friend's death and the face of the corpse crumbling in the church (is he really dead?) He finds another friend dead, but when he goes to get the authorities, there is no body when he returns ... is Billy going mad?

All this is building to a climactic ending: his sister's coming out party, where all the town turns up to celebrate. Billy also finds himself there, captured, and told that you have to be born into society to be a part of it ... upon which, his supposedly dead friend is also served up, and the townspeople fall on him, morphing and mutating into something totally inhuman as 'the shunt' begins - a pseudo sexual orgy of slime and blood and twisted flesh ...

Of course for the horror fan, this is simply awesome, and seeing the name Screaming Mad George on the credits for effects should be enough to let most fans know what sort of thing to expect. George is a master of the twisted body horror, and the film does not disappoint, with visuals ranging from the memorable 'butt face' to a massive hand where a head should be, to bodies being turned completely inside out ... it's an incredible visual array of horror, perhaps only matched by the work of Rob Bottin in John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing. (It's interesting that George cites both Landis' American Werewolf in London (1981, effects by Rick Baker) and Joe Dante's The Howling (1981, effects by Rob Bottin) as films which influenced him.)

The action comes thick and fast at the end and our hero Billy escapes with the rather lovely Clarissa, but she of course might be part of the strange Society herself ... but in great eighties fashion, the film just ends when they escape, so we never find out what happens.

Overall it's a great slice of eighties paranoia, infused with a horror sensibility, and some original and still startling effects. Arrow have provided a smashing set of extras as well - including a discussion with Screaming Mad George about the effects, interviews with cast and crew as well as much more besides. A great package, and highly recommended.

Special Features

·         Newly remastered 2K digital transfer of the film, approved by director Brian Yuzna
·         High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
·         Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
·         Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
·         Brand new audio commentary by Yuzna
·         Governor of Society – a brand new interview with Yuzna
·         The Masters of the Hunt – a brand new featurette including interviews with stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell
·         The Champion of the Shunt – new featurette with FX artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson
·         2014 Q&A with Yuzna, recorded at Celluloid Screams Festival
·         Brian Yuzna in conversation backstage at the Society world premiere
·         ‘Persecution Mania’ – Screaming Mad George music video
·         Limited Edition Digipak packaging featuring newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival
·         Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

·         Society: Party Animal [Limited Edition Exclusive] – the official comic sequel to Society, reproduced in its entirety in a perfect-bound book

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