A great Blu-ray release that will undoubtedly turn the stomach and tickles the ribs... in a good way.
Society Film Review
No slick ‘n’ shiny morphing here, folks.Young Billy Whitney (a mullet-sporting Billy Warlock) is going paranoid. The troubled teenage son of affluent Beverly Hills parents just doesn’t fit in with his family or their society clique. And it’s not hormonal angst. When he hears a recording of his sister’s “coming out” party, things sound not only bizarre but downright sinister. Was that some kind of orgy taking place? Further incidents rack up his distrust of all those around him. Neighbours are glimpsed with their bodies somehow ... contorted ... and when his sister’s ex-boyfriend, who has tried to warn him that things in the outwardly cosy area are dangerously skewed, is killed in a suspicious road accident, Bill’s doubts become more solid. But, as he will find out, there is little that's “solid” in this neighbourhood.Brian Yuzna’s deliciously subversive horror satire is social commentary and black comedy rolled into one slithery, mutated morass of excessive body-horror. The hints and suspicions of what may really lurk beneath this too-good-to-be-true society culminate in the notoriously shocking finale that now acts as a nostalgic showcase for the FX supremacy of warp-speed surrealist artists like Screaming Mad George and Nick Benson, who took the moist baton from Rob Bottin and celebrated the possibilities of foam rubber and latex in a spectacular last stand, as though they knew CG was just around the corner. A big daft mystery whose humongous reveal turns the stomach and tickles the ribs. But then, if you don’t fit in, Society may “shunt” you aside!
Blu-ray Picture QualityWhilst the restoration work that has gone into the older genre classics like Zombie Flesh Eaters, Blood and Black Lace and Day of Anger is all too apparent and immediately impressive, the transfer for Society is understandably less wowing. It was shot quick and gaudy, with that late 80s penchant for dazzlingly bright colours and Tex Avery-style over-saturation. The cinematography is hardly a revelation, merely of the point the camera and shoot variety. This is not me being derogatory, you understand. I am simply explaining why even a painstakingly frame-by-frame clean-up job would be unlikely to yield anything spectacular and fresh to the eye with Yuzna’s movie.
This said, Society looks good, even if the rewards are much fewer and further between. Culled from a 2K scan that has been encoded via AVC, there is a film-like texture to the 1.78:1 image, and there doesn’t appear to be any overt digital scrubbing on show. Grain is very much in evidence. Edges are smooth and un-sharpened. Noise reduction doesn’t leave any ugly traces. Colours are bright and perhaps a bit too silly, but this is down to the original source. I wouldn’t say that fidelity has been boosted for this transfer. Damage is minimal, but the image does look quite grubby, unwashed and all rather flat.
All down to its low-budget and unimaginative photography, perhaps? I did notice that during one beach scene, there is the unpleasant effect of diagonal banding seen against the blue sky, just behind Billy, by the pier. I’m not too sure what caused this. We see it in a couple of brief shots, and it shouldn’t really bother anyone too much, but you will spot it. I tend to come down on the side of this being merely a product of the original camerawork, and not some digital anomaly that has crept in.
Society looks good, even if the rewards are much fewer and further between
Don’t expect too much, detail-wise. The image is never less than perfectly flat and although it is tighter and better resolved than previously seen, it hardly produces any significant improvements. Again, this is about what you should expect from a late 80’s low budget horror picture that has been visually informed by MTV and is set in sun-drenched Beverly Hills.
Whilst gaudy at times, and with quite nasty, though authentic primaries, I didn’t pick up on any colour bleed. The aforementioned banding is a one-off. None seemed to occur in any of the more saturated areas of the frame. By far the most visually arresting sequences involve the infamous shunting during the big gooey climax. Albeit slavishly bathed in red and orange, the image certainly allows the contours, details and elaborate texture of stretchy faces and mutating bodies to be studied, and appropriately giggled at.
Black levels are pretty decent, though they aren’t really tested beyond a couple of moments of creeping around the family house in the shadows near the start. If you are a fan of Society, then you know what to expect from its visual appearance. It will never look sensational ... and you will undoubtedly be pleased with the minimal improvements made here. But if you are new to the film, then you need to remember the era in which it was made, because it totally reflects that quickly-shot, neon-splashed pop video sheen that has become the hallmark of too many late 80’s genre pictures. Whereas Stuart Gordon would use filters and deliberate colour schemes to emulate the EC Comics vibe with Re-Animator and From Beyond, the look of Yuzna’s film is more that of Falcon Crest or Beverly Hills 90210.
Blu-ray Sound QualityWell, if you are going to have a film as icky, splatty, squelchy and sticky as Society, you need a soundtrack that is going to boast every sinew-pop, ligament stretch, flesh-shred and flabby gasp. Thankfully, the LPCM 2.0 audio track presented here is up to the task of bringing the ghastly and hilarious “shunt” to reasonably unpleasant life.
So make the most of that chapter then because, sadly, the rest of the audio is dull, muted and highly restrained. I found that I had to crank up the volume quite a bit just to get some semblance of enjoyable oomph from the soundtrack. Dialogue is strained and flattened. The score, utilising some sickly whimsical classical compositions, also wallows deep down and makes very little impact. There is zero degree of depth, and clarity is purely mundane, at best.
I found that I had to crank up the volume quite a bit
This all comes across as very disparaging but, then again, you would be silly to expect Society to sound any better. There are no dynamics, other than during the “shunt”, with its cacophony of laughter, voices and squelches. There isn’t any real action to speak of. What few body-blows we get sound worse than anything heard on TV’s The A-Team, and the whole endeavour just feels underplayed and downtrodden, playing like an 80’s Stateside sitcom. With absolutely nothing else to speak of regarding its lacklustre sound design – which is a problem stemming from the original source, and not the transfer – Society only gains any aural interest during the extended finale.
Blu-ray ExtrasArrow’s release contains BD and DVD versions.
We get a brand new audio commentary by Brian Yuzna
There is an interview the filmmaker entitled Governor of Society (16:52)
The Masters of the Hunt is a brand new featurette including interviews with stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell (22:22)
The Champion of the Shunt introduces us to FX artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson (20:39)
2014 Q&A with Yuzna, was recorded at Celluloid Screams Festival (38:34)
Brian Yuzna in Conversation backstage at the Society world premiere (1:56)
'Persecution Mania' is a Screaming Mad George music video (6:09)
Theatrical Trailer (2:08)
The Limited Edition Digipak packaging features newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival and the 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) is the official comic sequel to Society, reproduced in its entirety in a perfect-bound book.
Society Blu-ray VerdictBrian Yuzna’s celebrated flesh-feast, Society, was, perhaps, the ultimate destination for the wacky, wayward-thinking, latex ‘n’ gloop loving filmmaker. He learned all he knew from his days as a producer for Gory Stuart Gordon, with the likes of Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dolls behind him, before making his own directorial debut with this deliriously mutable and moist satire on suburban conformity and the caste pecking order. He would peak with 1993’s bravely fetishist Return of the Living Dead Part III, but lose considerable steam from that point onwards. Society, therefore, represents his sense of indulgent fun and willingness to push boundaries with a true degree of liberation, and gusto.
Famous for its orgy of grotesque assimilation, Society may have lost some of its once-eye-popping audacity and sheer vulgarity, but its blissfully absurd invention remains something to cherish for hardcore fans of prosthetic and animatronic special FX. The performances, however, are poor and the film typifies the crassness of 80s popcorn horror. Perhaps too comedic and far too cheesy in that garish American TV show vogue of the era, maybe, but nevertheless, there is a statuesque degree of Cronenbergian body-poppage on offer, taking flesh-warping to a whole new level of outright ickiness.
And as a horror film, it works in a kind of gross-out Twilight Zone sort of way, which is definitely to its credit. The influence of Rosemary’s Baby and even Race with the Devil ride high though, intriguingly, Yuzna claims that the classic Dr. X played a part in his story’s genesis. There is a sense of it striving to become some sort of metaphysical parable for the wealthy living off the rest of us, though this just ends-up being juvenile and obvious. But then, the Yuzna/Gordon stable was always best when it didn’t take itself too seriously, and under Yuzna’s lone guiding hand this subversive slice of SF-tinged hokum can never be accused of taking a high-brow, po-faced stance. Butt-faced, yes. But certainly not po-faced. The denouement is in hilariously bad taste, of course, and it does inevitably feel like a makeup artist’s gallant last stab at cinematic notoriety. The effects have dated to be sure, but they are real and ebulliently messed-up. And you will probably feel like a shower afterwards. Which is the hallmark of the good, old fashioned mucky transformation. No slick ‘n’ shiny morphing here, folks.
Famous for its orgy of grotesque assimilation
Arrow’s treatment of the film’s UK Blu release is typically excellent. The transfer is certainly the best that it has looked on home video, though it does not reach the exulted heights of their more vintage restorations, and certainly betrays the era in which it was made. The extras are predictably numerous and fabulous. Overall, this is a very worthwhile package, and a fine tribute to one of the last great splattery body-horror epics.
You can buy Society on Blu-ray here
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