A big daft mystery whose humongous reveal turns the stomach and tickles the ribs
Brian 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.
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 the 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.
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, 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. 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!
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