BR: Society (1989)

August 9, 2015 | By


Society_Arrow_LEFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Arrow Video / MVD Visual

Region: A, B, C

Released:  May 25, 2015

Genre:  Horror

Synopsis: Initially suspecting he’s an adopted child, Billy soon discovers his family are part of an elite Beverly Hills society with somewhat carnivorous ceremonial habits.

Special Features:  2015 Audio commentary with director Brian Yuzna / 4 Interview featurettes: “Governor of Society” with Brian Yuzna” (17 mins.) + “Masters of the Hunt”  with cast (23 mins.) + “Champion of the Shunt”with effects whiz Screaming Mad George (21 mins.) + 1989 Brian Yuzna interview at Society’s U.K. Premiere (2 mins.) / 2014 Audience Q&A with Brian Yuzna at the Celluloid Screams Festival screening (39 mins.) / Screaming Mad George Music Video (7 mins.) / 22 page colour booklet with liner notes by Alan Jones / Comic book sequel “Society: Party Animal” / Custom gatefold packaging / Mini-poster insert card / Theatrical Trailer / Limited to 3000 copies.




After serving as producer on Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985), Brian Yuzna’s directorial debut is a critique on elitism in Beverly Hills, where privileged Bill Whitney (Bill Warlock, fresh off a long stint on Days of Our Lives) feeling out of place in his upscale family, seeks support from a strict psychiatrist but ultimately discovers an elite stratum of society that devours sacrificial lower caste members to keep their own gene pool clean, if not for their own egotistical and sexual glee

Ignored by American critics and disappearing from view after its theatrical run, Society soon grew into a cult movie after cable TV airings and home video releases exposed horror connoisseurs to a film pretty much everyone involved with still describes as “weird” – although surreal is more apt, largely because director Brian Yuzna chose to build the film from imaginative sequences rather than a firm script.

That approach appealed to effects whiz Screaming Mad George, a surrealist artist recommended to Yuzna by the film’s mostly Japanese investors, and the two clearly found a shared interest in extreme visuals that extended into several collaborations over a nearly 20 year period.

Yuzna’s films often fixate on body transformations and trauma, while George’s work reflects his hunger to create living, breathing versions of surrealist paintings and sculptures, and it’s the weird results that stand out in Society, if not an overwhelming tone of paranoia which stems from the script by Rick Fry and Woody Keith that originally dealt with teens and a blood cult in Beverly Hills.

The hunger for blood was scrapped in favour of an establishment that feeds off people with conventional DNA by literally absorbing them in a grotesque ceremony called shunting: everyone gets naked, bends and blends into a criss-crossing mass of skin and pliable bone matter, and then sucks the life from victims while ripping them apart.

It’s that finale which has enabled the film to survive so long as a cult favourite, and with 80s horror feted as the latest benchmark in quality  cult by genre connoisseurs, it made sense for Arrow Video to produce a definitive special edition. Society was previously released on DVD in 2002 by Anchor Bay, then churning out their own distinctive special editions that often sported director audio commentaries and some production ephemera.

Anchor Bay’s single layer DVD transfer looked pretty good, sourced from a clean print, but Arrow’s 2K transfer has Yuzna’s film looking really beautiful, and it’s to Arrow’s credit that instead of creating a faux 5.1 audio mix that may have toned down the original audio mix, they’ve stuck with the film’s 2.0 Ultra Stereo mix (which always sounded fine, but is now much cleaner in uncompressed DTS).

Pretty much every cast member interviewed by Arrow admits to not quite ‘getting the film’ and Yuzna confesses it’s the imagery that’s the main attraction. Fry and Keith’s script features adequate dialogue, but there’s a sense – echoed somewhat by Warlock – that directing was a necessary evil for Yuzna. The effects, the look and locations are fine from a production stance, but scenes flow and collide into each other in sometimes spastic leaps, as though bridge material or longer moments were never shot or whittled away to keep the film under 100 mins.

Some scenes – Bill Whitney’s sudden waking up in hospital, clamoring out of bed and driving home in a kind of drunken, self-destructive giddiness – don’t really make sense and feel like plot points never fully rationalized during the writing phase, while other bits of oddness – the gardener’s slugs, Clarissa’s hair-eating mom – exist purely for weirdness sake.

Smaller characters like Bill Whitney’s girlfriend also seem to have been reduced, making certain appearances in later scenes rather clumsy, but within the script there is a natural convergence towards the concluding shunt that gives the film a memorable payoff of slime, fleshy transmutations, and a nasty inside-out gag.

For all its flaws, there’s still something hypnotic about the core story in which a depraved class of overlords raise sacrificial lambs like Billy for no other reason than to glorify their egos and sense of privilege. Society’s cast features a capable mix of lesser-known actors, but it’s Warlock who keeps the film grounded because he’s the decent, average kid being toyed with by family and so-called friends and girlfriends; struggling with cliques and bullies; and finding himself caught in a world where pretty much everyone is apathetic to his personal troubles. It’s like a teen version of Invasion of the Body Snatcher’s Dr. Miles Bennell, discovering his world is filled with sexually starved pod people.

Arrow’s extras include a new commentary track with Yuzna, a brief archival interview from the film’s 1989 British premiere with Yuzna discussing quite defensively the validity of horror, and multiple interview featurettes analyzing the film’s genesis, brilliantly bizarre Screaming Mad George (+ a very lengthy music video featuring the artist / singer and assorted effects and props), and most of the cast who recall working on what remains ‘a really weird film’ in their C.V.’s.

Also archived is Yuzna’s audience Q&A at a 2014 Celluloid Screams Festival screening, and a two-part comic book – “Society: Party Animal” – that picks up 10 years after Billy, Milo, and Clarissa flee from the Whitney household.

Yuzna’s new commentary has most of the info within the Anchor Bay track – I’m sure it was referenced to ensure all the key anecdotes were covered – and it’s much more consistent, free from the chunky gaps of silence that become more pronounced towards the end of the track.

There is some recapped information in the Celluloid Screams audience Q&A, but Yuzna also talks about a storyline for a possible sequel that differs from the comic book, but one suspects it would culminate with one giant shunting extravaganza. Note: collectors should check out the pages near the end of the novel, as there may be a publishing boo-boo in which 6 pages are repeated near the end, just prior to the epic shunt.

Arrow’s specially packaged set + comic is limited to 3000, but the discs and their inherent goodies will return in a standard-packaged case in early September, 2015.




Yuzna continued his long association with Stuart Gordon and Screaming Mad George on films like Bride of Re-Animator (1989), Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990), Space Truckers (1996), The Dentist 2 (1998), and Faust: Love of the Damned (2000).

Star Warlock found greater fame back in episodic TV and daytime soaps, appearing in Baywatch (1989-1992) and General Hospital (1997-2003). Charles Lucia, who played Billy’s father, also appeared in General Hospital but is perhaps best-known for the odd sci-fi thriller Syngenor (1990).

Actress Devin DeVasquez (Clarissa) had previously appeared in House II: The Second Story (1987) and Can’t Buy Me Love (1987) and later went back to her pinup model roots and directed the documentary Beyond the Centerfold (2015).

Screaming Mad Gorge worked on a slew of horror movies, including Alex Winters’ deliciously bonkers Freaked (1993).



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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