Apr 27, 2011
In the underrated body horror film Society (1989), protagonist Bill Whitney is asked by a thoroughly agitated and sarcastic cop after reporting the mysterious brutal death of his poindexterish friend Petrie, “is it really that hard being rich.” Indeed, not only is being rich an oddly burdensome lifestyle for emotionally lonesome Billy Boy, but he is also the black sheep of an incestuous family that shamelessly indulges in hedonistic self-worship and a deleterious form of decadence. During the beginning of Society, Bill mentions to his therapist that he has an irrational fear of his family and community, thus suspecting that he was adopted. Right from the onset of the film, it is quite apparent that Bill is totally out of sync with his community's ostensibly sinister collective unconscious. As Society progresses, Billy becomes increasingly dismayed and extremely paranoid as he hazardously uncovers the wicked and depraved infrastructure of a hidden network of debauched families that make up the upper-class society that he reluctantly belongs to. Society was created in the late 1980s, a culturally bankrupt time when preppies males felt that mullets were the height of culturally refined hairstyles and preppy women wore their hair in such a disheveled manner that they looked like they just finished an all-night orgy. Society was directed by Brian Yuzna, a Filipino-American horror hack best known by fans of the genre as the producer of Stuart Gordon’s H.P. Lovecraft adaptations Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986), as well as for directing/producing the final two films in the Re-Animator trilogy. Both Brian Yuzna and his pal Stuart Gordon have a special talent for turning legendary American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s stories into shallow pseudo-erotic schlock pieces that even the most zombified of horror fans can digest without too much mental confusion. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the Re-Animator films (or at least the first two) as much as the next horror fan, but they are a total insult to Lovecraft's sagely Spenglerian horror tales. That being said, I must admit that I was extremely surprised by the quality of Yuzna’s directorial debut Society, an audacious and ambitious work that one does not usually expect from the excessively repetitive and often times exceedingly stagnant horror genre. In fact, I can say without the slightest hesitation that I found Society to be better than all three films in the overrated Re-Animator series combined.
Society protagonist Bill Whitney is a handsome (despite his mullet) and athletic high school student who has it all, even while lacking the absolute robotic snobbery often times associated with someone of his distinguished pedigree. When Bill’s sister’s ex-boyfriend David Blanchard reveals to him an audio tape featuring the voices of his entire family as they participate in an incestuous orgy and murder for pleasure, the high school student finally has enough evidence to support his paranoid suspicions regarding the ambiguously peculiar nature of his family. After all, Bill walks in on his completely nude sister showering and for whatever reason, her boobs somehow managed to reposition themselves on her backside. The first hour or so of Society is like a mix between an artificial (but entertaining) Hitchcockian/De Palma-style murder mystery and an episode of The Twilight Zone directed by a crackhead horror fiend. The final half-hour of Society morphs into a blackest-of-black horror comedy. In fact, the concluding half-hour of Society reminded me of a pleasant unruly mix between David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burrough's Naked Lunch, John Carpenter’s They Live, and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Of course, Society predates both Naked Lunch and Eyes Wide Shut and was made only a year after They Live, thus Yuzna's film seems to be a totally original and groundbreaking work. For those individuals interested in unholy conspiracy theories about reptilian bloodlines and mutant New Order elites, Society will be a deranged, yet delectable cinematic treat. A member of the debased millionaires featured in the film states the following to a certain underclassman (that will go unnamed) in the film, “You’re a different race from us. A different species. A different class. You’re not one of us!” Due to their inclusive inbred bloodlines, the upperclassman of Society can perform royally absurd feats, such as relocating their faces on their asses, as we as communally (with flesh to flesh) devouring the low-grade blood and meat of terrified proletarians. To say the least, you will be hard pressed to find another “horror” film like Society that features an undeniably charismatic, yet chilling royal occult army of quasi-cannibals and über-sadistic upper-class degenerates.
If the totally hypocritical anti-bourgeois bourgeois economist/philosopher Karl Marx were alive today, Society - an astute work that unconventionally, yet successfully combines class satire with wacky bodily dismemberment - would most likely be his favorite horror film. Unlike George A. Romero’s Living Dead films, Society does not superficially wallow in an infantile leftist socio-political subtext that immediately wears thin. Also, unlike Romero’s Living Dead films, the gut-eating antagonists of Society are cunning, yet ultimately entertaining villains whose disguised motives keep the viewer guessing until the film’s gore-gurgling end. To be quite honest, I expected Society to be another overrated and ultimately retarded horror flick, but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, I found Society to be a wildly invigorating and criminally underrated horror film that makes most heralded masterworks of the genre seem intellectually and creatively bankrupt by comparison. The rich families featured in Society reminded me of the hyper-inbred Rothschild banking dynasty and their associate families (like the Rockefellers and the Schiffs), as no other family in human history has been responsible for so many deaths and wars around the world. As Billy is told by his therapist Dr. Cleveland, “Didn’t you know Billy boy? The rich have always sucked off low-class shit like you.” Indeed, Society is a delightful and diverting carnivalesque cinematic portrait composed of ultra-pretentious upperclassmen who sportfully engage in hunting and shunting members of the untermensch working-class non-society just for the mere aristocratic pleasure. Stephen Biro (owner of Unearthed Films) apparently wrote a script for a Society sequel entitled Society 2: Body Modification, but it is now (apparently) an aborted project. Upon first hearing about the sequel project, it seemed like a cinematically appetizing possibility, but now I am glad the project is dead, as such a work would most likely by a crude insult to the original film. Hopefully, the audaciously idiosyncratic film Society will one day earn the prestige that is justly deserves from the Sinema world.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:34 PM
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