Monday, July 13, 2009

Films from the Crypt: Episode 6 - Society (1989)

Films from the Crypt: Episode Six - Society (1989)

Director: Brian Yuzna

View the trailer

Starring: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards


Every so often, when the planets align just right, I come upon a movie that makes me scratch my head and think to myself and wonder how in the hell could I have missed this one? Brian Yuzna's directorial debut, Society, is one such film.

First up, a little background. The film was completed in 1989, but not released in the States until 1992. The reception to the film in America was relatively poor, and it still has yet to achieve even a cult status that it richly deserves. It played a little better in Europe, but is still not seen on the same scale as other, lesser genre pictures.

In the tradition of Yuzna's earlier production work (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Society is an icky picture with fantastic special effects that really push the limits of taste (in a good way, of course). The film revolves around 17 year old Billy Whitney, a normal kid living in Beverly Hills where he begins to think that maybe everytthing is not right with the world. Strange things are happening, Billy starts to see things, like his sisters body in impossibly contorted positions, and becomes increasingly paranoid that his family are harboring some kind of secret and are possibly incestuous. Confirming Billy's fears, his sister's ex-boyfriend Blanchard tries to get him to face the reality of the situataion. It turns out the conspiracy of weirdness runs deeper than Billy thought. As a somewhat ham-fisted indictment of the societal ladder, Society hits and misses on a lot of levels.

Interestingly enough, somewhat defiantly of convention, Yuzna does not begin the film with an idealized world that begins to crumble as the film progresses. Instead he begins the film with a feverish, paranoid sequence where Billy is running through a shadowy house and clutchin a knife to his chest. From this set up, the audience becomes aware that Billy is living in a world of fear. There is a half-hearted attempt to fool the audience into thinking that Billy is crazy, but noone watching the film would fall for that trick.

No, Billy is not crazy. The "society" that he lives in really does have a seedy underbelly that is far worse than he imagined. By the end of the second act, we realize that something is wrong with the inhabitants of Billy's community, and have confirmed our suspicions that it may even be a physiological anamoly. But it isn't until the third act that the curtain is fully drawn back to showcase a perverse orgy of sexual deviancy, mixed with other-worldly transformations of people into strange alien-ish beings that are just as gooey as anything out of From Beyond and the devouring of human beings. The special effects are especially effective here, including an extremely large scale, and very convincing, bit of puppetry. Turns out the rich really do "feed off the poor" in this community, and of course I mean that literally. I shouldn't have to explain the implications that this literalization of a metaphor brings with it, as it's more than opaque to anyone that can think.
Certainly such material would have been handled better by a director with a better mind for satire. Someone who could deftly weave this disgustingly funny web with more ease would be able to make the film much more intersting. As it is, the humor is uneven and the scares are not really scary, so I'm really not sure how to explain why the film works for me so well. I'm a sucker for the "everyone is out to get me" genre, dating back from Hitchcock's "wrong men" films and even up to Disturbing Behavior and The Faculty (yep). Toss in some more deliquent, body horror aspects and some amazing grue and you've got yourself a hell of a film in my book. And, maybe that's all it is. As I've said, the message of the film is handled with the subtlety of a drunken elephant and none of the actors are going to be up for Oscars any time soon, but it just clicks with me. It's a perfect storm of that eighties goodness. I highly recommend it, especially if you liked any of the other films mentioned here.



Geof said...

I like this movie. Have not seen it in a long time so thanks for the reminder. Good review too!

Carl (ILHM) said...

This is a long lost treasure, I was completely blown away by the ridiculous slash awesome FX the first time I saw this one after picking it up on a blind buy. Great review, great film!

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