Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Society (1989)

... aka: Dark Sanity
... aka: Society Horror
... aka: Society - The Horror

Directed by:
Brian Yuzna

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a teenager who seems to have it all. He's handsome, popular, outgoing and well-liked at Beverly Hills High, where's he's a basketball star, is dating the captain of the cheerleading squad (Heidi Kozak) and is on his way to becoming class president. He comes from wealth and privilege, and lives in a huge mansion with his dignified, always-smiling, well-to-do parents and his debutante sister. He seems so perfect, his best buddy Milo (Evan Richards) jokes, that he'll probably go on to assassinate the president. But something is seriously wrong in Billy's world. Something seems off about his entire family. His parents; Jim (Charles Lucia) and Nan (Connie Danese), treat him much differently than they do his sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings). They all seem so close. Uncomfortably so. And secretive, too. Everyone keeps Bill at arm's length. They don't seem to accept him as being one of their own, they're not the least bit interested in him, his friends or his life in general. There's something eerily vacant hiding behind their vapid facade of respectibility. And the same can be said for many people at Billy's school, most especially the snobby rich kids, who hang out in a tight clique and attend private functions with only their own "type."

Bill is so troubled by his strange home life that he's seeing a shrink; Dr. Cleveland (Ben Slack), and airs his feelings of alienation and fears that his family is out of their minds and indulging in incest. Still, he's too afraid to really look into it any further: "I feel like something's going to happen, and if I scratch the surface something terrible is going to be underneath." Bill has a strong suspicion he's been adopted and just decides to bide his time until he can get out of his uncomfortable home and go off to college. Dr. Cleveland tells him his fears are common, he's just being a little paranoid and sees bright things in his future. After all, being the overachiever he is, he's sure to make a wonderful contribution to society. Billy attempts to ignore his situation until he's forced out of denial by his sister's ex-boyfriend David Blanchard (Tim Bartell). David has hidden a tape recorder in the family car and a microphone in one of Jenny's earrings and has a recording of her entire coming out party, which was, of course, held on a day when Billy had prior commitments. The tapes reveal sounds of twisted sex (as we'll find out, quite literal twisted sex), accompanied by strange, squishy noises and screams. It's enough to have Billy start doubting his perceived paranoia and start looking into the reality of his life.

Bill leaves the tape with his shrink to listen to, but when he returns to his office later on the incriminating contents have changed. David is presumed dead after a mysterious auto accident and Petrie (Brian Bremer) - one of the rich kids - tries to warn Billy about society but turns up dead himself. Billy also meets Clarissa (Playboy Playmate Devin DeVazquez), a strange but irresistible hottie who doesn't quite fit in with the upper crust she's a part of and has a brain damaged mother (Pamela Matheson) who lurks around the neighborhood eating people's hair (!) By the time Billy discovers he's already officially written off as dead on the books, he finds himself the special guest at a celebration at his own home. It's a farewell party of sorts and Billy's whole existence has led up to this one moment. All of the rich, influential members of Beverly Hills high society have come; all of those high up in the business and political world. They're not quite like you and I and I'm not just referring to their wealth, power and social stature. They're a whole other species entirely.

It's hard to imagine a more appropriate way to send out the 80s. This film encapsulates all that is tacky, gluttonous and self-indulgent about the "decade of excess" whilst simultaneously commenting upon that excess, high-level greed and corruption, how the rich often deceive and manipulate the "lower class" to their own gain and pretty much just the sad direction the USA was headed in at the end of the Reagan era. Or as one character tells Bill, "The rich has always sucked off low class shit like you." What's interesting about many socially aware genre films of from the 70s and 80s (DAWN OF THE DEAD and THEY LIVE also come to mind) is how well they've withstood the test of time. While the aesthetic may have dated, the messages contained within have retained every bit of their value and relevance. These films are essentially warning films. And judging by how little we've actually progressed as a society (at least here in the US), we still haven't heeded the warnings.

Whether one cares about the message or not (which isn't exactly delivered in a subtle fashion so it's hard to avoid either way), Society can also simply be enjoyed as just a bizarre, imaginative and sometimes disturbing paranoia horror flick. After the members of high society are revelead to be inhuman, the final 20 minutes are an amazing collection of grotesque and surreal imagery courtesy of makeup wizard Screaming Mad George. Society get rubbery, stretchy and gooey, melt into one another, shapeshift into all kinds of crazy things, get pulled inside out (revealing that they're mostly hollow underneath all the flash) and "shunt" victims. As far as the latter is concerned, you're best off seeing it than you are having me describe it so I'll just let that one go. Writers Rick Fry and Woody Keith decided to leven all of the perversity and gore with doses of comedy and some cheesy one-liners, which don't always work, but the finale is still one of the most memorable horror sequences of the entire decade.

It was a very promising directorial debut for the Philippines-born director, who'd previously co-wrote RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and co-wrote and co-produced FROM BEYOND (1986), both big cult hits for director Stuart Gordon. Yuzna would go on to make several Re-Animator sequels, THE DENTIST (1996) and its 1998 sequel, the surpisingly good RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III (1993) and many others.



Richard branham said...

Always suprised when the older movies creep me out.... IDK if it is because of the special effects and how they look more real so than today's... It's almost like today's effect are so over done they lack the ability to trick the mind.... I try hard to watch these movies as if I'm in the time they came out and try to see it without today's movies corruption... And appreciate them for what they are and not for their remakes..... Anyhow this movie was good I think they played the parents well.... I wasn't expecting the ending it took a 180 IMO went from creepy thriller of wondering what these people were to a corny slapstick comedy..... I thought they should have went one way or the other but again IMO trying for both didn't cut considering every cornball line was saved for what should have been the scariest part..

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Probably because of all the crappy CGI instead of practical fx like they used back in the good old days. CGI often looks so cartoon-like it completely takes me out of the movie.

Agree that some of the humor toward the end was out of place and seemed a bit childish. I think it was so sick and twisted, they decided they needed to lighten the mood a little bit (which was not really necessary).

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