Thursday, 11 June 2015

Society (1989)

Not the most obvious title for a horror film whose climax consists of some of the most bizarre, surreal and occasionally ridiculous makeup effects ever committed to celluloid, Brian Yuzna’s SOCIETY makes it to Blu-ray (and DVD) in a sensational limited edition box set from Arrow Films (the standard release will be along later).

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) has it all: son of a rich and influential family, pretty (if extremely annoying) girlfriend, and doing well in the posh school he attends where he is up for school president. But, as Bill confesses to psychiatrist Dr Cleveland (Ben Slack) he has a major problem: he believes his family, and many of those he knows, are conspiring against him. His presumed paranoid fantasies are not helped when David Blanchard (Tim Bartell), ex-boyfriend of his sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings) plays him a tape that suggests her forthcoming ‘coming out’ party is going to be nothing more than an orgy of incest-reaching proportions. 

Billy’s also having trouble with the ‘in-crowd’ at school, the good-looking, privileged group who regularly subject him to abuse and (shock!) don’t invite him to their parties. When Blanchard is seemingly killed in a road accident and Billy enjoys an unusual sexual liaison with the exotic Clarissa (Devin DeVasquez) it’s only the beginning of his entry into a very weird world indeed.
SOCIETY premiered at London’s Shock Around the Clock Festival in 1989. Its addition was so last-minute it wasn’t even in the programme, and there was no pre-publicity other than Alan Jones introducing it as the horror version of DEBBIE DOES DALLAS. Consequently nobody knew what to expect, certainly not from that generic-sounding title. Critics of this movie have accused the first three quarters of SOCIETY of being dull, with its reputation relying entirely on the prosthetics of the finale. Actually that’s not the case at all. Even if you know nothing about what is going to happen, Yuzna’s movie is laced with creeping oddness and paranoia, and by the time everything goes crazy, it’s actually a fitting (and literal) climax to the steady buildup.

SOCIETY got a wild and rapturous reception at Shock Around the Clock, and watching it now, twenty six years later, it still holds up extremely well. It’s like nothing else made in the 1980s, and yet it encapsulates so many of the social anxieties (and movie attitudes) of the decade, ramping them up to eleven and extrapolating them off the screen into the bounds of insanity. Screaming Mad George’s makeup effects may be derided for those who don’t get the film as being ridiculous and over the top, but to those of us who love SOCIETY, they’re still nightmarish and disturbing, the set-piece of all those mingled bodies stretching right across a normally immaculate living room both jarring and terrifying.

SOCIETY fully deserves the care Arrow Films have lavished upon it. The print looks just like an oversaturated low budget 1980s horror film should. There’s a new commentary track by Yuzna, and a wealth of interviews with Yuzna, Warlock and others. There’s also a blurry VHS recording of Yuzna being interviewed at Shock in 1989 (but no Alan Jones? Shame!), more Yuzna at a 2014 film festival, a Screaming Mad George music video (don’t watch if you’re averse to huge scuttling insect legs), plus a perfect bound mini graphic novella, new writing from Alan Jones and a lovely presentation box. 
SOCIETY remains one of the great horror films of the 1980s, and this is the edition to get. Well done Arrow.

Arrow Films released Brian Yuzna's SOCIETY in the special limited edition dual Blu-ray and DVD set shown above on 9th June 2015. The standard edition will follow on 7th September 2015

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