After producing Stuart Gordon's first few films (Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dolls) and having trouble retaining control over their script for what would become Honey I Shrunk the Kids (yes the pair behind Re-Animator wrote the story to this family favourite!), Brian Yuzna decided to direct his own film. A script he'd been sent, combined with some of his own ideas as to what he wanted to make, resulted in the controversial cult classic Society.
It's a film about Bill (Billy Warlock) who, like most teenagers, feels he doesn't fit with the rest of his family. His wealthy socialite parents care for nothing but social status and have a disturbingly 'close' relationship with his sister (although Bill's intentions towards her veer in this direction too). When a classmate presents him with some shocking evidence as to what really happens at one of the upper class 'coming out' parties, Bill begins to think that his fears are more than just the usual adolescent rebellion. After doing some digging himself, Bill finds himself more and more worried as to the nature of not just his family, but the whole of the upper classes around him. When he gate crashes one of their soirees, he finally learns the disturbing truth.
I'd heard so much about Society before watching it this week, that it was strange to finally see it. It's a film that's notorious for its shocking finale which must have absolutely fried people's minds on release and sent them running for a sick-bag. Unfortunately I'd seen so many images and clips and read a fair few reviews of the film over the years that I knew pretty much exactly what was going to happen. Because of this I felt like I spent most of the film just preparing for the climax.
Many people have claimed that the film is all about the infamous 'shunting' sequence which makes up the last 20 minutes or so of the film and the rest is pretty throwaway. I'd agree with that to an extent. The build up to the finale is nowhere near as mind-blowing as the spectacle it leads to. It feels like a fairly typical teen-movie/thriller up until that point, with a string of scenes and lines which do little more than slyly hint at what is to come. It's entertaining to watch though, with plenty of sick and satirical humour, even if it leans too far towards low rate bad taste from time to time (I didn't find his girlfriend's brain damaged mother funny at all and the sun cream face splatters were a little schoolyard-humour).
The finale truly does deliver though. Yes I'd seen little bits of it before and a couple of the shots haven't held up, but for the most part I still found it very disturbing and quite difficult to watch. It certainly still lives up to its reputation as being one of the most disgusting sequences in cinema history, some 26 years later. On top of the goo and carnage created by the aptly named Screaming Mad George, it's actually blackly funny too, with many of the actors relishing their twisted parts in the shunting, hamming it up in the best possible ways.
As a satirical smack in the face of high society the film is pretty successful too. It's certainly not subtle, which is one of the reasons it has received some quite mixed reviews over the years, but as an unflinching spit in the face to the privileged few it's darkly amusing throughout. I found it did feel a little like a one-trick pony at times though, pounding out the satire without really paying enough attention to other aspects of the film's content and construction. Little of the developing mystery of the plot is ever explained for instance, instead the climax simply white washes over everything that preceded it. The revelation is so out-there it gets away with it on one level, but it does add weight to the opinion some have that you may as well just watch the last 20 minutes of the film.
Of course the shock wouldn't pay off without a build up though, so I do feel the film works as a whole and is more than just those twisted final scenes. Society hasn't lost the power to repulse and, subtlety be damned, its view of the otherworldly and rotten upper classes remains relevant in this world where most of the wealth is in the hands of so few.
Society is out on now in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Arrow Video. As usual, Arrow present the film in immaculate condition. Other than the natural film stock feel, it looks like it was made yesterday, with the colours popping out beautifully (probably not the right term given the film's content) and the sound coming through clean and clear.
For features, they've really pulled out all the stops. Here's the full list:
- Brand new audio commentary by Yuzna
- 'Governor of Society' a brand new interview with Yuzna
- 'The Masters of the Hunt' a brand new featurette including interviews with stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell
- 'The Champion of the Shunt' new featurette with FX artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson
- 2014 Q&A with Yuzna, recorded at Celluloid Screams Festival
- Brian Yuzna in conversation backstage at the Society world premiere
- 'Persecution Mania' Screaming Mad George music video
- Limited Edition Digipak packaging featuring newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival
- Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
- Society: Party Animal [Limited Edition Exclusive] the official comic sequel to Society, reproduced in its entirety in a perfect-bound book
I've watched the majority of these features and it's all of a high standard – there are no dull fluff pieces here. The commentary is great, with Yuzna rarely running out of things to say (other than when he pauses during the shunting and apologises, proclaiming “I've lost my train of thought – it looks so much fun I just want to join in." He is quite critical of the film at times, claiming some of the effects aren't as effective as Screaming Mad George or himself would have liked, although he looks back fondly at the work as a whole. The interviews are full of amusing yet honest recollections of the production too.
From the more unusual extras, the Screaming Mad George music video is a little dated, but he still delivers some creepily surreal imagery. The brief low quality interview with Yuzna at the original premiere of Society is a little peculiar too, with the director coming across as very serious and passionate about the project.
It's a wonderful set that fans of the film should snap up as soon as they can, particularly in this beautifully designed packaging, which is limited to 3000 copies (another more basically packaged version will be released soon though).