| Society





Brian Yuzna

USA, 1989


Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 18 October 2004

Source Republic Studios VHS

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Society’s central envoy for purity is Bill, a well-to-do, lettered high-school senior. Equipped with a freshly waxed Jeep Wrangler and a cheerleader girlfriend, Bill’s prospects seem unsurpassable. Of course, there is something discreetly foreboding in the perfect scenario. Aptly, when Bill bites into an apple early in the film, we see he reveals a worm in the fruit’s rotten interior.

Bill’s parents intend to celebrate his graduation with a party to introduce him as a socialite. The references Bill’s father, mother, and sister make to this celebration are made with a gruesomely enthusiastic grin—they bring up the topic and smile wide at Bill with eyes that probe his maturing body. He is suspicious and later repulsed, as such incestuous sexuality in his family becomes more explicit with each encounter.

For the first two thirds of this film, Bill’s curiosity evolves to paranoia, and the viewer is similarly deprived the knowledge of the reasoning for this sudden behavior in his family and friends. We inherit Bill’s urgent suspicion, and although Society is at first blemished by its dated humor and contrived teenage self-discovery, we find everything is in service to a truly sensational ending.

Ostensibly, it would seem that Society is an allegory for adolescent growth, told in the familiar mechanism of a teen’s amateur investigation and resulting contamination. Justifiably, the film recalls Scooby Doo, Blue Velvet, Salò, and even presages Eyes Wide Shut. In this case the concept is rendered in the mechanics of 80s horror and Cold War paranoia; it may be dated, but the film’s finale, scored in a reprisal of “The Blue Danube” and ample prosthetic body makeup, retains a striking ability to repulse and frighten.

The final scene involves a “chunting,” and for which description is insufficient. Bill enters his house, stumbling upon what resembles a well-attended orgy in the living room. The patrons have arrived in formal attire, and eschew every garment and engage in a sort of collective intercourse in which flesh merges and the whole becomes saturated in a viscous lotion. Communism and uninhibited sexuality is depicted as unsubtly and as obscenely as possible; the group feeds off each other communally, and each individual climax is experienced by the whole.

Society’s effectiveness as a satire is somewhat overshadowed by its shocking final scene, which is a masterpiece of prosthetic special effects. As Brian Yuzna’s first film, Society precedes his later camp-horror efforts, including Bride of Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead III, and The Dentist (even the capsule description of his forthcoming Rottweiler suggests more camp and less horror). Contextualizing Society within Yuzna’s consistent body of work, however, does little to recommend the film. Uncharacteristically well made, Society is a durably horrific title in a decade known for prolific derivation.

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