Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #82
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: May 1989 (Cannes Film Festival), June 11, 1992
Sub-Genre: Satire/Body Horror
Country of Origin: 99 minutes
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Brian Yuzna
Producers: Paul White, Keizo Kabata, Terry Ogisu, Keith Walley
Screenplay: Woody Keith, Rick Fry
Special Effects: Screaming Mad George
Cinematography: Rick Fichter
Score: Mark Ryder, Phil Davies
Editing: Peter Teshner
Studio: Society Productions Inc, Wild Street Pictures
Distributors: Overseas Film Group, Tartan Video, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson, Charles Lucia, Connie Danese, Patrice Jennings, Heidi Kozak, Ben Slack, David Wiley, Tim Bartell, Brian Bremer, Maria Claire, Jason Williams, Conan Yuzna
Suggested Audio Candy
 The Doors “People Are Strange”
 Helen Moore “Eton Boat Song”
Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? Everything may appear to be in order but we can’t shake that niggling feeling that we are “different” from those around us. I can attest to this particular ailment as I grew up with the same concern. It’s not something that you can put your finger on and you dare not make a big thing about it as those around you ultimately won’t understand and you’ll be labeled odd. So you put on a brave face, laugh at all the right cues, smile even when it conceals a grimace, and go along with the charade so as not to arouse suspicion. However, deep inside you know that something isn’t quite right.
Acceptance – that’s ultimately what we all desire more than anything. Society can be an unforgiving place and anybody deemed anomalous is duly shunned and becomes the butt of a joke that is shared behind backs and everyone seems in on, other than the subject of course. We are all taught what is “normal” and this is backed up by glossy magazines and billboards, reminding us all about acceptable appearance and correct way to conduct ourselves publicly. Of course, not everyone conforms to such ideology and choose to rebel against the system by dressing and acting differently from their peers, therefore standing out from the crowd. By doing so, they have to contend with being regarded as freaks and shunned by the masses. However, under all of that thick black make-up and rattling chains, chances are they just want to find acceptance.
On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be an issue for seventeen-year-old pretty boy Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock). He comes from a well-to-do family and resides in a palatial mansion in Beverly Hills, California with his seemingly “normal” family. At school, he has reached the height of popularity and is most people’s choice for class president. He is also a hit with the ladies and has bagged himself a cheerleader, whom he drives around with in his flash new Jeep Wrangler and acts as the perfect accessory. Life appears to be pretty splendid for Bill and most teenagers would kill to be in position. That said, something just doesn’t feel kosher.
His insecurity ultimately stems from his home life. While it may appear that he lives a charmed existence, the truth is that he feels like a square peg in a round hole around his nearest and dearest. Mom and dad barely acknowledge him and seem more interested in the high-flying circles they travel in than Bill’s well-being. Meanwhile, his sibling appears to be their golden child and is doted on accordingly. Her behavior is no less bizarre and he starts to suspect that he is cut from an entirely different cloth from the rest of his family. His high school buddies are no less ominous and their smiles appear to mask thinly veiled contempt for Bill that has him feeling increasingly alienated.
“Just a little bit paranoid, Bill, within normal ranges.”
Thankfully, if there’s one thing Beverly Hills has in abundance, then it is shrinks. His regular sessions with Dr. Cleveland (Ben Slack) help Bill to get things off his chest and, when his sister’s ex-boyfriend Blanchard (Tim Bartell) hands him a covertly recorded audio tape of what sounds suspiciously like his family engaging in an incestuous orgy, he hands the evidence over to his therapist. Unfortunately, by the time his appointment comes around, the recording has been replaced with something far less conspicuous and he starts to question whether his cosmic imagination is playing tricks on him. That is until Blanchard perishes in a road accident and the freakish events continue to escalate.
“Abandon all hope ye who enter here” Brian Yuzna
It’s fair to say that nothing is quite how it appears in Brian Yuzna’s Society. It slowly unfurls with each loosened coil revealing a layer even more unhinged than the last. By the time the closing act is upon us, we actually begin to question our own sanity as it turns into a full-blown orgy of the senses and I’m talking FULL-BLOWN. It feels almost impossible to put into words the sheer psychosis we are exposed to, thus I shall attempt to articulate through metaphor.
“Fuck you, butthead!”
You sit perched on the lavatory for the best part of twenty minutes squeezing until the vessels in your temples threaten to rupture through your cranium. What could be causing such an inimitable blockage? Whatever it is will need an elbow drop to marshal surely? Once this belligerent blockage eventually clears, encouraging a mild rectal orgasm and your very best Elvis face, the relief is palpable. However, once at the obligatory inspection phase and you glance into the bowl, you are dumbfounded to be presented with a solitary tiny nugget for your hardship. Like a buoy, it bobs in mid-submergence and you can’t quite fathom what the last twenty minutes of mental fatigue has been about.
“First we dine, then we copulate…”
Society leaves us with a similar conundrum. It is beyond depraved and Yuzna’s film provides a ghoulish arsenal of debauchery that make the works of Ken Russell resemble Richard Attenborough. We’re almost too scared to glance between our legs for fear of what monstrosity will be staring back at us but, unlike that insignificant metaphorical stool, the answer here is way more dubious than we could ever have imagined. By the time Bill arrives at the ultimate swinger’s ball (likely wishing he had remained on Baywatch duty) and slides along the wall inconspicuously, attempting to fathom how he will fish his keys from the bowl, nothing will ever be quite the same.
However, within this carnival of sheer insanity lies a very potent message about the society we cohabit. Is it just easier to conform? And what the fuck are we conforming to anyway? If society deems this as acceptable behavior then who are we to state any different? It’s this interesting set of posers (and a fair few others) that provide Yuzna’s circus the longevity it deserves. If anything, Society is even more relevant now than it was in 1989 with its satirical prod at the social circles we mingle in.
Yuzna is undoubtedly a sick little puppy. Having started out on production duties for Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator in 1985, he has gone on to make a name for himself with some similarly demented works of his own. With an impressive résumé that boasts the likes of Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, Return of The Living Dead III, The Dentist and Faust: Love of The Damned, he has carved out something of a niche for himself with the macabre. However, it was his debut feature Society, that truly caught us all with our pants down. This is one of those rare beasts that is almost beyond categorization and is unremitting in its slide towards the downright depraved annals of body horror (make that anals).
“If you have any Oedipal fantasies you’d like to indulge in, Billy, now’s the time!”
Which begs the question: Is there a point when a movie becomes just a little too grotesque and the imaginary line in the sand is crossed? I would suggest the answer to be a resounding nope. Film has a far greater duty than to simply entertain. It is there to provoke a reaction, to titillate the sub-conscious and to exhibit as much imagination as it possibly can. It serves to push the boundaries and, if it didn’t, then we’d all just listen to the radio instead. We covet the macabre and necessitate diversity as all this reality can get rather irksome. It just so happens that rare works like Society have the power to do just that and deserve to be celebrated accordingly. Besides what other piece of celluloid presents us with a talking sphincter?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: I’ve intentionally left it until now to make mention of a certain Screaming Mad George who is responsible for fashioning the macabre monstrosities that populate our bulging screens. The climactic flesh fondue is the icing on a pretty icky cake; effortlessly rivaling any other unhinged sight we have ever been made privy to. Yuzna deliberately refrained from using any blood during his renowned shunting scene so as not to infuriate the censors, but I would imagine they were still lost for words when presented with his submitted cut, even without the bloodshed. It’s not strictly grue, more goo, but believe me when I say it gets mighty messy.
As for other standout moments, try this on for size – the instance when a poor halfwit is anally intruded with a hand which travels through his innards, exits his maw, grips his phizog like Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken and pulls his entire carcass through his asshole. That takes some beating, let me tell you. Also, prepare for a deranged but strangely erotic shower scene that exposes the rare ailment of back bosoms. You may feel a little wood but likely won’t feel like acting on it. This scene was only shot at the last-minute when Yuzna decided the film needed some more crazy to balance things out more. Good man although, it has to be said, there’s absolutely nothing balanced about Society. Still don’t believe me? Here, actions speak louder than words.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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