Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Demented Beauty of 'Society' (1989)

What a wonderful contribution to society....

By Daniel Epler

Society follows the story of a young man, Billy, living in the world of rich, white, privileged Americans in the 1980's. He has the typical rich family. Dad is a powerful business man with full blonde hair. His mother and sister are beautiful socialites. They live in a mansion is the finest neighborhood. This should be the perfect world... but Billy begins to find out not all is what it seems.

This is a demented and sick movie and not for those of weak of stomach. But for fans of the more bizarre side of cinema, it is quite a treat. It is so for me. One thing that Society does brilliantly is build and maintain a strong sense of discomfort and unease. From the opening credits through the first few scenes, we pick up on a thread of twisted sexuality. Billy's parents, and even Billy himself, seem strangely close to the sister in a sexual way. Billy walks in on his sister in the shower and helps zip up her dress slowly and sensually. And Billy is our hero! Strange does not begin to describe this film.

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Society had two big things going for it. Insane practical effects, and obvious social commentary regarding the divide between the rich and the poor. When we get to the sick climax there is nothing about the effects that can disappoint a fan of 80's horror. One reason I am a fan of said genre is for the effects. I love extravagant practical effects because it feels like watching a special effects show happening before my very eyes. CGI just isn't the same. I love practical effects because I can think to myself, "wow, look at what people made". I know it's not a product of a computer. I know flesh and blood human beings put together and crafted the models, make up, puppets, or whatever else with their own hands. That interests, excites and amazes me! For a nut like me, Society is a crazy achievement. The effects produced include make up, prosthetics, models, puppetry, and lots of glop and goop (whatever that is). The demented and gross sexual imagery created is unbelievable. I can't believe people came up with this stuff!

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This is a rare movie that can successfully ride the line of funny and horrifying. There are scenes in Society that made me so uncomfortable I found them funny... in a nervous way. And yet, I cannot deny how horrifying they are. My favorite film critic Patrick Bromely says of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, (and I do paraphrase here) that director Tobe Hooper does not distinguish between the funny and the horrifying. It is a horror film that manages to be sick, demented and funny at the exact same time. There is not a scare and then a joke, it all blends together. Patrick's terrific way of describing that film also applies to Society. It is sick, twisted, demented, and funny. Brian Yuzna has a masterful way of balancing tone.

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Very much like John Carpenter's They Live just the previous year, Society acts as a social commentary on the divide between the rich and the poor. And much like They Live, it is quite on the nose. Society makes the point (even to the point of doing so through dialogue) that the rich are feeding off the lower class to keep their place in the world. Some people make the rules, and some people follow the rules. It just depends on what you are born into. All of this is in the subtext, and then is put into actual text. This could count against the film, but Society is already so over the top it's in the stratosphere. Is over the top social commentary a crime for this kind of film? It's all very much of a piece, and I appreciate a horror film with something to say. Society is trying to be a satire and I would say it is successful.

Society isn't just an insane cult movie. It's a well made insane cult movie with something to say. The cinematography is great and all of the cast really work well for the film. The lead actor (Billy Warlock) really is a Michael J Fox knock off, but he is successful as a sympathetic protagonist. And if you can't enjoy watching the beauty and charm of Devin DeVasquez, then maybe you've lost your soul.

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Society is a great time. Enjoy the demented beauty.

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