Thursday, July 2, 2009

Society (1989)

Brian Yuzna's unjustly forgotten masterpiece of strange, Society, combines two of our favorite obsessions here at Video Updates: the perverse, day-glo decadence of 1987 through 1995, and the tiny sub-genre referred to as "Body Horror." One of the few movies he's done without his usual partner in crime and fellow Lovecraft nerd, Stuart Gordon, (together they created the Re-Animator film franchise and wrote the script for Honey I Shrunk the Kids) it is worth tracking down both for its anthropological value (read: gawk at the stupid haircuts) and for its third act sucker punch of disgusting peculiarity.

Starring 1989's greatest mullet as the skullwarmer of daytime TV and Baywatch hunk Billy Warlock (if you think that's a great monicker, his father was a stuntman for Kurt Russel by the name of Dick Warlock) the movie spins a timeless yarn about family, fitting in, young love, and just trying to survive as a 28 year old high school senior in Beverly Hills. (Much like a certain television show that would debut a year later.)
Billy should be having the time of his life; he's a star athlete and soon-to-be class president with a spectacularly wealthy family, an expensive Jeep Douchemobile™, and a shallow girlfriend who wears denim dresses and hair so tall it scrapes the heavens. In short, he has everything a SoCal high school senior circa 1989 could ever want.
So horrifying... yet I can't look away.

Yet poor Billy can't help thinking that something sinister is going on beneath the surface. Not only is he plagued by nightmares and hallucinations, but someone keeps taunting him with mysterious mental illness themed pranks. Unable to talk to his parents due to their incredibly distant, awkward relationship (not to mention that they seem to be the source of his unease) he turns to the family shrink, who merely patronizes him and tries to explain away the disturbing feelings as normal teen angst.
Meanwhile, he's got to deal with all the usual high school drama. (Now with 60% more class warfare.) There's the upcoming election for class president, featuring Billy versus a preppy dork straight out of Metropolitan. Actually, the whole movie could easily pass for a tacky, West Coast sequel to Whit Stillman's ode to snobby, youthful pretentiousness... if not for the occasional backward boobs shower scene.
There is also the small matter of the huge upcoming party at the even richer, even snobbier kids house. Billy's gal, Valley Girl Barbie, desperately wants to be invited, and unceasingly Lady-MacBeths him into ingratiate himself with the cool kids. (That's right, 'Lady MacBeth' is a verb now. Deal with it.) He makes an attempt at the nearby countryclub, but is thwarted by general snobbishness and the embarrassing antics of other beachgoers.
Sunscreen Facial: The gag so nice they used it twice.

After a fun filled afternoon of quasi-sexual humiliation and practicing for his later role on 'Baywatch,' Billy is accosted by his sister's dorky stalker, who reveals that he has been surreptitiously recording the family's conversations. To avoid the imminent pounding, he quickly plays back a tape of Billy's parents and sister discussing strange new ways of having sex with other snobby rich folk. A moment later, the tape devolves into some sort of violent, inhuman orgy.
Billy takes the recording to his psychiatrist, who convinces him to hand over the tape. More mullet than common sense, he complies, only to return later to find that his family has rerecorded the events on the tape with innocuous versions. Again proving his total inability to deal with conspiracies, Billy calls his contact on the shrink's phone (right in front of him) and repeats the location of their next meeting place outloud. Sure enough, the wiretapper is immediately killed in a freak car accident, that Billy merely gets yelled at for walking all over. I'm pretty sure if you walk onto a the scene of an accident, step all over the blood and broken glass, and then start rooting around in the deceased's suitcase, the cops will toss you in the clink.
Time for an ol' fashion doucheoff

Around this point the movie starts to really sag, sadly. There is more intrigue, more awful fashion, and some unnecessary plot elements startling revelations. Billy's family attempts to throw him off the trail with transparent flattery, formal party invitations, and sudden ivy league acceptance letters, but his paranoia continues to grow. He loses his cheerleader girlfriend and shacks up with a dark, mysterious debutante whose mother is a mute, lumbering giant that steals people's hair... or something.Billy eventually confronts his family about all the conspiratorial shenanigans, but they are ready for him. He gets jumped by some EMTs and tranquilized, then wakes up in the hospital and, against all logic and his buddy's best wishes, goes back to the house only to get captured again. That is a solid ten minutes of action that serves absolutely no purpose. (It's implied that there is some sort of Wicker Man-esque game or ritual going on, but no one elaborates.) I imagine that if Zack Snyder were to ever see such a decadent waste of running time, he would think bitterly about all the valuable, important detail he had to cut out of his still overlong epic, then curl into a little ball and cry himself to sleep.
At last it is time for the big party. Billy is paraded in front of the "well dressed" crowd and joined by the not actually dead whistleblower. The psychiatrist provides the requisite massive exposition dump while everyone else stands around acting smug and wealthy. (Except for one mustachioed redneck who won't stop looking at the camera.) It seems that the wealthy anglo-saxon elite are not actually human beings, but a species of humanoid slugs with the ability to shapeshift. They can't do it instantly or even quickly, but can change quite radically and even merge with each other.
Scariest. Picture. Ever.

Billy has apparently been adopted and raised for the last 18 years solely for this night, where he is to be devoured in a messy ritual known as 'shunting.' Not only have the snobbish slug-people been exploiting the labor of the hard working, non-slug proletariat all these years, but they have been literally feeding off the lower class as well. Bill must watch helplessly as they demonstrate the process on the appetizer.
Everyone strips down to their skivvies and begins getting all sweaty and slimy, then swarm the poor victim zombie style. Instead of biting or clawing, they simply rub and poke until their mucous covered slug skin begins to bond with him. It appears that they are also sucking nutrients out, but mostly its an excuse for a truly epic makeup effects extravaganza. Fingers get inserted into asses (not the 'normal' way--through the cheeks), limbs are stretched exponentially farther than normal, eyeballs are gouged, and a fist is rammed so far up an ass that it comes out the face. (Actually, that happens twice.) This all eventually culminates in a disturbing wide shot of the poor bastard stretched all over the room in an orgy of wealthy slug-people feeding. If Hieronymus Boschhad ever decided that hell was the year 1989, this is what he would have painted:
Slurp slurp. Please pass some lower intestine. Nom nom nom.

Meanwhile, Billy's high school chum and the slug-girl with a heart of gold manage to spring him. He flees, but ends up finding his fake family having a private sex/merging party in another room.
"I already finished. Now I just get to watch those two."

Things look hopeless for poor cappin mullet, until he gets the brilliant idea to challenge his former (well I guess current, too) bully to a duel, mano-a-sluggo. Turns out the dude is a judo expert, but Billy manages to get the upper hand when he goes all rubbery for the shunt. Messiness ensues, and it turns out that the slug-folk are filled with worms or something. Perhaps they are gestalt creatures.

It is exceedingly difficult to render a decision on whether or not Society is a good movie or not. ('Good' by Video Updates' standards, not the real worlds') While there is a vast well of entertainment to be found in how ridiculously dated the fashion is (note to filmmakers: movies about poor people are much harder for the audience to 'date') and the charnel house finale is practically worth the price of admission on its own, the second act is a crippling millstone around the film's neck. The occasional pair of tits aside, it's the part of where you start to realize that the film actually takes itself a little seriously. Enough so that it actually expects us to be legitimately intrigued by the unfolding conspiracy, even when it schizophrenically switches between piling on the red herrings and being cringe inducingly obvious. The giant mongo mom gets no explanation and serves no purpose in the story other than a momentary distraction near the end. The taunting messages Billy keeps getting turn out to be lighthearted pranks by his best friend, unrelated to the society. From a narrative standpoint whole swaths of the story turn out to be completely pointless.
So here is how I suggest you get the most out of your viewing of Brian Yuzna's Society: invite some friends over, drink (or smoke drugs if that's your bag) heavily, have some laughs and enjoy yourself, and when you start to get bored, just drink more and chit chat with your pals. Just make sure you start paying attention at the hour and ten minute mark or skip to chapter 18. Its your Video Updates Bad Movie Ala Carte!
Also, don't forget to stick around for the awesome end credits music.


  1. For firefighter training, we watched a safety video that started out with a bunch of unshaven dudes wearing Carhartts and flannel. I didn't even think to wonder about the date of the video until the narrator walked on screen in a suit... wham, it was 1985. So for advice on how to make fashion timeless: make all of your movies about foresters. They always look the same.

  2. Yes they Are Slug Humanoids and they are more Danger than reptilians These Slug Humanoids are Demons that living among us