I was hoping to catch Society at a recent Grimm Up North screening but I unfortunately missed it because of work. Luckily, a guy at work is a huge horror fan and lent me a DVD copy. What intrigued me about the film was that it has been described as ‘a minor classic in the body horror sub-genre’. Regular readers might know that I’m not a huge horror fan but I do enjoy a bit of crazy, no holds barred body horror from time to time. Give me a film in which a man punches through another man’s stomach until his fist comes out of his mouth before turning him inside out and I’m there!
For much of its runtime Society plays as a kind of 1980s soap opera crossed with a soft-core erotic thriller and the first hour provides nothing beyond a bit of intrigue and laughter at the 80s hair and poor dialogue. The final half hour though is some of the weirdest stuff I’ve seen on screen and makes up for the poor opening. Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a rich kid who attends Beverly Hills Academy and lives at home with his parents and Sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings). For some reason Bill feels like he doesn’t fit in and starts to wonder if he’s even related to the family who are showing signs of unusual behaviour.
As horror stories go, Society’s isn’t bad but it’s hardly groundbreaking. One of the problems I had is that it builds so slowly, I’d nearly lost interest by the time the crazy stuff started happening. The only ‘horror’ in the opening hour is a glimpse of a strange lump on someone’s back and a fatal car crash and to be honest, neither of those things were horrifying. The film instead reminded me of the sort of US TV shows from the same period that I watched when I was a child. The high school elements reminded me a lot of Sweet Valley High. Thankfully the story is at least intriguing and I was happy to continue watching to discover what was actually going on. The rewards for doing so are worth the wait.
The closing thirty minutes or so are totally bonkers and really fun. Bodies melt into one another and they meld and deform into hideous creatures who eat the poor to stay rich. The film is heavy on the social commentary which can be seen throughout the movie but is visualised brilliantly in these scenes. I’d urge anyone with more than a passing interest in Cronenbergian body horror to give the last third of this movie a watch as it’s some of the weirdest and funniest gloopy prosthetic work I’ve seen. The images are highly original and twisted and work well as the visual metaphor for which they are designed.
I laughed a lot during Society but rarely was it intended by the film makers. Often it was at the clothes and haircuts which are terrible by today’s standards and can’t have been acceptable even by late 1980s standards. Sometimes the laughter was derived from the acting. Billy Warlock doesn’t seem like a great actor but he is like Brando compared to some of the others. I’ve rarely seen such dreadful and wooden acting on screen but at least it was funny in the context of the film. You kind of expect it in low budget horror so instead of ruining the film, it actually increased my enjoyment of it. Former Playboy playmate of the month Devin DeVasquez floats around and isn’t too bad but Heidi Kozak might be one of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen. Patrice Jennings isn’t much better and Evan Richards fails to sure up the cast of actors who try hard but fail miserably. The dialogue includes lines like “How do you like your tea? With cream, sugar, or do you want me to pee in it?” This sounds odd out of context but there isn’t even any context in the movie. The script is really strange and often doesn’t make much sense.
Society is a horror which has a nice central idea and an incredible way of visualising that idea. The effects are brilliantly weird and outlandish and had me both laughing as well as gasping. The film drags slightly before opening itself up and the acting was awful but on the whole I enjoyed the film despite and perhaps because of its flaws.