Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bizarre Sexuality and Violence, and for Language
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Woody Keith & Rick Fry
Starring: Billy Warlock, Connie Danese, Ben Slack, Evan Richards, Patrice Jennings, Tim Bartell & Charles Lucia
In the realm of body horror, SOCIETY is an underseen gem. Brian Yuzna’s little film was shot in 1989 and then shelved for years before finally being released in a handful of theaters during 1992. It’s not exactly hard to see why SOCIETY wouldn’t play well among the masses. The film has a not-so-subtle underlying message about class and suffers from severely uneven pacing. What begins as a small town conspiracy slowly morphs into something far more bizarre and sinister. The movie has since been forgotten to the annals of time, but is ripe for rediscovery.
Bill Whitney is a rich teenager who doesn’t seem to fit in, despite having every material object that his heart could possibly desire. His parents and sister seem emotionally distant. Some might attribute Bill’s paranoid feelings to typical teenage hormones, but there’s something far more sinister going on. When his sister’s ex-boyfriend unearths an incriminating recording, Bill suspects that his parents’ dinner parties might actually be something perverse. Bill begins to discover more sinister secrets about his family that ultimately reveal a horrifying truth about high-society itself.
The character of Bill is played by Billy Warlock (known for such soap operas as BAYWATCH and GENERAL HOSPITAL). Unfortunately, Warlock’s over-the-top soap opera-y chops come through in his performance. Bill serves as our main protagonist, but is a bit bland and comes off as more of a driving plot force than an actual character. What Warlock’s performance lacks is more than made up for in the combined effort of Connie Danese, Patrice Jennings, and Charles Lucia as Bill’s weird uptight family members. The rest of the snobby rich folks are also played to perfection, but Bill’s friends and love interest don’t exactly pull their weight. Instead, they feel like bland plot devices (much like Bill). This is a horror movie where the villains are far more fun to watch than the actual protagonists that we’re supposed to be rooting for. As a result, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to Wes Craven’s PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS.
The first two-thirds of SOCIETY have a slow, deliberate pace that might turn some viewers off. There are quick shots of disturbing, oddball imagery, but nothing too bizarre happens. Instead, the mystery gets weirder and weirder with each passing second. One might argue that director Brian Yuzna drags this mystery out longer than he has to, but few will deny that the final third is certainly memorable bordering on batshit crazy. All the budget seems to have been spent on gross-out body-horror spectacle and it certainly provides some insane, gross visuals. The jarring shift in pacing and tone is a bit sudden, but I really, truly love the final third of this film. I wish it had been attached to a better movie that maintained a constant sense of this insanity, but these final 30 minutes serve as a savior to an otherwise okay film. This all being said, the story also tries to inject moments of weird comedy. Some of the puns hit, but most come off as baffling and cheap.
SOCIETY is uneven in areas. The pacing drags for the first two-thirds and then cumulates in a remarkably insane final 30 minutes that seem to come right out of left field to knock the viewer flat on their ass. The acting itself is a mixed bag as Bill is a bland protagonist and his friends serve as plot devices, but the villains are extremely well-done. When the film finally goes all out into body-horror territory, it becomes the movie that it should have been the whole time. There’s something to be said in the benefits of a slow-burn, but there’s also something to be said in dragging your feet for too long. The pay-off ultimately makes SOCIETY worth watching, but the journey of getting there is a mixed bag. Ultimately, I think SOCIETY is a kooky, weird horror flick that’s unlike any other, but also suffers from a number of faults. This is actually one horror movie that might benefit from a remake.