Wednesday, 18 October 2017

HALLOWEEN HORROR - Society (1989)


I left Brian Yuzna's Society with so many questions. Why do the rich melt into each other and transform into slimy mounds of flesh? I get the whole "rich eating the poor" metaphor, but why, and to what end? And do the rich just get away with it all? I couldn't help but think Society may be a spiritual prequel to certain films. Maybe the Purge films, with their emphasis on the rich institutionally enabling themselves to kill the poor in a ritualistic, one day a year event. Or even Kingsman, where the aristocrats create a secret intelligence agency for the apparent good of country, even though they do nothing but accentuate class differences. What is even the purpose of this film?

Released in 1989, Society has all the 80s signifiers, most rampantly with the fashions (high cut bikini's and the hair being standout components), that give this film that retrospective goofy edge. Nothing in this film is blatantly scary, just uneasy. Firstly you have Billy Warlock playing Bill, the troubled son to the well-off Whitney family. So troubled in fact that he goes to counselling sessions to talk out his paranoid fears. He worries that he doesn't feel part of the family or part of the rich society around him. His sisters ex Blanchard (Tim Bartell) is himself also worried, and plays Bill the secret audio he recorded at Bill's sister Jenny's (Patrice Jennings) coming out party, which makes it sound like his family are engaging in a horrific orgy.


While everyone around him acts like he's gone mad, Bill is determined to prove it, and through some tangents that include upsetting his girlfriend, sleeping with a girl who can twist her whole body around, and the deaths of various people who try to help Bill only for them to mysteriously come back alive, leads us to the films notorious finale. At another gathering of the rich we discover that Bill's paranoid suspicions where true, and that he is in fact not related to his parents, but that the rich of this town are completely different to everyone else, although we never find out exactly how.

Courtesy of special effects designer Screaming Mad George, the film engulfs with a massive hit of body horror, as we witness the horrific orgy that Bill heard earlier. The rich strip down and mould their bodies together to create a formless mass of barely recognisable body parts. Blanchard is sadly sacrificed to the rich, and his own body is assimilated into theirs, in a ceremony they call "shunting". They are literally feeding off the poor, extracting whatever goodness they can from Blanchard. It is unclear as to whether this is their main source of food, or if this is some kind of process they go through in order to continue assimilating into society.


Of course, some of these effects are quite silly by today's standards, but they get across effectively the body horror Yuzna and Screaming Mad George were going for. For me, its not so much the deformation of the rich that is troublesome, its the homogeneous pile of limbs they become. They do not seem to care for individual people but instead just the whole, and just as long as the rich can continue to "shunt", then the rich will survive. But then why do they need to be rich, high-society members at all? The satire is strong in this one, as even though Bill is highly comfortable within his privileged place in society, its the competition he cannot get on with. The rest of the rich though relish on it, and of course, where there's competition, there's rules, and if you want to be a member of high-society there is a lot of rules you have to follow if you want to fit in.

The finale is a great end to a movie with a somewhat jokey premise, but the resolution is troubling. Bill kills the jock Ferguson by pulling his head out through his arse (literally), and then escapes with his friend and new girlfriend in his jeep. Meanwhile, the rich just carry on like nothing happened. Are we meant to just accept these... creatures? Does Bill? He may have defeated the bully, but the high society are still at large to kill again. A sequel, Society 2: Body Modification, was set to go into production which may have answered some of these questions, but that was unfortunately shelved.We do seem to have a mania at the moment to sequelize films from decades ago, so until that film does come out, we have only the memory of a sweaty cornucopia of affluent body parts to ponder over.

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