Brian Yuzna’s SOCIETY is about a nefarious, perverted secret among the rich, and how it’s discovered by a high school jock dude. I think Yuzna (who was making his directivational debut after producing RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND and DOLLS) is going for kind of a BLUE VELVET type thing here – the weirdness that tips him off to a creepy conspiracy beneath the thin veneer of All-American wholesomeness.
Specifically, this takes place among the students and parents of Beverly Hills Academy. Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock, son of HALLOWEEN II‘s Michael Myers Dick Warlock) almost seems like some kind of lab-created ’80s hero: mild mullet, polo shirt under letterman’s jacket, Emilio Estevez swagger with a slight Michael J. Fox vulnerability. He plays basketball, dates a cheerleader, acts like a tough guy and nerd-shames his snooty opponent in the debate for class president, but he sees himself as an outcast in his community of rich country club white people. We know from the opening scene that he’s seeing a psychiatrist (Ben Slack, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 4) and has nightmares about his mom (Connie Danese, HUNTER’S BLOOD) and dad (Charles Lucia, the killer in HOSPITAL MASSACRE – playing the father of the son of Michael Myers!), who clearly favor his sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings). He thinks he’s adopted. He’s told he’s paranoid.
There’s some weird shit going on. Like, he has to get something out of the bathroom while his sister is in the shower, and he accidentally sees that her ass is on backwards. And this girl at his school, Clarissa (Devin DeVasquez, HOUSE II, also apparently had a romance with Prince) is making aggressive moves toward him, BASIC INSTINCTing him during the debate, and turning him into a blubbering mess by walking past him on the beach.
He’s not actually the one that discovers what’s going on. The Woodward and Bernstein of this shit is Blanchard (Tim Bartell, MEATBALLS PART II), a nerd who Bill’s sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings) rejected, and then he, you know, hid a microphone in Jenny’s ring and… made recordings? When I type it out like that it sounds inappropriate, but he plays Bill a tape of his parents and his sister all, you know, having sex together. So… it was justified?
But then Bill brings the tape to his psychiatrist, can’t get him to listen to it until later, at which point the tape has mysteriously been changed to no longer be incriminating. And then Blanchard is killed in a car accident.
At one point a guy refers to Blanchard as “bagel breath,” and I guess I’ve heard of these rich communities with an anti-semitic bent. But this is not a type of rich people I’ve ever had any experience with. I don’t really understand this world where your parents are proud that you received a letter inviting you to a party. But maybe that’s not even a thing – I couldn’t really understand the characters’ behavior in general. Of course, most of it is intentionally not how people behave, but what about the random kids on the beach stealing his girlfriend’s sunblock and squirting it on her? Or why are people leaving sex dolls and Ken dolls and shrunken heads around for him to find?
And Clarissa’s way of being forward with him is pretty weird. She brings him home for sex and keeps saying weird things like “Lean machine, jelly bean.” After sex she asks,”How do you like your coffee? Cream? Sugar? Or do you want me to pee in it?”
I really don’t get it. Is she trying to gross him out, or is it supposed to be flirtatious? He seems kind of put off and says “You’re a class act, Clarissa.” But then stands up to make out with her again. Everything about this movie is off, mostly in a good way I think.
I guess Clarissa is pretty normal compared to her mother (Pamela Matheson, POLICE ACADEMY 2: THEIR FIRST ASSIGNMENT), who is huge with a sense of style that reminds me of a John Waters character, and she doesn’t talk and kinda looks like she’s in a trance or something. She comes home, coughs up a hairball and puts it in his hand when he introduces himself. And this is the only explanation we get of what’s up with her:
“So what’s with her?”
“She does things I don’t like.”
Come to think of it, the dialogue in general is awkward and off kilter. Bill gets in a fight with his parents:
“Fuck you, butthead”
“How dare you use the F-word to your father.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you prefer the word ‘copulation’?”
It seems like it’s supposed to be a good comeback. It’s not. The “butthead” part, we later discover, is setup for a scene where his dad’s face is where his butthole is supposed to be. Long story.
Okay, it’s not. I saw this years ago and didn’t really remember it. Whenever it has come up recently, people would say “It’s worth it for the end.” And it’s true, it’s all just kind of an odd setup for a crazy mutant orgy that happens at the, uh, climax. It turns out his family and the rest of the elites are some kind of weird mutating blobs who are using him as a sacrifice during one of their giant orgies where their bodies melt together. It’s a very disgusting and imaginative tour-de-force of latex effects by Screaming Mad George (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, ELM STREET 3–4, FREAKED, TALES FROM THE HOOD). This pile of naked slimy people rub and penetrate each other in unorthodox ways until they meld into a web of misshapen body parts, like a whole bunch of basket cases and Freddy dreams doing lines and fucking each other at a mansion party.
In a way SOCIETY is like THEY LIVE as a teen horror movie instead of sci-fi action. Instead of a hard working drifter left behind by the system he’s a rich kid worried he might not have been born a rich kid. Instead of a rebel group working out of a church to uncover the alien threat there’s the nerd stalking the girl who turned him down. Instead of fights and chases there are school assemblies and parties. But one reason I think THEY LIVE is so much better is that its alien metaphor describes a whole system of elitism, oppression, waste and betrayal. This one is more about “rich people aren’t like us” than about economic systems. It’s more worried about the gross orgies they have than the way they treat the underclass. It’s like Illuminati conspiracy theory that emphasizes weird occult rituals a little too much.
But it is truly unlike the other movies that are made by the other people. I can definitely give Yuzna credit for that.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.