Blu-ray review: Society (1989)

Society Yuzna

Brian Yuzna was riding high in the late ’80s. After a mostly successful run producing/co-writing a trio of films with pal Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond), things were booming for Brian. He had a project that he co-wrote with Stuart being made at Disney (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) and he was about to embark on his own directorial debut. After a few aborted projects, that debut finally came in the form of the satirical horror comedy Society (1989).

Shot in early 1989, but not released here in the U.S. until summer 1992, Society is a tongue-in-cheek attack on the Reagan-era rich who were devouring the middle class and poor at the time as they continued to strive for more money and power. The chewing up and spitting out of the lower classes by the upper is a common theme in genre efforts, particularly of the time, and in Society’s case, that ingestion is quite literal.

Our hero, Bill Whitney, has been raised among high class society, but he has never felt like he really belonged to his family. While no social outcast (he’s a star athlete and on the debate team), he appears to have a far stronger moral center than those around him, be they family or friends. This results in him feeling shunned and outcast, so it’s no wonder that we see him frequenting the office of a counselor. Bill is paranoid that there is some sort of conspiracy going on around him; something that causes his behavior to become more and more erratic as the tale unfolds. He’s not wrong. Something sinister is breeding behind closed doors among the upper class folk that surround him. Something slimy, incestuous, and hungry, not only for fortune and fame, but also for human flesh.

That right, folks! We have some good, old fashioned body horror at play here, especially in the wet, wild, and gruesome third act. It appears that Yuzna paid close attention during his time with Stuart Gordon, as Society is both a tonal and thematic cousin to much of Gordon’s early works. While not a stone cold classic, it is also one of the better horror debuts of the ’80s and well-worth a look (or revisitation) for fans of the era. Sadly, it did not seem to click with American audiences upon its belated release, but lucky for Yuzna, he already had some follow-up projects released in the interim (notably Bride of Re-Animator) and was already about to begin shooting what many consider his best film, Return of the Living Dead III. The moral of the story here is that it always pays to line-up a few projects in a row, just in case the first one doesn’t work out.

Moving onto the disc itself, I’m happy to report that Society has also never looked better. Arrow’s new transfer of the film is stunning, particularly in the vibrant finale. It has also never sounded better, with every squishing, sqwooshing, and sucking sound during the infamous “shunting” sequence presented crystal clear. Any better and I’d swear I was mid-shunt with the lot of them. As far as extras go, Arrow has once again outdone themselves and packed the disc. There are countless interviews and featurettes detailing all aspects of the production, including plenty of time spent on the work of FX maestro Screaming Mad George. We are also treated to a very informative commentary by Mr. Yuzna, as well as a few other niceties. Also included in the limited edition is a reprint of the 2003 sequel graphic novel, Society: Party Animal.

If you are looking to add Yuzna’s debut to your collection, whether you are a long-time fan or a newcomer ready to finally take the plunge, you’d be hard pressed to find a better release of the film.

Teenager Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) has always felt like the odd one out in his wealthy, upper-class, Beverly Hills family. For some reason, he just doesn’t seem to fit in. But his sense of alienation takes a sinister turn when he hears an audio recording of his sister’s coming-out party, which seems to implicate his family and others in a bizarre, ritualistic orgy. And then there are the strange things he’s been seeing – glimpses of people with their bodies contorted impossibly out of shape… Is Bill going mad or is there something seriously amiss in his neighborhood?

  • Newly remastered 2K digital transfer of the film, approved by director Brian Yuzna
  • High definition Blu-ray (1080p) and standard definition DVD presentation
  • Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray version)
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary by Brian Yuzna
  • “Governor of Society” – A brand new interview with Yuzna
  • “The Masters of the Hunt” – A brand new featurette including interviews with stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson, and Tim Bartell
  • “The Champion of the Shunt” – A brand new featurette with FX artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso, and Nick Benson
    2014 Q&A with Yuzna
  • Brian Yuzna “in conversation” backstage at the Society world premiere
  • “Persecution Mania” – Scream Mad George music video
  • Limited edition digipak packaging featuring newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
  • Society: Party Animal – the official comic book sequel to Society, reproduced in its entireyy in a perfect-bound book for the exclusive limited edition
  • This brings me back to my days of being a young kid, poring through issues of Fangoria and marveling at all the insane make up jobs and gory screen caps of B-movie goodness.

    • There are movies that I barely recall even seeing (or never even actually got to do so), but goddamn do I remember those Fangoria feature layouts.

      • Daniel Baldwin

        Every once in awhile I’ll toss on a film I think I haven’t seen and then realize that some of the footage is absolutely familiar. It always feels like I’ve unlocked some sort of secret part of my brain that has been hidden for decades.