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Brian Yuzna's Society stars Billy Warlock who had a bit part in Halloween II (probably because his father played Michael Myers in the film) who is probably best known for strutting along the beach with David Hasslehoff in Baywatch. Warlock plays Bill, a high-school senior, with some unusual social problems. He feels that he doesn't fit in with either his family or his friends. This isn't so uncommon for someone his age but Bill takes this to an extreme and even goes so far as to tell his psychiatrist, played by Ben Slack (of Silent Night Deadly Night 4), that he thinks he's adopted. Regardless, Bill is awkward and seemingly uncomfortable in his own skin.
While the film starts off in the same vein as a lot of teen comedies from the eighties, it quickly progresses into something much darker and much weirder. This all starts when Bill starts looking into the reasons why he feels so disjointed from his family and friends.
When he starts to perceive those around him and those who are close to him as incestuous and cannibalistic perverts, his psychiatrist really starts to question Bill's sanity. But what if it's all true and what if he's not imagining it? Something is definitely ‘off' in his strange social circle. He confirms this when one of his friends produces a tape recording of his sister engaged in some kinky sex acts with her mother and father urging her to keep going and indeed, even offering some suggestions as to how to make work better for her.
Bill, obviously perplexed by this recent discovery, sets out to uncover what's really going on as no one will listen to him or give him any credibility. And this is where the movie starts to get into some seriously bizarre territory (about two thirds of the way through). As the last act plays out Yuzna employs some rather unorthodox visuals and genuinely disgusting moments, the kind that you really will not see coming. These carry on through the rest of the movie and bring it to a particularly unsettling climax.
Society definitely earns some points for trying something new within the horror genre. Sure, it hits on some clichés and the humor is lowbrow at times, but it doesn't feel out of place when dealing with the teenagers in the film and it really will sneak up on you in the last hit. There's some cleverness to the script that mixes well with the insane visual style while the humor is effectively black and decidedly twisted.
Brian Yuzna (Return of the Living Dead Part III, Bride of Re-Animator) crafts a tense and freaky work of horrific social satire with this directorial debut, and it remains, in my opinion at least, his best work to date. Solid performances from the lead and supporting actors help things here. Billy Warlock may not be a household name but he does fine work in the lead and the rest of the bit part players assembled to round out the cast are believable enough. Some all too familiar sets and locations make Society work on a level that, for anyone who grew up in the 80s, is recognizable enough to really get under your skin.
The special effects, by Screaming Mad George (Faust: Love of the Damned, Bride of Re-Animator) are a notch or two above the work you would expect to see in a low budget 80s horror movie. They genuinely still hold up very well even in these days of over abundant CGI. Worth noting is that when Republic originally released the film on home video, almost four minutes of the FX work was cut out during the last twenty minutes of the film due to the sexual and graphic nature of the work. All of that footage was restored in the Anchor Bay DVD release that came out years back and it is included in this Blu-ray debut from Arrow as well.The Blu-ray:
Society arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in a slick looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. Detail is typically very strong here and color reproduction is excellent, that last half hour looks even more insane here than it did on the DVD (which looked good for its day but which pales in comparison to this release). There isn't much in the way of print damage note and the film's grain structure remains intact. Texture is quite good and black levels are nice and solid. Skin tones are lifelike and natural. This is a really strong image, Arrow have done fine work here.Sound:
The English language LPCM 2.0 Stereo track, which comes with optional English subtitles, also fares well. The dialogue is easy to follow and nicely balanced against the score and the sound effects and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion.Extras:
Extras on the disc start out with an audio commentary with Brian Yuzna moderated by David Gregory and Carl Daft. It's a solid track that moves at a good pace. Yuzna is quite open about his thoughts on the film, the performances, the effects and the more extreme content that it contains but he approaches it all with the right mix of humor and insight. The moderators keep him talking and on topic and this is a pretty informative chat.
From there we move on to the featurettes starting with Governor Of Society, a sixteen minute segment with Yuzna who gives us what is basically a career overview. Here he talks about how he got his start in the film industry, his work on the Re-Animator series, and how he wound up making Society. The Masters Of The Hunt is a twenty-two minute featurette that spends time with cast members Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell. The actors cover how they got into acting, some of their early roles, their thoughts on this particular film and what it was like working on the picture together. Given some of what a few of these guys had to go through to finish this movie, there are definitely some interesting stories told in this piece. Be sure to watch it, it's a kick.
From there we move onto Champion Of The Shunt, a twenty-minute interview with effects guys Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson. They talk in a fair bit of detail about their work on this film, how they got into effects work in the first place, working with Yuzna and how some of the bits that we see up on the screen were created and put together. The disc also includes Q & A Session With Brian Yuzna that runs for just under forty minutes shot at the Celluloid Screams Film Festival that took place in England in 2014. Here Yuzna takes questions from the audience about the film, going into some detail about his own thoughts on some of the issues that the film deals with, telling stories about how the film did when it was first released in different territories around the world, production issues and more.
Rounding out the extra features are two minutes of footage shot at the film's UK premiere in 1989 that show Yuzna offering up an intro of sorts, a music video from Screaming Mad George for a song called Persecution Mania, the film's original trailer, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie with identical extra features is also included.
It's also worth talking about the packaging for this release for a bit. The Blu-ray and DVD discs are housed in a gatefold cover containing one plastic tray inside for each disc. Also housed inside is a postcard featuring the Society poster art on one side and a selection of cover art for other Arrow releases on the other. A second post card with the same poster art is also contained in here, with an ‘invitation' printed on the flip side. Also be on the lookout for an insert booklet of liner notes by Alan Jones, cast and crew credits and notes on the transfer. That gatefold fits inside a fantastic slipcover that ties into the movie's finale in a great way. Also contained in that slipcover is a comic book sequel to the movie called Society: Party Animal. Written by Edward Murphy and Colin Barr and illustrated by Barr, Shelby Robertson, Andrew Dalhouse, Neill Cameron and Martin Kielty it makes for a nice companion piece to the movie as it's just as over the top and twisted as the feature film that inspired it.Final Thoughts:
Brian Yuzna's Society remains as startling and bizarre as it has ever been. It's an original and twisted work of horror and social commentary highlighted by some amusing performances and strong effects work. Arrow's Blu-ray looks and sounds good and it's stacked with some quality extras too. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.