Seventeen-year-old Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is having trouble at home, but he cannot quite put his finger on what is bothering him. He hails from a wealthy family, lives in a large Beverly Hills mansion with his parents and sister, is doing well at school, but an unease has struck him and is refusing to go away. He is seeing a psychiatrist, Dr Cleveland (Ben Slack), but in spite of his reassurances that there is nothing untoward going on, Bill cannot really believe it. And the more he thinks conspiracy, the more solid his fears become...
Society was the directorial debut of horror producer Brian Yuzna, and is in many ways his best film. Not that it was a classic shocker, in fact there were problems with it and its approach that did not quite do justice to the material, looking like an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 which sees its characters exposed as corrupt, exploitative perverts, but such was the sheer craziness of how this ends up, helped by the surreal makeup effects of Screaming Mad George, that it had a way of sticking in the mind where its more conventional contemporaries might slip into obscurity.
In its way this was a late eighties variation on the time-honoured "they're all out to get me" paranoia movies instigated by Don Siegel's Invasion of the Bodysnatchers back in the fifties, but given a straight thriller touch by the shady goings on suspense pieces of the seventies, although not even those went as far in their imaginings as Yuzna went here. And it was his idea: originally this was your basic secret society script, but the director wanted to push things further, hence the last act of disgusting slithery effects and implications of twisted sexuality that our ruling classes may or may not entertain.
Yes, we were in class war territory, but whereas usually in American films that meant the little guy against the monolithic government with secret service shenanigans thrown in, here it was the actual rich who were the villains. But wait, isn't Bill part of that clique? Well, he is and he isn't, as we discover, but what sets him apart are his increasing suspicions that not only is he failing to fit in with the upper echelons of society, but that they are up to murderous activities - naturally, hardly anyone will go along with these anxieties and those who do end up targets of mysterious events. Thus we are never in any doubt that Bill is perfectly justified in that paranoia.
Of course, even at the time the main publicity for Society rested on those special effects, so most of those settling down to watch it would be well aware already of what was happening. Better to arrive at this innocent of its twists if you can, although its anti-rich leanings don't quite go as far as stirring the audience to embrace the left wing of politics, preferring to offer a sick punchline rather than any useful discourse - you could easily accuse this of hysteria born of nine years of Reaganomics. Also the visuals could have been starker than the typical straight to video, bright imagery of much of the horror churned out on a low budget at this time, leaving the wish that Yuzna had handed over his ideas to a more accomplished stylist. But for what it was, Society probably came across better now than it did then, as its deep-seated persecution complex truly became the fashion in the following years. Music by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder.
American director, writer and producer specialising in low-budget, darkly funny horror. Produced the classic Re-Animator in 1985, starting a long relationship with director Stuart Gordon for whom he also produced From Beyond and Dolls. Yuzna's directing debut was the bizarre, acclaimed horror/satire Society, which he followed in 1990 with Bride of Re-Animator. Return of the Living Dead III, The Dentist and Necronomicon all mixed splatter and humour in over-the-top style, and in 2000 Yuzna relocated to Barcelona to set up his own production company, Fantastic Factory, whose output includes the Yuzna-directed Faust and Beyond Re-Animator, the gothic werewolf yarn Romasanta and Stuart Gordon's Dagon.