Society (1989)

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“We’re just one big happy family… except for a little incest and psychosis.”

The above line of dialogue, as amusing as it is twisted, perfectly sums up this little gem of a movie. A horror that covers familiar ground – the standard hero who may be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t after him – before rewarding viewers with a third act of insanity and nastiness that holds up today as one of the most impressive practical FX showcases from the decade that gave us so many highlights.

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Bill Warlock plays Bill Whitney, a young man who feels out of place. He’s not doing too badly at school, but he just doesn’t feel any connection to his parents (Charles Lucia and Connie Danese) or his spoilt sister (Patrice Jennings). Part of this might be the standard teenage struggle to find a place in the world and figure out how everything fits together, but part of it might be something more. Billy talks about his fears and suspicions with a doctor (Ben Slack), but any progress he might make is constantly hampered by events going on around him. Strange conversations he shouldn’t have heard, strange sights he shouldn’t have seen and one or two suspicious deaths.

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Written by Rick Fry and Woody Keith, and directed by Brian Yuzna (a favourite of mine, the guy is a fine purveyor of enjoyable schlock), Society is funny, sharp and enjoyably subversive throughout. Oh, there are many scenes that are quite tame, so tame that they wouldn’t look out of place in any other teen horror, but there are also moments that feel more jarring because of what they’re juxtaposed alongside. Then there’s the grand finale, arguably the high point of FX artist Screaming Mad George’s career. Once seen, it’s never forgotten.

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Warlock is just fine in the lead role. He’s an average American male, and looks suitably like someone who could do well enough in school while still finding his place in the world. Devin DeVasquez, as a young woman who catches his eye, isn’t quite as good, but is believable eye-catching. Lucia and Danese are both great as the parents, and Jennings is beautiful and cool, in an enjoyably, slightly fake, way. Slack does well as Dr. Cleveland, Ben Meyerson is easy to dislike and Evan Richards plays Milo, a friend to Billy who sticks with him, even as the situation becomes . . . . . . . . curiouser and curiouser.

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Society remains a high point for many of those involved. Yuzna has given me a lot of entertainment over the years, but this is his best directorial feature. Screaming Mad George outdoes himself in the effects department, and Billy Warlock, well, I’ve not actually seen him in any other leading role (though I’m sure he’s had them). If you haven’t seen it yet, do so as soon as possible. But be prepared for some wild moments.

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DIRECTOR: BRIAN YUZNA
WRITER: RICK FRY, WOODY KEITH
STARS: BILLY WARLOCK, DEVIN DEVASQUEZ, EVAN RICHARDS, BEN MEYERSON, CHARLES LUCIA, CONNIE DANESE, PATRICE JENNINGS, HEIDI KOZAK, BEN SLACK, DAVID WILEY, TIM BARTELL
RUNTIME: 99 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

3 Comments
  1. Tue Sorensen says

    I’ll watch this on Sunday! 🙂

  2. Kevin Matthews says

    Good man. It’s a blast.

  3. Tue Sorensen says

    Fascinating movie! 🙂 7 stars from me.

    It’s a bit of a shame that Rob put so many spoiling images into this review, though, when you are so careful to avoid spoilers…

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