More ambitious than the usual low-budget horror item, SOCIETY doesn't develop its provocative idea--when the rich feed off the lower classes, they do so literally--to the fullest, but has its share of intriguing and chilly moments along the way.
Teenager Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a member of an upper-class family in Beverly Hills, but is starting to have doubts about his privileged life. As he tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Cleveland (Ben Slack), he's come to distrust his parents, who seem to lavish more attention on his sister, Jenny
(Patrice Jennings). Bill's friend, Blanchard (Tim Bartell), who once dated Jenny, thinks something's wrong too, and one day, while getting something in the bathroom, Bill is startled when he sees Jenny taking a shower--through the glass door, the top half of her body appears to be on backwards.
That day at the beach, Bill's status-obsessed girlfriend, Shauna (Heidi Kozak), implores him to get them invited to a party at the home of his snotty rival, Ferguson (Ben Meyerson), but his attempts are a failure and Shauna takes off. Then Blanchard appears, takes Bill aside and plays a tape he's
secretly recorded of Jenny's recent coming-out party. From the sounds on the tape, the event apparently became an incestuous orgy at which an innocent victim was tortured and murdered.
A distraught Bill brings the tape to Dr. Cleveland; but when he returns the next day, the doctor plays it back, and the language and sounds appear completely innocent. The doctor lectures him about fitting in and obeying the rules of society before the confused Bill leaves. He arranges to meet
with Blanchard to get another copy of the tape, but when he goes to the meeting place, he sees that Blanchard has had a fatal auto accident. Returning home, Bill is startled to find he's been invited to Ferguson's party; but when he goes and attempts to force information about the unnerving recent
events from Ferguson, he's roughed up and thrown into the swimming pool. Later, however, he is seduced by Clarisa, a seemingly rebellious member of Ferguson's clique. Another of Ferguson's cronies, Petrie (Brian Bremer) contacts Bill, offering answers, but when Bill goes to meet him, Petrie turns
up dead as well. Later, however, the "death" turns out to have been a hoax designed to embarrass Bill.
Bill starts to think he's going crazy--and so does Dr. Cleveland, who has him sedated and taken to a local hospital. There he finds that he has been pronounced dead even though he's still alive, and manages to escape to Clarisa's house. She warns him against investigating further, but Bill
nonetheless returns home, where a reception for visiting Judge Carter (David Wiley) is to be held. But the guests, as well as his family, restrain Bill, and reveal that he was right all along: he is an outsider from society, brought up within it and raised to be their victim in a bizarre ritual
But the first to fall prey is the still-living Blanchard, who is brought out and restrained as the assembled guests sprout grotesque deformities and literally suck the life from him, melding into a huge, oozing mass as they do so. Despite the presence of Clarisa and Bill's best friend Milo (Evan
Richards), who has infiltrated the party, Bill is set to be next in line, and although he briefly escapes--and discovers his family having a sickening, metamorphosing orgy in a back room--he too is prepared for "shunting." But in a last stand, Bill challenges Ferguson to a fight for his freedom,
and manages to win, literally pulling his protean foe inside out. Bill, Milo and Clarisa escape into the night.
The directorial debut of prolific genre producer Brian Yuzna, SOCIETY sat on the shelf for a couple of years prior to a quickie release in Los Angeles, followed by its debut on home video. How one reacts to the film will have a lot to do with how accepting one is of a film that proceeds for most
of its running time as a paranoid mystery with horrific overtones, only to become a graphic special effects festival in the final reels. The "shunting" orgy is an admittedly startling, lengthy sequence, with the party guests sprouting extended mouths and extremities and burrowing into their
helpless victim, oozing slime all the while and eventually transforming into an enormous mass of quivering protoplasm. (On this evidence, both effects creator Screaming Mad George and his credit for "surrealistic makeup effects and design" seem quite well-named.) The intent appears to be the
creation of the ultimate horror to pay off on Bill's seemingly paranoid suspicions, and although it's a properly shocking spectacle, its potency is depleted somewhat through the drawing out of the climactic action and injections of sick humor (his father's transformation makes literal Bill's
earlier shouted insult, "Butthead!").
The film as a whole remains an entertaining and relatively intriguing thriller, though it might have benefited from a more complex development of its theme of outsiders in society, as opposed to the traditional suspense gambits it largely utilizes. Director Yuzna and screenwriters Woody Keith and
Rick Fry also unnecessarily repeat themselves at times, as when the unsettling, obscured vision of Jenny's backwards body is repeated in full view with Clarisa and in the sequences involving Martin's "death," which is played too similarly to Blanchard's--not to mention Bill's curious lack of
suspicion of rival Martin's intentions.
Nonetheless, SOCIETY has a level of originality and social satire not often seen in low-budget shockers. It's interesting to note that this film, with its out-in-the-open treatment of class differences, was a bigger critical and commercial success in England than its native America. (Violence,profanity, nudity, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: More ambitious than the usual low-budget horror item, SOCIETY doesn't develop its provocative idea--when the rich feed off the lower classes, they do so literally--to the fullest, but has its share of intriguing and chilly moments along the way. Teenager… (more)