So-so eighties horror enlivened by amazing special effects and a GREAT climax. I wouldn’t advise going out of your way to see this, but if you do I’d recommend a liberal use of the fast forward button.
B-movie king Brian Yuzna, who produced the classic RE-ANIMATOR, made his directorial debut with SOCIETY in 1989. Quite a few critics were bowled over by the film’s rich-feeding-off-the-poor subtext, which I found unduly heavy handed. What did impress me were the astoundingly elaborate, mind bending special effects by Screaming Mad George. Best known for his FX work on the original PREDATOR (1987) and FREAKED (1993), as well as lesser efforts like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4 (1990) and SPACE TRUCKERS (1996), the Japanese born Screaming Mad George did what is certainly his best job ever on SOCIETY’S FX. Indeed, the effects herein are arguably among the decade’s finest, ranking with Rick Baker’s stunning work on VIDEODROME and Rob Bottin’s on THE THING. Too bad the film itself isn’t nearly as good.
Teenage Bill would seem to have it all: he lives in Beverly Hills with his ultra-rich parents, has a nice girlfriend and appears certain to be elected class president of Beverly Hills High. But he’s filled with apprehension that “something’s gonna happen.” His feelings seem to be confirmed when a friend surreptitiously tapes Bill’s parents involved in what sounds like a wild sex orgy with their fellow society pals. Worse, said friend is killed in a suspicious car accident shortly thereafter and nobody seems particularly broken up about it. Things get so bad Bill says “fuck you, butthead!” to his own father.
At a party Bill is seduced by a hot chick who in bed makes a creepy noise and appears to undergo a strange metamorphosis. Another of Bill’s friends tries to let him in on what’s really going on with the people around him, but is killed in yet another suspicious “accident.” The truth comes out at a party held by Bill’s parents and all their society chums, where it’s revealed that these freaks are actually extraterrestrial creatures whose influence reaches far beyond the confines of Beverly Hills . A depraved orgy ensues during which a young man is literally devoured by the party’s guests, who mutate into gruesome monstrosities: bodies are pulled and stretched like taffy, heads turn into giant hands and Bill’s father reveals that he really is a butthead.
In all fairness, there really doesn’t seem to be much Brian Yuzna could have done with this material directorial wise. The characters are bland, the story is silly and the Beverly Hills milieu is presented in the most clichéd manner imaginable. The acting, moreover, by a cast of personality-free TV stars, is consistently below par throughout. Furthermore, Yuzna does himself no favors by including a bunch of lame fake scares (i.e. kids squirting the main character with suntan lotion, accompanied by an obligatory jarring music cue).
None of this is offensively bad, mind you, just painfully uninteresting. It’s a good thing Yuzna had Screaming Mad George on hand to save the film from terminal mediocrity. George’s stunning FX work—his credit reads “Surrealistic Make-up Effects”—reaches its apex in the beyond-outrageous orgy climax (much of it cut from American release prints to obtain an R rating), which remains a high point in gross-out cinema, even if the rest of the film doesn’t measure up.
Wild Street Pictures
Director: Brian Yuzna
Producer: Keith Walley
Screenplay: Woody Keith, Rick Fry
Cinematography: Rick Fichter
Editing: Peter Teschner
Cast: Billy Warlock, Devin Devasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson, Brian Bremer, Maria Claire, Conan Yuzna, Ben Slack, Heidi Kozak, Connie Danese, Charles Lucia