“Billy, people are what they are—now you have to learn to accept that and you have to learn to accept society’s rules---if you don’t follow the rules, Billy, bad things happen!”
Society is a film that I had never heard of. A video popped up on my Youtube recommendation because I had been watching clips from a British TV show that has been passed through memories, Viderome. This was as a late night show that had Alex Cox of Repo Man fame and later on, film critic Mark Cousins presenting films that were odd, weird, not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. I have a feeling once Cox left, BBC told cousins to spruce up the place a little, make it more viewer friendly. Because I noticed the more Cousins presented, the less stranger the films became, and more of what people think is a “Cult” film. That’s not to say all the films were mainstream, but….you can kind of tell, they were less B-movie additions. I don’t know, I might be wrong, because I was across the pond at the time this show was on the air.
Back to the recommended video, Cousins brought on this film, Society. I wasn’t expecting it to be so… well out there. He said he had to watch the film twice. Once thinking is a complete bore and nothing too great. On a second viewing he began to see why it was perfect for Moviedrome.
Society begins with Bill (Billy Warlock---Baywatch, General Hospital), a teen that wakes up in the middle of the night and hears strange noises. Disturbed and frightened, he goes into the kitchen and retrieves a butcher knife. Bill is huddled in a corner, caressing the knife, when his mother walks in. Then the film cuts to Bill talking to a Psychiatrist. Bill explains that he has lots of anxieties about his family, and people in general. That he is afraid that if he even scratches the surface of what’s really going on, he’ll discover something terrible. As Bill is explaining this, he picks an apple from the bowl of fruit. He looks at the Psychiatrist, then back at the apple to find maggots crawling all over it.
Bill just might be bat-shit crazy.
Then again, maybe not…
Bill is playing basketball with a teammate Milo and they notice Jenny’s former boyfriend turned stalker is at the mansion. Bill yells to his sister that Blanchard is around and she begs him to get rid of Blanchard. The scene carries on with miss perfect Jenny getting dressed. She definitely thinks she’s lovely and the world revolves around her. She’s admiring herself in the mirror when the camera turns to her closet and the music became ominous. She notices an earring is missing, but sees it on the floor. Jenny looks up and sees a face hiding behind her expensive clothes. Blanchard shoots out and grabs Jenny. Bill and his friend hear her scream. They rush up that spiraling expensive staircase to save Jenny. Blanchard screams out he’s sorry, but he has noticed weird things going on and begs to speak with Jenny. Bill and his friend toss Blanchard out.
Just to let the reader know, Bill and his family, just like everyone else, is extremely rich and they live precociously in Beverly Hills. So, Jenny has a coming out party. And Mother and Father are not happy that Bill is hanging around Milo, nor do they want Jenny to date Blanchard. They have a Judge who is interested in Jenny. What the hell? They set up their teen daughter with a Judge? In the same scene, Jenny asks Bill to zip her up in what looked like sexual tension. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, Bill saw something move under Jenny’s skin.
Bill tells his psychiatrist he’s nailed the school president debate and the basketball game. Bill is extremely happy, except….he feels alienated…he doesn’t belong in his family or at school. And again we have a bizarre incestuous scene. Bill goes into Jenny’s room announcing he’s looking for suntan lotion. He finds Jenny showering. From a distance, he sees her reflection in the shower window; thinking it’s just disfigured, when in fact a more grownup woman’s naked body is twisted around…well, her breasts and vagina are on her back (?). Bill can’t believe his eyes and decides to open the shower window and normal Jenny is covering lady parts screaming to Bill to get out.
Bill goes to the beach. There is an awkward gag scene with two boys who squirt sun tan lotion and water on Bill and his girlfriend, Shauna. Bill is coaxed into talking to some of the more popular kids to get invited to their party. After that goes awry, Blanchard takes Bill to another part of the beach to listen to a recording. Blanchard has bugged Bill’s family. Listening to the tape tell of Jenny’s coming out party just might be a really freaky swingers party, where the mom informs Jenny its ok to have sex with not just men but women as well.
At the club, Jenny shows Daddy her earring and Daddy realizes there is a microphone there. Daddy knows Blanchard placed the mic in the earring. Meanwhile Bill rushes to the psychiatrist, and hands him the tape he got from Blanchard. Bill breaks up with his girlfriend when she finds out they couldn’t get invited to the popular kid’s party. All Bill wanted was her to listen to why he’s having problems. Bill sees his psychiatrist again. The psychiatrist says he’s concerned about Bill. An argument ensues, he lets Bill know wiretapping is illegal and Bill adds: “So is what my father, mother….and my sister is doing is too.”
Psychiatrist plays the tape. Everything has changed. No longer are there insinuations about sex, just talk of dancing, and how fun the mother’s coming out party was so much fun. Bill is stunned. It appears as though Bill really is bat-shit crazy. Billy gets a stern talking to, and not really sure if he’s being told to follow what society offers and accept it or be on your best behavior and good things will always come to you. This was the speech given to him by the psychiatrist: “Billy people are what they are—now you have to learn to accept that and you have to learn to accept society’s rules---if you don’t follow the rules, Billy, bad things happen!” the psychiatrist tries to write a prescription, but Billy grabs the phone and orders Blanchard to make another copy of the tape. They decide to meet up. When Billy arrives, Blanchard is the victim of a terrible accident.
I’m going to stop right here. I’d rather the reader watch the film on their own and discover the weird, whacky film that Society is. Leaves one question though: Why don’t they make films like this anymore?
This was Brian Yuzna (Honey, I shrunk the kids-writer, Re-animator-producer) debut film as director, from a script by Rick Fry and Woody Keith. After having several productions halt because of failures to find directors, Yuzna decided direct this himself. At first, it’s slow moving, and often looks like an episode of 90210, but soon the feverish plot thickened and the advent of conspiracy settled. The acting is wooden at times, but I will say that Billy Warlock is much better in this than on his forays into episodic television. The film does end up making some good points when pointing out class distinctions that purveys no matter where you are. Right or wrong, they exist.
Let’s get to the real star of this film: the makeup effects. Screaming Mad George (born Joji Tani) was the creator and head effects guy on Society. These effects are some of the strangest, most bizarre surreal gore effects I’ve ever seen.
His credits as FX guru include: Big trouble in Little China, Predator, Freaked, and other films. He directed the film The Guyver. A good part of the effects were based on nightmares Yuzna was experiencing. Could be why those scenes work so well because they are so personal.
Society was not released in the United States until 1992. It won best makeup award at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy. A comic book sequel was produced by Scottish Comic book company Rough Cut in 2002.
Mark Slade, HMS
Read the previous installment.