Thursday, October 31, 2013


Society (1989)
Dir. BrianYunza
Written by Woody Keith, Rick Fry
Starring Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Slack

So there’s this kid, Billy Whitney (actual actor’s name: Billy Warlock) who feels like an outsider. He feels like a misfit, like his parents don’t understand him, like there is something hidden from him that makes him feel vaguely uneasy. Understandable, it was the late 80s at the time and if you didn’t feel like something was seriously wrong then chances are you were an irredeemable sociopath. And, after all, we’ve been through plenty of misfits and outcasts this Chainsawnukah season, I don’t see why this one is any different, let’s take a look at his car, probably some beat up old toyota or something to show that he is not amongst the chosen and hence we can relate to…

Oh, huh. Well, I’m sure when we see him he’ll be some kind of rugged, self-sufficient individual who needs a giant jacked-up jeep to perform tasks of manly…

Oh, well, maybe not.

Obviously, by the end of the 80’s outcasts were becoming an endangered species, hiding in the shadows and refusing to allow themselves to appear on camera for fear of being hunted down by a mob of pastel polo shirts and forcibly indoctrinated into their ranks. So instead of getting your usual misunderstood outcast, in this case we get a misfit who instead of being a misfit is actually super awesome, he’s a star basketball player, drives that super fly jeep, lives in a giant mansion in a warm climate with palm trees, possibly California, has a blonde cheerleader girlfriend, and is successfully running for class president. Not exactly Napoleon Dynamite, or even that shiny vampire fellah the kids seem to love today, you know how they are. The guy from COSMOPOLIS.

But although he has literally everything anyone could possibly want, something is still bothering him: the fact that there are still higher echelons of society into which even he, with his magnificent ride and perky blonde girlfriend and stylish basketball hot pants and absolutely excessive haircut, is not privy to. This is the society of the title, and it seems that this is a small but influential contingent of people who are not just ridiculously wealthy, but absolutely obscenely wealthy. And they carefully control this tight-knit clique in such a way that it commands awe among the outsiders. Even Billy --who just in case you forgot deliberately bought that jeep-- can plainly see that these guys are honkie assholes of the absolute highest caliber, but to his parents and his girlfriend, getting accepted by these these wonderbread cucumber sandwiches seems of absolute paramount importance. The closer he gets to them, however, the more it seems like something truly seriously fucked up is going on behind the closed doors of “society.”

Day 9: The four fugitives from the Flock of Seagulls video shoot remain at large.

Here’s the weird thing about this movie. Despite all the patently hilarious 80’s trappings and the overwhelming abundance of rich-ass cracker preppie douchebags (on both sides of the conflict), this is actually a real good movie. I was chuckling at the beginning, as they try to get us to take seriously that this guy who lives in a mansion and is the captain of the basketball team is somehow oppressed, but as the movie goes on it somehow, against all odds, starts to find tendrils of genuine paranoia creeping into the expensive plastic facade. Nothing out-and-out inexplicable happens for quite a long time, maybe even for the majority of the runtime, but little odd incidents start to pile up. Insinuations of something really twisted and depraved brewing just below the surface, where the normal people can’t see it. Only Billy, with his golden ticket to high society, can get close enough to these cloistered bastards to see that something is definitely off. And the more certain he becomes that he’s onto them, the more strange things seem to get.

And this is a kind of strange that I didn’t expect from Yunza, who I always regarded as kind of a second-tier Stuart Gordon (though he did do an OK segment of that anthology I watched last year, H.P. LOVECRAFT'S NECRONOMICON). Yunza’s films usually seem to be slapdash affairs which try to distract you from their general shoddiness with chintzy stylization and goopy special effects. I never expected that he’d try for (and pull off) something like this restrained, slowly escalating paranoid thriller. But man, if you can look past the goofy haircuts this is one is a real nightmare, a guy stuck in a noose that he can’t quite see but is obviously growing tighter with every moment he struggles against it. Something is clearly going on here, and Yunza delicately but deliberately keeps hinting that whatever it is, it’s something really bad. This isn’t gonna be a cover for a drug smuggling ring or something. This society is up to something that your mind is probably not ready to deal with.

I'm trying to not spoil this for you, so this is all you get.

And when the other shoe drops, holy shit, does it deliver. The film’s discipline pays off in spades and the finale suddenly lets loose a floodgate of twisted genius that should definitely, definitely never be watched by someone on hallucinogens. I can’t spoil it for you, in fact I won’t even include any images from it, because you need to experience this for yourself. But suffice to say that the film’s finale may have you questioning your own sanity. After the last couple films I saw disappointed me with their failure of imagination, this is one which will almost certainly take you somewhere you can’t possibly see coming. It’s a fever dream of twisted images and perversely hilarious transgression which is almost certainly not like anything you’ve seen before.

I guess it’s no surprise, then, that although the film did well in Europe, in the US it was shelved for years and never managed to catch on. The depraved creativity on display here, melded with a pretty brutal social criticism of the wealthy elite, just wasn’t where people’s heads were at in the late 80s and early 90’s. Just like PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, this one has some not-so-subtle dark humor about just how the people on top stay on top, and possibly an even more fatalistic vision for what might happen to anyone who attempts to oppose them. Neither of those films really seemed to reach people with that message at the time, maybe because the middle class still wasn’t hurting too much and the people who were really getting fucked over (like Fool from PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS) had gotten so marginalized that they barely even had a voice to describe their problems. The middle class was still doing alright enough that they could afford to ignore the poor, and the poor, being ignored, had finally acknowledged their utter powerlessness to fight for their own preservation. I guess that’s the point of making Billy a fellow rich guy, at least a tangential part of their world. The movie also has a lower-class character named Blanchard (Tim Bartell), who actually is the first one to realize just how deeply off something is here. But he also has no access, no in with these people and no power to protect himself against them (interestingly, Blanchard is explicitly revealed to be Jewish, another sign that he’s a genuine “outsider”). By the end of the 80’s, the idea of the poor fighting for themselves seemed naive, even suicidal; we had to have a character with at least some of the same pull as the malevolent, greedy forces which were then (and still are) sucking the life out of this world and the unlucky people in it.

Well, that was then. But maybe now they’ve gone a little too far. It’s not just the marginalized outsiders who have been left out in the cold; it’s nearly everyone. That sense of isolation and hopelessness shared by the characters in the social critiques of this era may now be dissipating, as we realize we’re all in the same boat, with the same rich fucks forcing us to row them wherever they want to go. Maybe it’s time America had another look at SOCIETY. And even if not, you should still watch it cuz it’s a pretty damn great little horror movie and the special effects were done by a guy who is only credited as “Screaming Mad George.”* Can you resist a movie by a guy with a name that good? No you cannot.

*Also the director of THE GUYVER, where he turned Mark Hamill into a half-man/half cockroach like the true American hero that he is.


  • SEQUEL: No, although they were talking about doing one for awhile.
  • REMAKE: Not yet. Seems inevitable.
  • BOOBIES: Oh yeah, in a sex scene that even wikipedia describes as "acrobatic"
  • ENTRAILS? Borderline, gotta say no, though.
  • CURSES: No
  • (UNCANNY) VALLEY OF THE DOLLS? There is a blowup doll that is used for, I guess, jokes? And then later, weird disfigured dolls that someone leaves in his jeep. It turns out (SPOILER) they are all a weird practical joke, though. Still, a creepy doll is a creepy doll.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Mid. Well known in the right circles, completely unknown elsewhere.

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