Society (1989)

I came across a rather interesting horror flick about a year ago, one in which the premise was that the wealthy overclass literally feasted on the people below them, and I was fascinated by that idea. What other movie took the idea of class conflict and transmogrified it into a surreal, SFX-laden horror film? Alas, though the film’s ideas were solid, it’s not as spellbinding as I had hoped it would be, but it certainly wasn’t boring.

The film’s plot revolves around Bill Whitney, a high school student who’s practically got it made. He has a wealthy family in Beverly Hills, California, a girlfriend in the cheerleading squad, a Jeep Wrangler, and is likely to become class president. And yet, despite this enormous position of privilege, he is unhappy and feels out of place. His sister and parents mingle with upper class socialites, and even his girlfriend is more interested in going to parties than in his pressing concerns.

His worst fears are confirmed when his sister’s ex-boyfriend David Blanchard gives him a tape which seems to reveal his family participating in an incestuous orgy, but when tries to show the tape to his therapist, it appears to have been altered, and Blanchard turns up dead. Each second he keeps digging puts his life at risk, until eventually all is revealed to him at a formal party, and it’s not a pretty sight.

The story itself is a twisted jab at the outward soullessness of the upper class, old money types that still haunt the real world, though it’s worth noting that the film doesn’t necessarily take itself seriously, or at least not constantly. In fact, more times than not it’s a comedy of sorts. The real horror builds up until the end of the film, where the rich socialites turn out to be creatures that melt into alien creatures and suck the nutrients out of them. I might have liked for the film to go in a darker direction, but on the other hand, it’s a decent enough deconstruction of the then-popular 80’s teen flicks that were about as prevalent as Aqua Net. If you want to see a by-the-numbers teen flick being twisted, dismembered and then hung out to dry, this is probably the film for you.

My main problem is with the pacing. For a horror film, there’s an awful lot of time in which barely anything happens, though I think this is probably supposed to add to the sense of paranoia that the film relies on in. It’s a good idea, though the acting is pretty bad, and cheesy to the point of it being comical. This isn’t a rare phenomenon in horror films, particularly ones that rely on visceral SFX-driven thrills, but here I can’t help but think that it ran the risk of somehow undermining the whole message of the film by rendering the characters as stock caricatures.

The film certainly has the spirit of the opulent 80’s, complete with the synth score, but for me, the real highlight of the film is the special effects provided by Screaming Mad George, which greatly added to the bizarre nature of the film. I also like how the writers took advantage of the seemingly elastic effects to deliver a satisfying conclusion.

On the whole, it’s not as great as it perhaps could have been, but it’s not without its merits. It may have been a B-movie, but it had a kind of satirical commentary hidden beneath the layers of cheese. It’s not really for everyone, and if you’re the kind of viewer who isn’t into surrealistic gore or sadistic horror (though there isn’t much of it here), you probably won’t like it. But for the hardier cult film viewer, Society is a film for you.

  • Score: 66%
  • Grade: C
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