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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Uncle Buck (1989)

uncle_buckTaking a brief detour from the spate of weird and wonderful films I’ve been curating all summer long, I think it’s time I turned my attention to a more familiar film, in this case that would be the much-beloved Uncle Buck. Given the fact that I dislike John Hughes, I rarely say anything positive about his filmography, and this film would perhaps be one of those rare exceptions. Perhaps it’s down to me being so familiar with it, but I have a certain appreciation for Uncle Buck, mainly because it was a sincerely humorous film with plenty of heart and character.

Of course, I think we’re all familiar with the premise. John Candy plays an unemployed slob who drives an old, broken-down vehicle and makes a living betting on rigged horse races, and he’s asked by his middle-class brother to look after his children. Buck proves to be more of a competent legal guardian than he looks, entertaining the children and doing his best to earn the respect of the eldest daughter.

I always thought the film had good writers behind it, but I think the writing didn’t truly grow on me until some years later. To date, I’ve seen this four times, and believe it or not, this family-oriented comedy is still fresh. I am still a little disappointed that there’s no scene in the whole film that plays out like the poster. That would be quite a sight indeed. I think part of why Uncle Buck enjoyed better writing than other John Hughes films is that unlike most of his films, Uncle Buck revolves around the family rather than the kind of narcissistic teen drama that makes up the bulk of Hughes’ reputation.

Of course, it’s very easy for one particular character to steal the show, and in this case that’s the eponymous Uncle Buck. For the most obvious reasons he’s the highlight of the film. He may be irresponsible, and he may be a bit crass at times, but when he wants to be, he’s a very entertaining character. This film would be incredibly bland and typical if the character it was named after weren’t incredibly funny. The acting is also really good, with the main cast delivering some convincing performances from left and right, and the characters that matter are a joy to watch. I should also mention Jean Louisa Kelly’s performance as Tia, the Russell’s eldest daughter. At first, she came across as a typically bratty and pessimistic teenage caricature, but later on she develops to the extent where you can see why she acts the way she does, and she comes out a better character by the end of it.

The film’s production values are also worth mentioning. Maybe it’s just that I have a thing for the film’s autumn aesthetic (this being the film’s setting), but I thought it looked really good, and the soundtrack was good as well, but that doesn’t matter compared to whether it was funny, and thankfully it was. Whatever my reasons, Uncle Buck is a movie that I consistently enjoy whenever I happen to watch it. Whatever you thought of the film’s director, I think most of us can agree that this film, with its affable lead actor and rock solid writing, Uncle Buck remains an enjoyable family comedy for the ages.

  • Score: 84%
  • Grade: B

Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma (1989)

curse_of_the_yomaThis film is a strange case, mainly because, believe it or not, it wasn’t originally released as a film. It was originally two episodes of an original video animation (or OVA) back in 1989, but they were later compiled into a single movie when released on DVD, so for all intents and purposes, this is a made-for-TV anime movie, and in many ways, it certainly shows.

The overall plot concerns the rise of demons (or Yoma in this film), fuelled by the spilt blood of warriors slain amidst a terrible war ravaging the land. A skilled ninja named Hikage seeks to end the bloodshed and stop the Yoma from wreaking destruction on humanity, but he must fight his deceased friend, a fellow ninja named Marou who was killed in battle, and resurrected in order to serve the Yoma.

That summary alone glosses over a very muddled and disorganised plot that essentially jumps from one formulaic and impotent fight scene to the next, in a sort of “monster of the moment” fashion, with no real thread tying everything together. In an action-oriented anime film, you’d think that it’d be a good thing to have lots and lots of violent action scenes, but the film does this so sloppily that it’s downright boring, and that’s such as shame because it seems as if it could easily have been good if done properly.

Another problem is the characters. They’re incredibly hard to take seriously, and that’s mainly because of the horrendously bad English dub, which makes the characters sound very ridiculous with wooden acting. As I may have mentioned in a few other reviews, this is pretty common in older anime films, and in this one, it makes the film sound comical. Sadly, this isn’t the kind of film that sought to take advantage of accidental humour. I’m sure the original Japanese voice acting is much better (I hope), because in English, it sounds like everyone’s shouting out what the protagonist should do next, either because the script was poorly translated, or because it was bad in the first place.

The art style isn’t bad. It’s typical of anime from the 80’s and early 90’s, but it looked pretty good, but the problem is the choppy animation. In at least one scene, Hikage is seen talking to and old man, and the old man’s lips don’t even move. Very often it seems as if this was sloppily made, as if rushed in order to meet a rather slim deadline. I guess the music sort of makes up for it, in its own somewhat cheesy way, but it doesn’t make up for everything else. The action scenes should have been very good, but because of the choppy direction and bad writing, they’re boring and ineffectual.

Why they decided to merge two TV episodes into a movie simply baffles me. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a mediocre TV production, and barely qualifies as a movie. Either way, this film should have been better, and I was hoping it would be good, but apparently the producers were a bit too incompetent for that to happen, and what we have is an inferior film that leaves very much to be desired.

  • Score: 52%
  • Grade: D

Warlock (1989)

warlockWarlock seems as if it might have been a fairly ambitious horror film, and at first glance, it does sort of seem like a fascinating supernatural horror film but upon closer inspection, it’s not much to get excited about. In fact, you’re most likely to find a film that could have been good, but thanks to a number of bad decisions made during the production phase, we instead get a cheaply made devil yarn that reeks of cheese.

The plot is very simple. An unnamed warlock is captured by a local witch hunter named Giles Redferne, and is about to be executed for witchcraft, but before his execution, Satan appears before him and sends him to 1980’s Los Angeles, where he sets about on a quest to reassemble The Grand Grimoire, a book that can supposedly reveal the true name of God. Along with him, Giles is also transported into the same time period, and his mission is to stop the warlock from succeeding in his quest.

Almost immediately, the film’s basic premise reads like a Terminator clone, only instead of travelling from the future, the main characters travel to the present from the past, specifically during the era of the Salem witch trials. Of course, you can’t just reverse the formula of a popular movie and expect success. In fact, when Warlock does exactly that, it ends in unadulterated mediocrity, which is perhaps the film’s only real crime. That being said, it’s also rather obviously derivative of other cliched horror movies, making for an all the more contrived horror flick.

Believe it or not, the characters and acting are even worse. Julian Sands actually makes for a decent villain, even if you don’t necessarily buy him as a horror villain. Meanwhile, his adversary, played by a younger Richard E. Grant, is just bad. The other characters give pretty bad performance, but Richard’s dreadful Scottish accent takes the cake. It doesn’t even make any sense, considering his character is supposed to be a witch hunter from 17th century Boston. The film only really recognises three characters by name, and the rest are simply bit parts. Either way, such lackluster performance is something I’d expect from a TV show.

Speaking of that, the film looked and sounded very much like a made-for-TV movie. In fact, it’s made in such low quality that it looks very much like you’re watching a mid-80’s TV show on an old TV screen (imagine watching MacGyver if it were a cheesy horror movie and you get the picture). It looks as if it could have been made a decade earlier, and it wouldn’t have been much better either way. The special effects aren’t exactly stellar either. I like that they used practical effects, but they’re used to bad effect here, and the main problem is that they look obviously cheap, and that often turns the film’s intended horror into accidental comedy (not that I’m against that sort of thing).

I have no doubt that it could have been a good or at least an okay horror film, but the producers clearly cut corners almost everywhere, and the end result is a mediocre supernatural romp that I’m honestly surprised isn’t confined to the bargain bin, and yet it somehow garnered a reputation as a cult film.

  • Score: 56%
  • Grade: D