Tag Archives: Brian Yuzna

211. SOCIETY (1989)

“It was so weird… it was probably one of the weirdest movies ever made!”–Devin DeVasquez reflecting on Society

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Charles Lucia, Patrice Jennings, Ben Meyerson, Tim Bartell, Ben Slack, David Wiley, Connie Danese

PLOT: Despite being a star basketball player and candidate for president of Beverly Hills High, Billy feels like an outcast in his own high society family. He misses his sister’s coming out party due to a basketball game, but her creepy ex-boyfriend plays him a very disturbing recording from the event that causes him to investigate his own family secrets more closely. It seems that there is a secret society of upper-crust residents in Beverly Hills which even privileged Billy is not (yet) a part of; his investigations lead him to a secret party where the elites engage in a practice they call “shunting”…

Still from Society (1989)
BACKGROUND:

  • Brian Yuzna began his filmmaking career as a producer, teaming with director Stuart Gordon in 1985 to launch the hit Re-Animator series. Society was his first credit as director. To convince the producers to allow him to direct, Yuzna promised to make two movies, the other being the pre-sold sequel Bride of Re-Animator.
  • Makeup expert Screaming Mad George used paintings (specifically “The Great Masturbator” and “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans“) as inspiration for constructing the “shunting” scenes.
  • Although it saw some mild success overseas, the climax of Society had to be cut by four minutes in the U.S. to secure an R rating, and the film was not released to American screens until 1992, when it disappeared from theaters quickly.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Something—anything—from the last 20 minutes, a non-stop body-morphing orgy that would put off his lunch. If forced to whittle down the choice to a single image we’d have to go with “butthead,” a creation both juvenile and frightening.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Twisted sister; hair eating; “shunting” in general.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Brian Yuzna’s mixture of horror, satire, and teen sex comedy is clumsy and unsure at times, and bizarre in both theory and execution, but the drawn-out finale, a masterpiece of Dali-esque designs rendered in rubbery goo, puts it far over the top.


Original trailer for Society

COMMENTS: As satire and allegory, Society is obvious; but I believe Continue reading 211. SOCIETY (1989)

DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

This post was written in contemplation of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grrr.

In 2008 documentarian Mark Hartley scored an unanticipated film festival hit with Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, an examination of obscure Australian exploitation movies of the 70s and 80s.  (Striking while the iron was hot, Hartley rolled out a spiritual sequel of sorts with Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which braved the even more bizarre jungle of Filipino exploitation cinema).  2009 saw another surprise critical success in Best Worst Movie, the story of the disastrous making, and triumphant cult legacy, of the ultra-ridiculous vegetarian-goblin horror movie Troll II, which managed to score an astonishing 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.  Whatever the reason (maybe its the flowering of seeds planted by Quentin Tarantino), at this moment in time mainstream critics seem eager to recognize, examine, and even embrace the pleasures of schlock.  Since the last horror/exploitation doc cycle—the duo of The American Nightmare (2000) and Mau Mau Sex Sex (2001)—came about a decade ago, it appears the time is ripe for another down-home survey of the dark and shady sides of American cinema.

Still from Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)The thesis of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, the 2009 examination of the American horror film, is that particular social conditions and historical anxieties shape the nature of the shock genre from decade to decade.  Brian Yuzna asserts that the variety of disfigured, limbless freaks specialized in playing in the twenties were inspired by the horrors of World War I and the sights of returning veterans maimed by modern munitions.  The viewpoint that American horror is strictly linked to American angst breaks down fairly early Continue reading DOCUMENTARY DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2009)/AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010)

READER RECOMMENDATION: SOCIETY(1989)

Our first entry in the June review writing contest: submitted by J.S. Roberts.

DIRECTED BY: Brian Yuzna

FEATURING: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Patrice Jennings, David Wiley

PLOT: Teenage Bill Whitney (Warlock) ostensibly lives on easy street.  He lives with his filthy rich parents and hottie sister in posh Beverly Hills, plus he has a babe cheerleader girlfriend and is reasonably popular.  His future looks bright.  For Billy, all this makes him “uneasy”.  He tells his shrink that he thinks something very weird and possibly evil lurks under his upper-class society.  As he tries to scratch the surface to uncover what’s beneath, he soon finds something unlike anything ever.  In the history of society.

Still from Society (1989)

WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST: Simply, the bravura finale.  Society takes it’s time towards it but when it comes…watch out!  Surreal, disgusting, unique, and an absolute must see.  People melt, melt into each other, melt into…things . To continue would be giving away the film’s powerhouse trump card placed securely up it’s sleeve.  But I find the film’s overall tone to be the second weirdest aspect.  It plays out like a made-for-TV melodrama and keeps you intrigued enough to stick with it, then the “shunt” (ending). Powerful stuff, the shunt is.

COMMENTS: Society really is an (purposefully?) overlooked gem.  Perhaps it’s greatest shortcoming , and maybe the reason it doesn’t have a greater cult following, is that for most of it’s run time it plays like a queasy hybrid of “The Hills” and “The Twilight Zone.”  Bland, beautiful people with bland problems living in a sort-of alternate universe; Society is a not so subtle satire on the lifestyles of the rich and shameless.  Society is a rare, off-the-wall, and greatly satirical American film that offers a lot of food for thought.  Which is a good thing, because you’re not going to be hungry after.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A bizarre fable that starts like a TV soap but soon darkens into a disturbing thriller… the ‘surrealistic make-up designs’… will stretch even the most inelastic mind.”–Time Out Film Guide

CAPSULE: BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003)

DIRECTED BY: Brian Yuzna

FEATURING: Jeffrey Combs, Jason Barry, Elsa Pataky, Simón Andreu

PLOT: A brilliant young med school graduate gets himself assigned to the institution

Still from Beyond Re-animator (2003)

where Dr. Herbert West is imprisoned so that he can enlist the good doctor’s assistance in continuing his forbidden experiments in reanimating the dead.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Beyond is a welcome third installment in the Re-Animator saga that continues the series’ tradition of going way over-the-top, but though it’s deranged, nonsensical fun, it’s not even the weirdest entry in its own franchise.

COMMENTS: Fans of the taste-challenged Re-Animator series should be pleased with this charmingly grotesque third sequel, which zips along briskly with a delightful disrespect for logic to a phantasmagorically bloody zombie prison riot finale.  Jeffery Combs, now middle-aged but still looking like a eternally perturbed boy genius, returns as Dr. Herbert West to inject his deadpan wit into the proceedings while the world goes mad around him.  A large part of Dr. West’s mad charisma comes from the fact that he’s constantly sowing seeds of chaos by pushing forward into realms where man was not meant to meddle, then staring at the carnage with a slightly befuddled frown as yet another reanimated corpse unexpectedly turns homicidal.  Obsessed and opportunistic, he’s a nerdy Dr. Frankenstein with an unabashedly amoral streak, who always emerges from his own foul ups unscathed while his unlucky companions end up in the charnel house.  West’s experiments on rats in prison have led him to believe that he can use electricity to restore the souls of re-animated corpses and keep them from killing off the nubile women who always happen to be standing around whenever a new zombie pops up.  This time around, it’s a Doogie Hauser-esque young prison MD who risks everything to help West better the lot of mankind by mixing up a new vat of glowing green reanimation juice, but through a long string of unfortunate occurrences ends up getting kickboxed about the head by a hot zombie dominatrix for his troubles.  Even though this entry aims more for comedy than horror, the atmosphere is eerie: what’s spookier than a half-abandoned post-riot prison, with sounds of massacres echoing in the background while burning toilet paper rolls cast the shadows of iron bars on gray stone walls?  The crazed climax gives us about as many zombie-hyphenates as any reanimated corpse fan could hope for: zombie-rats, zombie-girlfriends, a half-zombie, zombie-vision, zombie-fellatio.  There’s also a pill-popping prisoner who gets hooked on reanimation fluid, leading to the flick’s most bizarre and surreal gag, and a “cockfight” that must be seen to be believed.  All in all, Beyond Re-Animator should leave your lower jaw hanging reasonably close to the ground, which is all we ask for in any movie with “Re-Animator” in the title.

Technically inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, though not at all uncanny, Beyond Re-Animator is set in mythical Arkham, Massachucets.  To get that New England ambiance down perfectly, Yuzna hired a team of regional filmmakers—guys like screenwriter José Manuel Gómez and executive producer Carlos Fernández—guys with mucho dinero, who understand that an authentic Massachusetts prison looks exactly like something you’d find on the outskirts of Barcelona.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…leads to a wonderfully degenerate 30-minute final sequence that involves not only lotsa gore and f/x but also some genuinely surreal visual wit.”–Jonathan Holland, Variety (contemporaneous)