Queen City Nerve

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‘Society’ Brings Body Image Issues to Another Level
Oh, the horror

By Joshua Robbins

June 11, 2019

The best horror and science fiction always tend to have a social awareness to them, even if you have to squint a little to see it in the 1989 coming-of-age flick Society. Without giving too much away, the plotline at its most basic follows Beverly Hills teenager Billy as he discovers the gruesome truth about his parents and their highfalutin friends. In regards to a 99-minute movie that doesn’t truly show its cards until the last 20, I will say this: Patience is a virtue. 

 

Society was severely overlooked in the U.S. at the time of its release, only taken seriously by European audiences. The film was finished in 1989, which is considered its release, but not widely released in the U.S. until 1992, which could explain Yuzna’s movement into lighter fare like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Director Brian Yuzna got his start as a producer for his friend Stuart Gordon’s films Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). Yuzna may be best known as the writer and producer of Disney’s mega-hit Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which couldn’t be further from the film I’m writing about here.

Charles Lucia (left) and Patrice Jennings (middle) in ‘Society.’

Society remained rare until the late 00’s, and 30 years after its release, YouTube is still the best places to count on finding it. Arrow Video released it on DVD in 2015, and within the last two years you could find it on Amazon Prime or in my case, Visart Video. In my experience, when a movie is hard to find, it might need to stay hard to find –Exhibit A: Spookies — but in the case of Society, it’s as if we have been shielded from experiencing one of the greatest body horror films of all time.

The special effects alone make it worth the watch, but the acting really is exemplary, with perfectly timed comedic elements. We’ve got Screaming Mad George to thank for the special effects. He’s known for his work on Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and its sequel Dream Master, but his genius can also be found in Predator (1987), Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and Tales From the Hood (1995).

The plot also skirts around issues of class and elitism. Billy is constantly told that he won’t fit into society and why he will never become one of the high rollers. This plot point, however, is a Macguffin, or as Merriam-Webster defines it: “an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance.”

The movie itself is certainly important, especially as a member of a little-known but much-loved subculture: Body horror.

‘Society’

Body horror is a subgenre of horror films that explores the physiological effects of body transformation. It’s hard to call it a genre all unto itself, as it is often just an element or theme used in horror movies that don’t just focus specifically on the supernatural.

It’s not so much what body horror is; it’s often times what it is not. Ghost films? Not body horror. Slasher flicks? Not body horror. Depending on the context, werewolf movies or zombie films may be called body horror films, but those are genres unto themselves. To give you a better picture of what is considered body horror, I’ll lay out five of the best examples of the subgenre below. 

 

The Fly (1986) – David Cronenberg could be account for five entries, with movies like The Brood, Scanners and Rabid. Jeff Goldblum becomes a human fly during a long, grotesque metamorphosis.

 

Videodrome (1983) – Once again another Cronenberg classic, but he basically invented body horror, so I’d be remiss not to include this. James Woods  and Debby Harry (of Blondie fame) co-star in this paranoid political sci-fi horror thriller. Long live the new flesh.

 

The Thing (1982) – An alien creature that can shapeshift into one of your friends, colleagues or even the family dog and an isolated Antarctic backdrop make The Thing one of the greatest movies ever made. John Carpenter directed this loose remake of 1951’s The Thing From Another World, also based on the novella Who Goes There?

 

Possession (1981) – An international spy (Sam Neill of later Jurassic Park fame) and his wife (Isabelle Adjani) get divorced and the stress of the separation does very strange things to her, leading paranoia and potential hallucinations. This one is definitely more cerebral than the previous entries.

 

Slither (2006) – James Gunn directed this movie, which essentially updates Night of the Creeps (1986) for modern audiences. Slither not only ramps up the body horror of the previous entries, it puts a V8 engine in it and redlines it, leading to dizzying degrees of horror and dark comedy. James Gunn went on to direct Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but this underappreciated cult hit is an interesting snapshot to his sluggish beginnings.

 

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