Films That Haunt Me: SOCIETY

Ah, body horror. We don’t see enough of it anymore. What horror fan doesn’t appreciate a good old slime-fest, with a dash of social commentary thrown into the goop? It’s a genre that often gets overlooked as being purely gross – but the best body horror films have some insightful and penetrating things to say about our civilization. No film does this more overtly, or with more fluids, than SOCIETY.

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Directed by Stuart Gordon collaborator Brian Yuzna, this ick-fest starts off innocently enough – a high school boy believes that his yuppie suburban town is hiding something sinister beneath its pastels. People are disappearing, the snobby rich kids are acting up, and is that woman’s torso twisting around like that?? These unusual occurrences culminate in a horrific realization about his family and friends – a society of people that aren’t people at all.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without spoiling the ending. It’s a sin to give away such a great surprise. (And surprisingly hard to find photos to put in this post that don’t involve what happens.) To avoid ruining the entirety of it, I’ll just say this – Yunza creates a brilliant, satirical view of the homogenous wealthy, who are quite literally all the same person. The makeup effects are bizarre and ingenious. What makes them so striking, beyond their nastiness, is the way the visuals comment on the ‘theme’ of the cruel bourgeois. They are not wholly human, and thus, they look down on everyone who is human. And use them for certain purposes. I’ll leave it up to you viewers to find that out for yourselves.

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Since we get to see this society from the point of view of an outsider, we are able to share in his surprise and horror – and Yuzna also permits himself, through this, to be as surreal and weird as he pleases. The world that our hero stumbles upon goes so far beyond anything we could imagine that it is impossible not to find hilarious, but in a way that makes it hard to tell whether or not we should really be laughing. Yuzna’s sense of humor is similar to Peter Jackson’s in “Braindead” – using gore as slapstick and an opportunity for puns. But beneath this, there is that thread of disturbing social commentary, which is so spot on that it makes the unreal sequences hard to completely write off.

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The level of satire makes it difficult to take seriously at times, especially in the earlier scenes, when it’s hard to decide if the film is a mystery-thriller or a John Hughes rip-off. But for those who can look past the off-kilter opening, the payoff is gob-smackingly terrific. I argue that, for the ending alone, it can take its place alongside the best horror efforts of David Cronenberg, and even some of Lynch’s more grotesque work.

This film represents, for me, the great artistic value of a genre that we don’t often see anymore. Body horror had its heyday in the 80’s, but once the slasher craze really took off, it fell by the wayside. There are a few modest efforts available today, but what happened to the surplus of nasty and sub-political films that used to saturate the market? In honor of “Society” and its kin, here’s to hoping that body horror makes a comeback. For now, we can relish in this one’s bizarre humor and quantity of slime-covered satire. You’ll be singing the Eton Boating song for days to come.

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