Incest and Psychosis: How Brian Yuzna's 1989 surreal cult horror Society blew my mind.

April 30, 2020

 

I love films. That might not be most shocking of statements for anyone who knows me, even a little bit. I spend most of my time doing something movie related, whether it be talking about movies, watching movies, writing about movies, or even making them.

 

If you’ve ever spoken to me at some point, or if you read this blog, you’ll know that I love to rave about the films I love, and I will often throw out recommendations faster than I think people will even really be able to take them in, let alone go home and watch them. It’s, admittedly, a little bit of a flaw (and I have been warned by my partner that it makes my recommendation mean less overall), but I get excited when I see a film I enjoy and I want to discuss it with as many people as possible. Often that means getting people to watch the film, since so many of my circle of friends tend not to have seen the movies I’m talking about.

 

Despite this, however, there are few films that I can honestly say really, truly, blew my mind. By this I mean films that I watched and felt had totally changed my perception of cinema, and sometimes even on life. The films that have done this, especially those in a positive light, I can probably count on one hand.

 

Of course, amongst the ones that did truly “blow my mind” sits, proudly, John Carpenter’s The Thing, a movie I have often praised. Arguably the film I have seen the most, and one that remains a member of my constantly rotating top five. The first time I saw this film I was flabbergasted but the incredible effects, the utter sense of hopelessness and isolation, the fear, the paranoia, and the genuinely uncomfortable and creepy atmosphere Carpenter manages to create. It is absolutely a masterpiece and I’m not sure I can even think of a film that comes close to being as influential and important to me as The Thing.

 

But there is another film, one that I can’t honestly say I rate as highly as The Thing, or that I even consider in the same league (it is most certainly not a masterpiece). It’s riddled with flaws, from poor acting to bad audio, lazy and cheap looking cinematography, a somewhat uneven story and an absurdly on the nose metaphor. Nonetheless, the first time I saw this film, as a budding young film fan it did, without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely, positively blow my mind.

 

In fact, it arguably more than blew my mind! It seared imagery into my brain that I have never been able to fully escape from. It wasn’t scary. It wasn’t even horrifying (although I would certainly call it horrific). It was just so utterly and completely bizarre, so out there and otherworldly, that I wasn’t even sure I could process what I was seeing.

 

Even now, many years later, I am yet to see anything that comes even remotely as close to the absurdity of it. And, unlike the The Thing, which was an experience that lasted from beginning to end of the film, here my mind was blown not slowly over the course the runtime, but rather at a single point, suddenly and with a bang.

 

Of course, I’m talking about Brian Yuzna’s 1989 horror satire Society.

 

A low-budget, odd little movie, the first hour or so rumbles along like a kind of budget, less clever Cronenberg movie, that holds the attention but barely passes muster in terms of performances or screenplay. It’s fine, a solid three stars if you, like me, are into that sort of cheesy 80s kind of thing.

 

But there is a moment, and those of you who have seen Society will know precisely what point I am referring to, that for me changed everything. All of sudden I had seen something I could never unsee. Something that I wasn’t even aware was presentable on screen. I’m not sure I could even fully do it justice to describe it here, and I’m not going to for fear of spoiling it for those of you who haven’t seen it.

 

But to suffice it to say that, suddenly, the movie takes a surprising, although not entirely unexpected, turn. The reveal may have been foreshadowed earlier on, but the way in which the film commits to the concept, in which it goes all out with the strangeness and the horror, is as admirable as it is insane.

 

I’m not sure I can think of another single scene in a film that so completely changed my perception not just of the film I was watching, but of films in general.

 

As a kid I often sought out films with crazy practical effects, lapping up anything I could get my hands on. This obsession with insane prosthetics and the like led me to some films I still hold in high regard even now, from American Werewolf in London to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but Society is a different beast.

 

A film I recommend almost entirely on the basis of a single sequence, that’s not to say you should all hop on YouTube and seek it out without context. What makes the scene work so well, what made it so completely shocking when I first watched it, was in a large part down to the film that came before. So, if I have piqued your interest here, and you are going to watch it, please watch it all, and avoid spoilers.

 

It isn’t a film that I keep in my favourites, and it’s not one I talk about an awful lot, but it’s one that remains forever etched into my mind, and one that I think about more than most.

 

As a film fan Society is exactly the kind of film that I hope to find. It may not be a groundbreaking or world altering release, but it’s a film that impacted me in a significant way, and forever changed the way I approached movies. It is well worth your time, and I really do hope to hear from you once you’ve watched it.

 

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© Alex Secker 2018