Society was the first ever legal 18-certificate film I saw at the cinema, on my 18th birthday in fact, April 14th 1990, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a midnight screening, so technically it started on the day after my birthday, but I went to watch it with my Dad – who passed away recently – and while I burst out laughing at a particular moment in the final scene, he was less enamoured with it. It wasn’t really his sort of film, however.
He passed away recently, but I can still remember seeing it in the cinema 25 years ago and, rewatching this film, for the first time since its 2002 DVD release, reminds me of just how much I love it.
It takes the idea that when you’re in your teens, the one doubt you might have from time to time is that there’s something going on and your insecurities make you wonder whether your parents are real, or are they some breed of robot, or something worse, or was that just me?
Well, it can’t be just me because high-school jock Bill Whitney (Baywatch‘s Billy Warlock) gets these fears, only they turn out to be perfectly realised and, courtesy of special effects from the appropriately-named Screaming Mad George, it turns out that the Society his family want Bill to join is the kind that has parties where everyone uses the ultimate lubricant that bonds their bodies together like plasticene (see the “Butthead” on the 2002 DVD front cover), which naturally scares Bill half to death.
Talking of death, when friends of his get a little too close to the truth, they’d better watch out, and in a world where he can’t trust anyone, you have to ask, just who the fuck is that mad woman walking around who Billy bumps into frequently? Well, it turns out to be the mother of his potential new beau, Clarissa Carlyn (Devin DeVasquez). Mrs Carlyn was played by Pamela Matheson, who gave a perfect and baffling turn – note, particularly, the scene where she coughs up hair (WTF?!), and it’s sad to learn that Ms Matheson died from heart failure in 1997, aged just 41.
I can’t think of anyone in the cast who has gone on to become a major star, which is a shame as they all give it their best shot, here, and Society is a wonderful example of how prosthetics ruled the horror film world before CGI took over, and when you’ve got a man in charge of make-up effects by the name of Screaming Mad George, you know that what you’re about to see will give you a whale of a time.
Oh, and why does Billy always wear a suit that’s at least two sizes too big for him??!
Go to page 2 for the presentation and the copious extras.
The film is in its original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high defintion and the film is only 25 years old so shouldn’t have weathered badly by this point, but it’s not a film which has found a huge audience in its life, becoming more of a cult hit, so it’s massively pleasing that the time has been taken to produce a director-approved 2K transfer which looks absolutely gorgeous. Early on, any slight haze effect on view will be down to the filming process and nothing to do with any errors in this new transfer. After the first few minutes, it’s as clean as a clean whistle that’s been cleaned thoroughly and it’s as gorgeous as Jenny when she steps out the shower 😉
For the record, I’m watching on a Panasonic 50″ Plasma TV with a Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray player.
Sound-wise, the film is in DTS 2.0 (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) and there’s the haunting tension as Billy tries to work out whether his fears are real, the spooky theme and the endless squelching sounds as all hell breaks loose and the special FX kick in big-time. In fact, I didn’t even know until recently that the main theme is based on the Eton boating song. I only ever knew it when it was used for a UK TV advert, for Alpen I think, which chanted “For breakfast, it’s usually muesli“.
Whereas the 2002 DVD release had barely any extras with only a trailer to excite us, while the Region 1 DVD eclipsed our disc with a director’s commentary, Arrow have pulled out all the stops here. The great extras are as follows:
- Governor of Society (16:52): Director Brian Yuzna talks about making movies including his debut feature, Re-Animator, working with Dan O’Bannon (Return of the Living Dead), how Society wasn’t particularly well received initially, plus… the shunting!
And as for that mad woman coughing up hair? No, even Mr Yuzna doesn’t get the logic for that, either. But he puts inspiration before logic 🙂
- Masters of the Hunt (22:22): A featurette with clips from the film mixed with chat from Billy Warlock, Ben Meyerson (Ted Ferguson), Tim Bartell (Blanchard) and Devin DeVasquez (Clarissa), with Devin still looking as hot today as she was back then. It’s fascinating to hear them all talk in detail about the making of the film.
- Champion of the Shunt (20:39): Interviews with FX artists David Grasso, Nick Benson and the one and only Screaming Mad George!
- Brian Yuzna Q&A (38:34): This Q&A took place following a screening of Society at Celluloid Screams Festival UK on October 25th.
I love this sort of thing as an extra because it’s a one-of-a-kind event and now it’s preserved forever. If I had any reservations it’s that at the start, when the questioner is asking Brian a question, he doesn’t have his own mic, so you can only hear him being picked up on Brian’s mic. This is resolved before too long, however 🙂
This is the only extra which is chaptered (there are 3)
- Brian Yuzna – Society Premiere (1:56): The director talks about the film from the world premiere which took place at the Scala Cinema, London in 1989.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:08): In the original theatrical ratio…. and another chance to see Jenny in the buff 😉
- Screaming Mad George Music Video (6:09): A freaky-looking video (would you expect anything else?) from the FX maestro along with Psychosis, and the track is entitled Persecution Mania.
- Audio commentary: Director Brian Yuzna gives his thoughts in a brand new commentary track which is moderated by journalist David Gregory.
- Limited Edition Digipak: The packaging on this release is incredible. It features newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival, and as you’ll see from the packshot atop this review, it mirrors the bodies which are joined together. Run your fingers over the cover and you can feel it…
There are also postcard posters as shown in the picture below (click on it for the full-size version)
- Collector’s booklet: This features new writing on the film by critic Alan Jones – “Keeping It In The Family”, complete with original archive stills and posters within.
- Society: Party Animal: This is the official comic sequel to Society, reproduced in its entirety in a perfect-bound book. I would say that this is the pièce de résistance of the boxset, but the whole thing’s bloody wonderful and if you’re a fan of the film then you owe it to yourself to buy this. As I type, it’s only just under £18, and for the amount you get, it’s a must-buy.
The menu contains clips from the film set to the theme, there are subtitles in English and the standard 12 chapters.
This package contains the film on both Blu-ray and DVD, and whereas films on DVD normally run 4% shorter due to PAL speed-up, this one runs almost exactly the same (1:39:16 on the Blu-ray to 1:39:11 on the DVD) but while a few seconds is neither here nor there and is probably down to the mastering process, am I right in thinking the DVD is an NTSC one? The package doesn’t say, but either way, it’s good to see the film running at its correct length on DVD.
Just one problem – I watched the film on Blu-ray. Then checked out the DVD… and found it hard to switch off because it’s such a damn good film 🙂
Society: Limited Edition is out now on Blu-ray/DVD boxset and check out the full-size cover by clicking on the packshot.
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: June 8th 2015
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS 2.0 HD Master Audio, uncompressed PCM 2.0 Audio
Disc Format: BD50 and DVD9
Director: Brian Yuzna
Producer: Keith Walley
Screenplay: Woody Keith and Rick Fry
Music: Mark Ryder and Phil Davies
Bill Whitney: Billy Warlock
Nan: Connie Danese
Dr Cleveland: Ben Slack
Milo: Evan Richards
Clarissa Carlyn: Devin DeVasquez
Jenny: Patrice Jennings
Blanchard: Tim Bartell
Jim: Charles Lucia
Shauna: Heidi Kozak
Petrie: Brian Bremer
Ferguson: Ben Meyerson
Mrs Carlyn: Pamela Matheson
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.
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