SOCIETY!

Society– 1989, Brian Yuzna, USA

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Yowza!

In the psychotronic community, Brian Yuzna is mostly known for three things; One; his long, fruitful working relationship with horror film icon Stuart Gordon. Two; he directed the two Reanimator sequels because Stuart apparently had better things to do, and three; he’s the dude behind The Dentist, parts one and two. Those are probably the best known highlight’s of Yuzna’s long, active career, but he’s done all kinds of other shit throughout the years, too, and of all the projects he’s ever laid his grubby little mitts on, Society, his first directorial effort, is far and away the finest accomplishment that he can rightfully claim to be his own. He really set that bar pretty high with this one, and never, ever came close to shining this bright ever again.

Seriously, this masterpiece came from the same dude who farted out Return of the Living Dead 3? Don’t get me wrong, I liked Riverman, but that movie… Damn…

Society is the story of a young man from a well-to-do family who becomes suspicious of the superficial class system into which he was born. Bill (Played by some bozo called Billy Warlock) feels alienated from his peers, and soon, he starts to see a darker, more perverse side of wealth, privilege, and social status, which casts his family, friends, and society as a whole, in a terrifying new light. As things become more and more bizarre, Billy quickly begins to suspect that there is more going on in his upper class community than appearances would suggest, and as he attempts to get to the bottom of it, the bodies begin to pile up.

Society touches on a lot of ideas regarding nepotism, class warfare, and even regular-ass teenage angst, but regardless of how specific, or universal, the message in this film feels to you, one thing is for damn sure; it’s spattered some seriously creepy sequences, and the pay off in the third act is tremendous. The special effects (All practical, mind you, this was ’89, after all) really steal the show, and give Society one set in stone reason why all horror fans should count this film as required viewing at least once in their lives. It’s much, much more over the top and silly than what you’d see in early Cronenberg films, but I’d still say that Society is a classic of the body-horror sub genre, so it does occasionally draw comparisons to David’s many forays into that territory. Even more importantly, it’s a pretty good time, and the “frustrated 80’s teen who can’t get the adults to listen to him” trope keeps the film feeling fun, and light, regardless of it’s somewhat subversive, anti-establishment message.

But it isn’t perfect. Society has a few bothersome flaws that hold it back from living that fly Criterion life. For one, the score is cheesy and obnoxious. Additionally, The lighting is bland for 98% of the runtime, and the cinematography is flat and lifeless throughout. If you’re familiar with Yunza’s catalog, then you already know that this is typical of his style, but in the case of Society, you could almost assume that it’s deliberate, like some sort of bizarre, self aware, Paul Verhoeven stlye attack the American social class system wrapped up in the trappings of a twisted, Hallmark Channel movie of the week. If you look at the film’s aesthetic in this way, it becomes an easier pill to swallow, but it still nags at the back of my mind as a legitimate drawback, because he clearly didn’t do this shit on purpose. I can pardon all of that, however, and if you’re anything like me, you can too, because Society is also a movie where THIS happens:

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A-

Recommended Double Feature: Society and Brain Damage, OR Society and Flesh For Frankenstein!

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BASKET CASE!!!

Basket Case~ 1982, Frank Henenlotter

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Basket Case is the debut full length motion picture from Frank Henenlotter. It’s gritty, trashy, bloody, it’s a real classic. There’s also more going on under the hood in Basket Case than you might find in some of it’s 80’s grindhouse contemporaries, and it deserves reverence and praise  all day and all night. I love this movie, and it’s nice when there’s something to talk about in these reviews.

THE PLOT: Basket Base follows Duane, a lanky geek with giant hair and a flannel shirt, as he saunters awkwardly around the Big Apple carrying a large wicker basket. As you can imagine, the first pretty girl he meets wants to get herself a piece of that.

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There he is! Nothing weird going on there!

Duane predictably puts the attractive Susan on lock-down for future wrong-side-business. Little does Susan know, however, the contents of Duane’s giant nerd basket, or his mission in New York City… Duane was actually born with a conjoined twin, a monstrously deformed one, named Belial… Their parents made it very clear that they would love all their children equally when they chose to give the ugly one a Hebrew name meaning “worthless,” known to be the name of a particularly loathsome demon in the Catholic faith… Well, if the lopsided affections they had for their offspring wasn’t apparent from day one, things probably came into focus a little more for little Belial and Duane when mom and dad hired a team of doctors to come out to the house, separate the two, presumably killing Belial (but who cares), and then tossed Belial’s corpse into the trash. Secretly, he survives, though, and now he and Duane are grown up and in New York on a quest to track down each of the doctors responsible for their separation, so that Belial can maneuver his surprisingly mobile abomination of a body over and kill the shit out of them with his lumpy, deformed claws. So yeah, that giant, weirdo basket? That’s how Duane carries Belial around.

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That’s him. He’s a total dick.

So, that’s pretty much the the movie. Other stuff happens, but that’s the set up.

So, here’s what’s special, beyond all the grue and the grit; what Henelotter has done here is to tell a story by bisecting the the human ego. In effect, Duane and Belial are the same character, with Duane making up the uncorrupted inner child, and Belial representing the parts of us that carry the burden of anger, fear, resentment, hate, and grudge. Belial is everything ugly inside of us all, smooshed into one angry little wad. He’s everything we need to learn to let go of in order to live a happy, healthy lives. At the beginning of the film, Duane’s commitment to Belial is absolute, but as he comes to see what his life could be without all the baggage, and as he starts to form new relationships, his dedication wanes, and he’s nearly able to let go of all these toxic emotions that have taken him down his destructive path… Only, by then, it’s too late.

In the end, the movie is about letting go of your Darth Vader and finding a way to hold onto your Anakin, because hate is destructive for all parties involved. What a positive message for a movie with full frontal (male) nudity and heaps of monster on human violence. Show this to your children.

This interesting dynamic of separating the human ego and exploring the resulting relationship is something Henenlotter would also play with in Brain Damage and Bad Biology, as well as in the two Basket Case sequels, albeit to a lesser extent… The sequels are not great, but this one sure is.

A+