Society– 1989, Brian Yuzna, USA



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

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Castle Freak~ 1995, Stuart Gordon

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Who among us has moved into a new place and NOT dreaded the day they might discover that there was, in fact, a castle freak hiding in the shadows, which the apartment management had failed to mention? Discovering that your new home also houses a dangerous, horribly disfigured psychopath who knows the ins and outs of your sweet two bedroom, one bath, party bungalow better than you ever could is a clear, constant danger to us all, and no one movie explores that very real fear better than Stuart Gordon’s super awesome Castle Freak, starring Jeffery Combs and Barbara Crampton.

In Castle Freak, Jeffrey Combs discovers that, well, what do you know; I’m totally royalty, and I just inherited a sweet castle in Italy! Never once expecting a fucking Castle Freak, Combs and his family travel to Europe to explore his newly discovered ancestral home, totally unaware of the damn Castle Freak, who is just waiting to screw up their day and/or straight up kill them. Talk about a case of the Mondays.

The Castle Freak does turn up, of course, and once he does he’s nothing but trouble. Aside from terrorizing Jeffrey Combs and his family, he also does all sorts of bad stuff around town that Combs ends up taking the blame for, and throughout most of the film he manages to do this while flying under the radar, because there is nothing stealthier than a wailing maniac who has lived his entire life confined to a dungeon knowing only brutality and violence.

All told, this is a redemption story. Combs’ character has, in the past, messed up real hard, so hard it makes Jack Torrence look like father of the year, and his family is just barely holding it together at the start of the picture. It’s a testament to the human will that he manages to use this murderous Castle Freak situation as an opportunity to turn it all around, to go that extra mile and win back his family’s trust, to say, “Yeah, I was drunk at the time, and yeah, the car accident killed our son and left our daughter blind- but hey, I got rid of that fucking Castle Freak, didn’t I?!” Way to be, Jeff. Next time you’re having hard time finding your silver lining, think back on Jeffrey Combs’ Castle Freak scenario and remember, if HE could do it, well then, darn it, you can too!

Loosely based (SUPER loosely) on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider, Castle Freak is probably the lesser of Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations, but it’s still really great. It’s a very simplistic, straight forward, low budget horror movie, and it’s lots of fun. I have a lot of affection for the film, even if it can’t hold a candle to Re-Animator, From Beyond, or Dagon, and Castle Freak remains a film I enjoy and would happily recommend.


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