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Film / Society

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Society is a 1989 Body Horror-comedy film and the directorial debut of Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna.

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a popular teenager living in Beverly Hills, the only son of a wealthy upper class family. Despite his privileged position, he feels out of place in his family and life. Several strange circumstances lead him to suspect that his family and friends may not be what they seem, as Bill uncovers a conspiracy among the higher members of society.

A sequel comic, Society: Party Animal, was released in 2003.

Has nothing to do with the 2019 Netflix fantasy teen drama The Society.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Clarissa ends up a fugitive because of this unspoken law in Society. While she didn't do the murder, she was in league with the perpetrator.
  • Ass Shove:
    • Judge Carter shoves his hand up Dave Blanchard's ass and out of his mouth.
      "Let's the BOTTOM...of this!"
    • Inverted with Ted Ferguson, who gets his head pulled out of his own ass.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Jenny's first scene seems like it's setting her up to get killed by the creepy guy, Dave Blanchard, hiding in her closet who jumps out at her and attacks her. In reality, he's trying to warn Jenny and Billy about the incestuous alien society, though he doesn't succeed.
  • Big Bad: The honorable Judge Carter, the leader (or at least the most visibly powerful) of the titular upper-class cult, and the ringleader of the climactic "shunt" at the end.
  • Black Comedy: "Well son, I guess you were right: I AM a butthead!" There are a few other jokes that pop up during the climax, with the resultant Mood Whiplash providing something of a relief from the otherwise horrific sights and sounds.
  • Body Horror: Bucketloads of it. The Society members can mutate their forms in anatomically impossible ways. The climax of the film features a murderous "orgy" where they merge into each other while consuming a hapless victim.
  • Boobs-and-Butt Pose: Justified Trope in that Jenny twists around in the shower to have both facing front. A literal Escher girl.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: When Clarissa is making Bill some tea she offers him cream, sugar, or she could pee in it.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    Ted: You know the schedule; first, we dine. Then, I fucked your sister. Then, everybody else got so turned on, they fucked her too. As far as bagel-breath Blanchard goes; I ran that low-rent fool right into a pole. Pretty busy week, don't you think?
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Most peripheral characters seem very much "off" from the get-go, but Clarissa's mother Ms. Carlyn stands out in particular. She's a huge woman with an intimidating presence who never speaks, enjoys eating hair, and in the words of one reviewer, "seems to have wandered in from a John Waters movie that was shooting next door." Luckily, despite being a member of high society and implicitly having the same gruesome abilities as her daughter, Ms. Carlyn is totally harmless and benign, even helping to save the day at the end.
  • Creepy Good: It's not exactly clear whether Ms. Carlyn has ever participated in shunting, given that she eats hair just like the judge, but we never see her do anything aggressive except protect her daughter, who is heroic.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Good God, poor Dave Blanchard... his body is slowly and painfully absorbed by a mass of mutated people.
    • Ted Ferguson gets an equally nasty one, dying via a hand up his crotch that grabs him through the mouth and eye sockets like a bowling ball, and pulls him inside out.
  • Defector from Decadence: Clarissa has the same ability to "shunt" as the other Society members but falls in love with Billy and never uses it to harm anyone. The same presumably applies to her extremely weird but ultimately benign mother.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Society's members aren't picky about who they have sex with, as evidenced by Ted licking Billy's face in the climax. The first sign that something is wrong is Jenny exciting saying that you can have sex with women (and men) post-coming out.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The film isn't subtle about class warfare metaphors.
      Ted: The rich have always sucked off low-class shit like you!
    • The film is also rife with sexual subtext. A boy at one point spurts a creamy white sun lotion over Shauna that resembles... something else, while Clarisse does the same to Billy, provocatively telling him "Don't get too hot."
  • Exact Words: Both Billy’s parents and Judge Carter keep telling him "You really do deserve what’s going to happen to you," and "You’re going to make a very valuable contribution to society." What they mean is they intend to shunt him, and he'll "contribute to society" by being absorbed into them.
  • Fan Disservice: Jenny is really adorable and quite attractive, but once you take her "contributions" to Society into account...
  • Faux Affably Evil: Most of the Society members are nauseatingly polite.
  • Gaslighting: After the Society is exposed, Billy realizes that all the messed-up things they've been showing him, including several displays of their Lovecraftian Superpower, were in an effort to make him lose his mind.
  • Good Bad Girl: Clarissa is initially depicted as the school's "bad girl" but (along with her mother) turns out to be Society's Token Heroic Orc. This is in stark contrast to Bill's sister Jenny, who outwardly appears innocent and seems to be gearing up to be your typical pretty socialite, but is really just as depraved as the rest of Society. The contrast is further emphasised through Clarissa's dark hair and Jenny's blond hair.
  • Good Shapeshifting, Evil Shapeshifting: The elite of Society use their shapeshifting powers in the most repulsively visible fashion possible, twisting their flesh like plasticine and merging their bodies with each other as they feed upon the poor. They're also extremely casual about stripping down while transforming. By contrast, the two heroic members of Society are much more discreet; in particular, Clarissa prefers to use her powers while at least wearing a Modesty Bedsheet, and generally comes across as sexy and playful rather than inhumanly disturbing.
  • Glasgow Grin: Bill's psychologist Dr. Cleveland sports one in the climax.
  • Hellish L.A.: Beverly Hills is home to the perverted, wealthy, cannibalistic "Society."
  • High-Class Cannibal: Billy's family, and the rest of their Beverly Hills elite, are revealed to be a "variant" species who eat humans, or at least suck all the nutrients from their bodies. Billy was kidnapped from ordinary people and raised by a family of them for this express purpose; he is viewed as a "delicacy" for this reason.
  • Historical In-Joke: Judge Carter brags about the members of Society claiming descent from Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan in his speech introducing Ted before his fight with Billy. Ironically, Julius Caesar never left a line of descent as his own children died before having ones of their own, while conversly, Genghis Khan's dynasty had so many children that millions of people can trace their lineage back to him. He's essentially bragging about having extremely common descent as well as lying about descent from another person, further soldifying that the members of Society are nothing but dim, pretentious hedonists.
  • Horrifying the Horror: After Billy kills Ted, the other Society members are suddenly terrified of him and fear to even touch him.
  • Human Subspecies: Implied. When Bill calls the members of Society alien scum, they claim that they didn't come from outer space and that their Lovecraftian Superpower is simply the result of "impeccable breeding" — however, one Society member claims that they've "been here as long as you", implying either a separate species native to Earth or a divergent evolutionary path. Word of God is that they are descendants of humans who were taken over by a parasite that turned them into a different species, and that shunting is how they add diversity to their excessively inbred bloodlines.
  • I Am Not Your Father: Turns out, Billy was adopted, and for the sole purpose of eventually serving as a meal for a "shunt" after being gaslit into making him and others question his sanity when the time came. This is what passes for a hilarious joke amidst the Society, highlighting just how utterly callous and depraved they are.
  • Ironic Echo: "Alien scum!"
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Martin tries to warn him about the suspicious stuff going on behind closed doors, and arranges to meet him at a location late at night. Bill finds the guy's murdered body in the trunk of an abandoned car, but when he returns with the police the evidence has already been removed. Martin set it up himself, and he shows up unharmed the next day to fuck with Billy's mind even further.
  • Jerk Jock: Ferguson has the jock attitude down pat and turns out to be one of the evil Society members.
  • Karma Houdini: Every member of the Society, Ted aside, gets away free and clear and will presumably go on preying on the lower classes.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: On the other hand...the comic sequel Party Animal has Billy eventually take his revenge and completely eradicate the Beverly Hills division of Society by poisoning them at a Shunt.
  • Kill the Poor: In the climax, the upper class literally consume a member of the lower class by assimilating his body mass.
  • Killed Off for Real: Strongly implied with Ted. Despite their shunting ability, getting turned inside out is more than Society can withstand physically. One member gasps, "He's congealing!"
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: David.
  • Literal Metaphor: Society loves this trope. "I've got to pull myself together!" says Judge Carter when reforming from a shunt.
  • Lovecraftian Superpower: The members of Society can distort and mutate their bodies to use as a weapon; growing elongated arms is one of the more mundane uses.
  • Masquerade: Society, which claims that it's been around since the dawn of civilization. Turns out that the elites are actually ravenous, mutating, people-eating monsters.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Clarissa, who is introduced crossing her legs in front of Bill, letting him see her panties.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Billy's friend Milo jacks a Dirty Cop guarding the Whitney mansion and steals his jacket, hat and gun to sneak into the "shunting" party.
  • Nerves of Steel: Milo proves himself to be quite a badass in the climax and keeps a surprisingly cool head when he bursts in on the nightmarish scene at the end. He immediately reacts with wide-eyed horror when he first sees the twisted mass of pulsing bodies, but quickly regains his composure and waits for an opportunity to jump in and save his buddy. He is later seen slapping away a guest's hand in annoyance when it tries to meld into his face.
  • No Ending: Bill escapes with Clarissa and Milo after decking his "father", Ted is turned inside out, but Judge Carter merely quips that there's a new opening vacated by Ted's "death", and there's no evidence that Bill will ever be safe.
  • One-Word Title: Society.
  • Only Sane Man: Dave Blanchard, the mousy teenager caught spying on Billy's sister in the beginning, turns out to be this: he's the only one who suspects something's up from the start and worries accordingly, and he comes close enough to necessitate his "disappearance". Tragically, this means he's subjected to being the victim of the "shunts" in the climax — a nauseatingly horrible, prolonged fate for him.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Ted is Killed Off for Real, the other Society members drop their Smug Snake attitude.
  • Overly-Long Tongue: Ferguson at one point licks Bill with a massively oversized tongue.
  • Paper Tiger: The Society members' true power lies in their money and social position, because as grotesque and impressive as they are, their Rubber Man powers come with at least one serious drawback that can be turned against them - hence why they prefer to torment people who are already too scared to fight back.
  • Parental Incest: Bill is horrified to discover that his parents have been engaging in orgies with his sister. After he discovers that they're actually humanoid monsters who can distort their bodies, his sister('s face, protruding from both of their parents' torsos) even mockingly offers him to join in.
    "If you have any Oedipal fantasies you'd like to indulge in, Billy, now's the time!"
  • Properly Paranoid: Dave Blanchard initially comes off as something of a flaky, nervous Conspiracy Theorist, but he turns out to be very much in the right. Unfortunately it's not enough to save him from a horrifically gruesome fate.
  • Psychosexual Horror: This film mixes psychosexual imagery with visceral Body Horror in its depiction of the rich, who are eventually revealed to be a separate species living among humans that regularly performs "shunts", grotesque orgies where members of high society twist themselves into horrifying networks of flesh and feast on the poor.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: "The Blue Danube" during the Shunting Party.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Dave Blanchard is horrifically absorbed by the mob, and Billy very nearly dies while challenging Ted to a shunt, where he manages to kill him by inverting him, causing the members of Society to pause in shock and Milo and Clarissa bust him out, but not before he decks his "dad" in the face so hard he flies across the room. Society promises to track him and his friends down, but he escapes with them on his Jeep, leaving him time to plan how to take them down.
  • Shapeshifter Showoff Session: In the finale, the villains who aren't busy with the massive flesh-absorbing orgy take great delight in screwing with Billy by demonstrating their shapeshifting powers: Ted extends his tongue and gleefully licks Billy's face; Dr Cleveland shapes his head into a giant hand, then stretches his right arm like elastic to grab at Billy; Nan reveals that she's removed her limbs and fused herself with various bits of Jim and Jenny - complete with Jenny's head suddenly erupting from her groin to menace Billy... and then the rest of Jim lurches out from under the bedsheets - with his face protruding from the cheeks of his ass.
  • Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: Clarissa. Creepy, seductive, kinky, and a member of Society who uses her powers to freak Billy out when they're getting it on. Turns out she's a total Nice Girl who doesn't seem to participate in the shunts, and when she falls in love with Billy she turns on the rest of Society.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Team Title: Society.
  • Token Good Teammate: Clarissa and her mom are this compared to the rest of Society. Clarissa freely indulges in her fucked-up Body Horror powers as much as the rest of her kind, even using them to mess with Billy when they get it on. When the rest of Society decides to use Billy in the shunt, though, Clarissa refuses to partake and ends up turning against the rest of Society; likewise, when she sees her kid in danger, Clarissa's mom smothers Ted.
  • To Serve Man: A highly-unusual, disgusting and horrific version of it, as human victims of a "shunt" are slowly, painfully dissolved/absorbed into the writhing mass of fused/copulating Society members.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Throughout the movie Bill keeps seeing horrific visions of people distorting their bodies in impossible ways, but a second later everything is back to normal. Subverted in the end when it turns out it was all real, leading to one of the most nauseating climaxes in the history of film.
  • Transformation Discretion Shot: Throughout the film, the Transformation Horror is brought to life through impressive prosthetics, but most of the actual transformations occur in cutaways.
    • Early on, Jenny is having a shower when Billy enters the bathroom and sees that her body has twisted around at an angle that leaves her breasts on the same side of her body as her ass... but when Billy opens the shower door for a closer look, Jenny is back to normal (and rather annoyed at the intrusion).
    • Similarly, after sleeping with Clarissa, Billy is shocked to discover that his bedmate is somehow capable of meeting his gaze even though the lower half of her body is facing the opposite direction (though this time, her naked torso is hidden by the blanket). Once again, he finds that Clarissa appears perfectly normal up close and is acting as if nothing happened.
    • In the climax, Dr Cleveland shapes his head into a giant hand while the camera is focused on Billy's horrified reaction, eventually cutting back to reveal the fully-transformed head; however, the sight of his actual hand stretching out like elastic to grab Billy is shown in full.
    • Finally, in the aftermath of the Shunt, the merged mass of flesh is seen collapsing out of view but not actually dividing back into its original participants - who are seen clambering back into shot a few seconds later.
  • Transformation Exhilaration: The perverted elite enjoy their shapeshifting powers, and take great pleasure in the process of transforming. In one early scene, Jenny twists her body around so that her breasts face the same direction as the cheeks of her ass, moaning loudly as she does so. In another case, Jenny and Nan are encountered in the aftermath of having merged themselves, and the latter demonstrates an almost post-coital satisfaction. Taken to its logical conclusion in the finale, when Society uses their powers to merge with an innocent victim in a grotesque orgy, moaning and shrieking throughout.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Or ugly woman's hot daughter, in the case of Mrs Carlyn and her daughter Clarissa.
  • Villainous Incest:
    • Jenny constantly seems to be on the brink of coming onto, or actively flirting with, her brother Billy. She is, but he isn't her brother.
    • Billy is horrified when he hears Jenny apparently having sex with both of their parents on Dave's recording.
  • Visual Pun: The poster takes the idea of "the mask you wear in public" to a Body Horror Literal Metaphor.
  • Worm in an Apple: In the opening, Billy takes a bite out of an apple while in his therapist's office — only to find the apparently pristine fruit rotten and writhing with literal worms. As it happens, this is an early bit of foreshadowing that something very nasty is going on behind the polished facade of Beverly Hills.
  • Zip Me Up: Jenny asks Billy to zip up her coming-out party dress. Her skin pulses.