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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 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:

  • Ambiguous Gender: Mrs. Carlyn. The fact that it's hard to tell if she's played by a woman is a testament to Pamela Matheson's performance.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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 big ol' breath Blanchard goes; I ran that low-rent fool right into a pole. Pretty busy week, don't you think?
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: 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: Ms. Carlyn, as explained under Cloud Cuckoo Lander above, is intensely weird and creepy but firmly on the heroic side.
  • 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. Unlike the above-mentioned victim, though, he had it coming.
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The film isn't subtle about class warfare metaphors.
      Ted: Society has always fed on low-class shits 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."
  • 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.
  • Glasgow Grin: Bill's psychologist Dr. Cleveland sports one in the climax.
  • Horrifying the Horror: After Billy kills or maims 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 gaslighted 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!: One of Bill's classmates 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. Said classmate 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 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 members 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.
  • The 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.
  • OOC 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 as they are, their Rubber Man powers come with serious drawbacks that can easily be turned against them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Or ugly woman's hot daughter, in the case of Mrs Carlyn and her daughter Clarissa.
  • 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.