Modern horror movies tend to fall conceptually flat for me. It’s difficult to think of one that doesn’t feature some version of possession/hauntings, zombies, or some lame version of sexy monster. All very bankable, and most of them dull as dirt. Films that have the courage to truly be out there and weird have become a scarce commodity. And, call me nostalgic, I think you usually have to look to past decades to find them. Society came out in 1989, right in that awkward spot between the slasher movie boom and the genre’s decline–an ideal time to slip something unique out to the public.
Bill Whitney leads a superficially ideal life. Raised by Beverly Hills socialites, his family is wealthy and he’s popular at school. However, he also suffers from anxiety and hallucinations–all rooted in an inexplicable sense of alienation. His feeling are written off as paranoia until he catches his sister’s ex stalking her. After kicking him out of the house, the ex approaches Bill later with a secret audio recording he’s made of the Whitney family involved in some manner of depraved orgy. Stunned, Bill sets out to uncover the truth behind the tape only to find manipulations at every turn.
The whole of Society serves as a very unsubtle but effective allegory: the pristine face presented by the upper class is only a mask hiding its true depravity. The cold courtesy that passes for affection from Billy’s parents, the nod to “breeding” during the reveal, and the gluttonous sociopathy running through the town’s wealthy are all very clear jabs. This message is wrapped in a blackly comic shell that still manages to wring out some genuine tension due to good acting on the part of the lead (Billy Warlock) and inventively grotesque makeup effects. Things do go a bit too over the top into cheesy territory during the last fifteen minutes or so thanks to a few poor choices and some overacting, but it’s still a thoroughly engrossing ride because there’s literally nothing else quite like it.