Monday, June 29, 2015

SOCIETY (1989) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)

SOCIETY (1989) 
2-Disc Director-Approved Limited Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Arrow Video
Region: Region-Free
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 99 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English PCM Stereo 2.0 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Cast: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards
Director: Brian Yuzna

High schooler Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) seems to have it all on the surface, he's a good looking guy with a cheerleader of a girlfriend, and he comes from an affluent Beverly Hills family. He even drives around in a Jeep Wrangler, which in the 80s was what every teen wanted, at I did, until I realized that most people in Wranglers were sort of douche nozzles. Despite his good fortune and affluence something has always seemed a bit off to him. Billy doesn't seem to fit into the Beverly Hills high society crowd, he's an affluent outsider. He regularly sees a therapist, Dr. Cleveland (Ben Slack), to address the paranoia-laced nightmares he suffers from, but when Blanchard (Tim Bartell) approaches hims with an audio cassette with what sounds like a bizarre incestuous orgy involving his sister and their parents things begin to spiral out of control for the young man. When approaches his therapist with the wild story the doc doesn't believe his story, only prescribing a stronger prescription for happy pills, but it will certainly take more than Prozac to set things right for the troubled teen when he discovers the grotesque truth about high society in Beverly Hills.

Society begins like a nightmare version of Beverly Hills 90210 with some affluent high school drama, teenage angst with a few small scenes of weirdness, such as when Billy walks in on his sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings) in the bathroom, she's in the shower but appears to have breasts on her backside, which is confusing to say the very least. The contorted bit of kinky weirdness is just our first glimpse at the weird body horror element that await us in this one, but certainly not the last, there's plenty more to come as the layers begin to peel pick exposing the awful truth of the matter. 

The money-shot of the movie is an extended orgy of stretched out flesh, a strange celebration of twisted bodies and kinky oddness that drives home the point that upper high society has always fed off the lower classes. The surreal special effects of Screaming Mad George are in full force, creating a dizzying series of body-horror sights like you've never seen before, this is why I love the 80's -- the over-driven special effects were awesome. The strange feeding/orgy scene is bathed in red light with a the darkly comic tone about it, very weird and wonderful, while the film Screamers (1980) promised a scene of a man being turned inside out, this film actually delivers on that promise with a very memorable "shunting", body-horror fans are gonna love this one, so gross and gooey.  

I do love the movie, but must admit that it suffer a bit from stiff acting, particularly the attractive young ladies cast in the movie, easy on the eyes, but not the most gifted actresses ever put onscreen, nope, these gorgeous ladies were cast for certain other  criteria. In a weird sort of way the flat line deliveries work in the film's favor, creating a that strange atmosphere and that feeling that something is not quite right. This was Brian Yuzna's directorial debut which probably attributed to the stiffness of the film, but overall this is a solid movie, and a body-horror powerhouse of a film. It does help that Warlock as Billy is an easy guy to get behind, he does a great job tapping into that weird teen paranoia that I think we all experienced at one point at that very special age, if I had watched this in my early teens I would have been highly disturbed by it, after I saw the original Invaders from Mars I was convinced the neighbors were aliens for a bit, they were pretty strange. 

Audio/Video: Brian Yuzna's Society (1989) finally arrives on Blu-ray here in the U.S., having been long out-of-print. Arrow have created a brand new 2K scan of the film and the results are pretty damn sharp, beginning with a nice layer of film grain that is nicely managed and consistent, there's some decent depth and fine detail to the image and the colors are strong and saturated, very nice all the away around. The English PCM 2.0 does a good job exporting the dialogue, score and gooey special effects noises, it comes with optional English SDH subtitles.  

Arrow Video have stuffed this one with some great extras beginning with a brand new commentary recorded for this release, plus Governor of Society (17 Mins), an interview with the director who speaks about going from producing to directing and the making of the film, if you are a fan of the film there's a lot to enjoy here. Then into The Masters of the Hunt (22 Mins), a brand new featurette including interviews with stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell whom all speak about reading the oddball script and their time on the set making the film. 

Of course you cannot speak about Society without an interview with the FX team who created the surreal body horror, The Champion of the Shunt (21 Mins) has interview with the notorious Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson who speak about the freedom of creating such strange and disturbing images for the film, fun stuff. The extras are finished up with a 40-minute Q&A with Brian Yuzna from 2014, a brief backstage clip with Yuzna backstage during the world premiere of the film, and a screaming Mad George music video for the song "Persecution Mania" .  

For the sake of review I was sent a screener disc without any of the packaging extras (poor me, right?), but the Director-Approved Limited Edition comes with deluxe Digipak packaging featuring newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival, the Society: Party Animal official comic sequel to Society, reproduced in its entirety, and a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters for the movie, a pretty grand edition all the way around, Arrow Video went all out for this one.

Special Features:
- Newly remastered 2K digital transfer of the film, approved by director Brian Yuzna
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
- Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Brand new audio commentary by Director Brian Yuzna
- Governor of Society – a brand new interview with Brian Yuzna (17 Mins)
- The Masters of the Hunt – a brand new featurette including interviews with stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell (22 Mins)  
- The Champion of the Shunt – new featurette with FX artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson (21 Mins)
- 2014 Q/A with Yuzna, recorded at Celluloid Screams Festival (39 Mins)
- Brian Yuzna in conversation backstage at the Society world premiere (2 Mins)
- ‘Persecution Mania’ – Screaming Mad George music video (6 Mins) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

The wait for a proper North American release of Society has been a long one and the Director-Approved Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video was definitely worth the wait, a fantastic transfer with loads of awesome extras and some inspired packaging extras. Society is a body-horror classic, definitely one of the most anticipated releases of the year, and sure to be on my year end top 10, this is top-notch and highly recommended.