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IT IS A MATTER OF GOOD BREEDING. REALLY.

After producing Stuart Gordon’s hit Re-Animator, Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead III) turned his hand to directing with 1989’s Society, and gave birth to one of the ickiest, most original body horror shockers of all time.

Teenager Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) has always felt like the odd one out in his wealthy, upper-class Beverly Hills family. For some reason, he just doesn’t seem to fit in. But his sense of alienation takes a sinister turn when he hears an audio recording of his sister’s coming-out party, which seems to implicate his family and others in a bizarre, ritualistic orgy. And then there are the strange things he’s been seeing – glimpses of people with their bodies contorted impossibly out of shape… Is Bill going mad or is there something seriously amiss in his neighborhood?

Packing stomach-churning grue and thought-provoking social commentary in equal measure, Society is a biting horror satire which culminates in one of the most gag-inducing “climaxes”’ in all
of horror history.
(Taken from the official synopsis.)

Video


I own the German Capelight release of Society, but sod's law I haven't actually gotten around to watching it (could have saved myself a few quid there!). Still, for the purposes of this review I sampled a few scenes and took some comparative screen captures too see what, if any, improvements Arrow had made. Without access to the booklet that usually accompanies Arrow's releases I am not one hundred per cent sure of the details of the transfer, but if memory serves Capelight scanned the inter-positive at 5K and mastered at 2K. A short screen of text that appears before the film confirms the 2K mastering, but not the source or the scan resolution.

It appears that both versions are derived from the same director-approved transfer, as they look very, very similar. The film has a fairly natural palette, sharing much in common with other late-eighties movies (trivia: it was shot in '89 but did not see wide US release until '92). There are some great primaries that really stand out, including fiery red sports cars, the lush greens of the tree-lined streets, and the electric blue of Clarissa's bikini! Black levels are considerably darker than those of the UK DVD release, but they just about err on the right side of crushing detail. Speaking of detail, the Blu-ray annihilates the DVD in that area, offering a much clearer and cleaner image that makes for a far more enjoyable viewing experience. Some minor print debris can be seen in numerous shots, but it's fairly inconsequential all things considered. There are also some mild stabilisation issues at times. The major advantage Arrow's disc has is its handling of the grain, which is better-preserved here than it is on Capelight's effort.

I'm very impressed with the visual side of this release. Arrow has managed to improve upon the already excellent German effort, delivering what is surely the best looking version of the film on a home format to date.

Audio


A no-frills LPCM 2.0 Stereo track is the order of business here, delivering a perfectly agreeable aural presentation of what is a—let's face it—sonically uninspiring feature. Dialogue reproduction is solid throughout, with no obvious drop-outs or intelligibility issues. If there's any movement across the stereo channels I didn't really notice it, but then it's not the sort of film that affords the soundtrack the opportunity to do anything particularly exciting. Some moderate bass reinforcement is present during a number of key sequences, but it's sporadic at best and uneven when employed. Thankfully the track presents no obvious artefacts.

Look, it's hard to get too exited about a functional stereo track for an ageing, low-budget horror movie, but there are no real issues to report and I was honestly surprised by the overall fidelity. If you grew up watching this sort of film on VHS you'll be more than happy with the audio side of things.

Extras


Arrow's release of Society includes a very respectable collection of bonus material. Here's what you can expect to find in the package:

  • Governor of Society Featurette
  • The Masters of the Hunt Featurette
  • The Champion of the Shunt Featurette
  • Brian Yuzna Q&A
  • Brian Yuzna: Society World Première
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Screaming Mad George Music Video
  • Audio Commentary
  • DVD Copy
  • Limited Edition Digipak packaging featuring newly-commissioned artwork by Nick PercivalCollector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
  • Society: Party Animal (Limited Edition Exclusive): The official comic sequel to Society, reproduced in its entirety in a perfect-bound book

The first three featurettes are essentially interviews with the film's creator, stars and effects wizards, so expect appearances from the likes of Brian Yuzna, Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson, Tim Bartell, Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson. The combined running time amounts to almost an hour, into which a lot of interesting information is crammed.

The Yuzna Q&A runs for almost forty minutes and sees the director fielding questions from a live audience, while the 'World Premiere' featurette is basically just a couple of minutes of Yuzna discussing the film and horror in general backstage at the 1989 première. I'm hoping the theatrical trailer is self-explanatory, and similarly the Screaming Mad George music video for the song 'Persecution Mania', which is actually a pretty cool track in an early nineties kind of way.

The audio commentary differs from that on the Capelight disc (hey, a reason not to get rid of it!), and features Yuzna and David Gregory of Severin Films. A DVD copy of the film is also included, as are the usual collector's booklet and a special 'Society: Party Animal' comic, which is the official sequel to the film. Unfortunately we didn't receive these last three items for review, so I can't comment on them (a pity, as I'd love to read the comic). As such, my score for the extras is based solely on the available content.

Overall


I first saw Society back in, I guess, the early nineties, when I was in my mid teens. Its surreal, grotesque imagery was quite disturbing to me then, due in part to the fact that access to horror films and 'extreme' material wasn't anywhere near as easy to come by as it is today.  Some twenty-five years later I didn't find the film anywhere near as shocking or stomach-churning, which only served to highlight some of its shortcomings. Its obvious low budget aside, the performances from the young central cast—particularly Billy Warlock and Devin Devasquez—leave much to be desired and the effects, while freakish for their time, have long-since been surpassed. With that said, when viewed in context the film's climax still has the power to shock and repulse, and the darkly humorous tone and social commentary are more appealing when viewed through adult eyes.

I thought the Capelight edition was the best the film would ever look on a home format, but I was wrong. Arrow has improved (albeit marginally) the video encode, while offering solid audio and a far more plentiful selection of bonus material. What I really like about Arrow is that, while not responsible for the transfer itself,  the label consistently takes third-party transfers and delivers presentations that are superior to those found in other regions. It's why, in my opinion, Arrow is currently the best distributor of horror, classic, cult and just plain weird features in the world. I mean, who else would have given Society a release like this? Or given Nekromantik a deluxe limited-edition release come to that? Long may it continue!

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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