February 22nd 2021

“Don’t you know, Billy Boy? The rich have always sucked off low-class shit like you.”

This tangle of class warfare, scatology and ugly sex is a perfect verbal capsulization of Brian Yuzna’s stupendously unsubtle Society (1989) a nauseating body-horror satire of the rich and strange. The film’s central metaphor, which suits the 21st century even better than it did the Reagan-Bush 80s, presents the wealthy as literally inhuman gluttons. Since time immemorial, this cupidinous race has parasitically feasted on the inferior homo sapiens during “shuntings,” Burroughsian nightmares of viscera, gobs of lube and denatured flesh. It’s hard to imagine a more apt portrait of late capitalism than an assembly of judges, Hollywood moguls and federal officials lustily plunging their fingertips through each other’s ass cheeks while chewing on the viscera of hapless 99 percenters.

Future Baywatch hunk Billy Warlock stars as Bill Whitney, the dark-haired son of a wealthy blond family who, despite impressive athletic and scholastic accomplishments, can’t penetrate the bubble of weird intimacy shared by his sister and parents. Against the reassurance of his therapist, Bill quickly deteriorates into a paranoiac convinced he’s on the outside of a far-reaching conspiracy of indeterminate purpose. In the course of his investigation he naturally gets too close to the truth, at which point the cabal reveal their designs: since birth he’s been groomed by his surrogate family to be devoured by “society.” The entire final third of the film is dedicated to the blood orgy, a carnival of conjoined orifices and impossibly contorted spines. Mouths become latching hoses, faces migrate to replace assholes. There’s little consistency or coherence to the mutations, which are instead a showcase for the unnerving “surrealistic makeup design” of frequent Yuzna collaborator Screaming Mad George.

The appetites of the rich have animated much of the American electorate this past decade. Bill’s realization that predatory creatures run the show mirrors the contemporary political awakening (unfortunately scattered across the left-right spectrum) of an American working class left holding the bag by “elites.” Dehumanizing the wealthy will likely be essential to preserving human dignity and a habitable planet in the near future. Thirty years on, Society still offers a cathartic soak in righteous condemnation.

Society is streaming on Tubi (free), Prime, Kanopy, Shudder, Arrow, and other services