The movie begins with a young man that kinda looks like Emilio Estevez in a mansion wandering around. He hears gristly things afoot and grabs a knife from the kitchen as he hears someone chortling somewhere. The ticking of clocks begin to overwhelm the score, and he slides to the floor clutching the knife. Then the light comes on and his mom says, “Bill?” I guess just to let us know his name.
Anyway, cut to a psychiatrist’s office, where Bill says he’s afraid of everything. When the psych asks why, Bill says that he feels like something’s going to happen, and if he scratches the surface there’s going to be something horrible underneath. Then he bites into an apple and worms begin crawling out of it. Or is it a metaphor for SOCIETY???
Credits show b-roll from Cronenberg’s dreams, and a bizarre song plays that sounds like a school song, only about SOCIETY, sung in falsetto. The footage is pretty gross, with slimy writhing masses of people enjoined in something that doesn’t look kosher. But then it’s time for the fucking movie to begin, so white fade out to Bill’s mansion.
He plays b-ball with some dude (Milo is his name; I like it when these movies let me know the characters’ names, and so few ever do). They have a Totally 80’s conversation (even though this film was made in the early 90’s, it took a few years for people to catch up) and look like they should be the villains in a ski comedy film trying to tear down the rec center. Then there’s Jenny, who’s his sister, who pokes her head out the window and tells him to get rid of Blanchard (?) for her. She gets undressed and has one of those streamlined 80’s physiques that came from aerobics, I think. But something’s lurking in the wardrobe behind her. Synth strings swell as she looks for a missing earring, and Blanchard pops out of the wardrobe, where he tries to force her to listen to him. Bill kicks this fucking joker out toot sweet, and Blanchard is trying to tell him that something weird is going on, but Bill and Jenny’s parents show up. Blanchard –whose name is actually Dave—is shown the fucking door, and the family resumes their wealthy, placid WASP existence.
Bro and sis have a short heart-to-heart by the piano about how Dave wasn’t right for her. When Billy helps zip up Jenny’s dress, the skin on her back pulsates and he finds it gross but keeps it to himself. It turns out it’s her debutante ball that night, and he’s missing it for a basketball game.
“I mean, how can I be happy when I already have everything I could ever want? Unfair.”
The film is super California 1980’s (but suffers from early 90’s cultural jetlag), and we cut to a student council president debate at Bayside High. Billy’s fucking killing it against wormy looking Marty. But he gets asked a question about the dress code, and some girl in the audience that looks like Winnie Cooper pulls a Basic Instinct on him and spreads her legs to distract him. He almost loses his thread, but then a nice ad hominem attack on dorky Marty puts him back in with the crowd.
Anyway, Bill goes to his psychiatrist, who asks him how he feels about his family. Bill hedges his bets and says whatever, they’re fine, but that’s a bunch of bullshit that the psychiatrist sees right through. Bill thinks his family doesn’t approve of him, and even brings up the fact that he doesn’t even look like them. He thinks he’s adopted, and the psychiatrist thinks he’s paranoid, and they’re both right.
So white bread Mom and Dad are looking at snails outside and having a great time, and we find out that Bill goes to Beverly Hills Academy, because all social satire in 1980’s and early 90’s movies and TV took place in Beverly Hills. When he hops into his jeep, he finds a Ken doll on his seat with a screw in its head. So maybe that’ll become something eventually, as well.
He rubs suntan lotion on 80’s Girlfriend and they make out on the sand, and she’s angling to get an invite to Tad Ferguson’s party. Then some kids crawl through the sand behind them and steal the sunblock and spray them with it(?) while saying, “Die, aliens!” So Winnie Cooper picks up the suntan lotion and also sprays him with it because flirting wasn’t quite perfected until about 1996. His blonde 80’s girlfriend seems pissed at this, and he runs into what looks like John Candy in a wig. I’m sure that will come back, as well. He goes over to Tad for an invite, who lets him know that Martin “was born to lead,” so more foreshadowing keeps getting dropped. Billy’s girlfriend fucking ditches him and he’s smacked away from the cool kids’ cabana.
Dave comes back into the picture as he goes up to Bill and says that he has something very important to tell him. Dave has microcassettes (“member the early 90’s?”) and starts playing a tape for Billy and also lets him know that he bugged Billy’s family. Here, he hears bizarre talk about how joining society means being able to be with both women and men, and that they dine before copulation, and that his parents are both going to have sex with their daughter that night, because ew. Also, they make it clear that it’s somewhat funny that they keep Billy in the dark about their life.
The tape goes on, and more bizarre sex talk among his friends and family is heard. It’s fucking weird, of course, and Bill doesn’t take this information very well. Meanwhile, back at the family mansion, dad and some older guy that’s a doctor finds the microphone in the daughter’s earring. Dave is a prime suspect, so he’s probably going to be dead soon.
The tape gets stranger and stranger, as gristly sound effects and an orgy is heard involving a bunch of people, including his family members. Billy can’t handle this, so he steals the tape and brings it to his psychiatrist, telling him that he has to listen to it. The psychiatrist says that he should give him the tape to listen to later, and like a fucking idiot he gives it to the psychiatrist and leaves.
CUT TO the next day, where he’s talking to his Totally 80’s girlfriend about the bizarre tape, but she’s more interested in goddamn Tad’s party. He gets rightly pissed about her obtuseness, and she kicks rocks. He opens his locker and finds a shrunken head inside. So I guess more things?
“I’m up for a role on California Dreams!”
So the psychiatrist listened to tape and tells Billy what he’s doing is illegal, to which Bill rightly rejoinders that what they people on the tape are doing is illegal. The psychiatrist pops in the tape and it’s not weird anymore but just normal bullshit. Billy’s all pissed at this subversion, but the psychiatrist just says, “People are what they are,” and that he has to accept society’s rules of privacy or else “bad things happen.” This is one of those movies that drops a lot of foreshadowing before the big reveal, and it isn’t bad because of that, but if you’ve watched enough movies a lot of this pretty predictable. So he calls Dave for another tape right in front of the psychiatrist, obviously giving away who the source is, and goes to meet him for another tape. However, when he gets there, Dave’s van is overturned and he’s fucking dead. Probably from SOCIETY, man! He tries to grab a mini-cassette from the wreckage but a cop tells him to GTFO.
Back at Maniac Mansion, Billy walks in to his mom, dad, and sister sitting together smiling blankly lat each other. A telegram came for him while he was out, and it turns out that he’s invited to goddamn Tad’s party, after all. The parents are tranquilly happy with this news, and Billy tries to tell them–but they already know all about–Dave’s auto accident. He wonders how the fuck they know all of this, but they also don’t really give a shit either way.
CUT TO Tad’s Totally 80’s Party, where fizzy instrumental breakbeats are playing. It’s like Less Than Zero only without the style. So these thick-headed Caucasian fucksticks are just jabbering away and drinking champagne or some shit, and Winnie Cooper comes by to stare sex daggers at Billy. Seconds later, they’re dancing together, and some dialogue plods out. Milo goons his way over and asks what the fuck happened to Dave, but Billy pushes him away so he can get down with the cool kids.
“We’re not sure if it’s the 80’s or 90’s, either.”
He goes into a tent, where Tad sits like he’s fucking Scarface or something, and Billy asks questions about Tad, his sister, Dave, his parents–pretty much everybody in that twisted sex dance he heard. Tad lays his cards all out on the table: yes, they had an orgy at his sister’s coming out party, and yes, he killed Dave, and then after serving up a knuckle sandwich with extra punch, Billy’s thrown into the pool. Then Winnie says some shit about hanging on by a thread and a button, and the two of them amscray back to her pad.
She’s DTF and he’s like, OK, and so it goes. Nudity occurs because it’s an 80’s horror movie, and I’m waiting for a crazy reveal here, and sure enough, that gristly sound starts happening and Winnie Cooper’s body is shown all twisted around. Then she’s back to normal. And also his old girlfriend is stalking him. But somebody shows up and she splits.
Actually, she was just into yoga before it was cool.
In Winnie’s house, the two of them make out a bit until that weird John Candy lady from the beach shows up. She’s Winnie’s mother, I suppose, and she’s gross and throws up something bizarre and hands it to Billy. This is all brushed off pretty easily, and the scene fades out.
Back at the mansion, Billy is looking fresh and ready for another fucked-up day in Beverly Hills. He finds a blowup doll in his car with a Ken doll in its mouth. Then his ex shows up to chew him out and finds the blowup doll gross. She stomps away and this whole movie seems like a very odd episode of Swan’s Crossing.
He goes into his house, where he finds his mom, dad, and sister sensually massaging each other and lounging around in lingerie. They’re like, what’s your problem? And his mom lets him know that Bill’s going to make a great contribution to society (hint). He insinuates that these people aren’t his parents and tells his old man to fuck off and leave him alone. Billy says he’s moving out. I would, too.
I hope this isn’t their Christmas card this year.
At Dave’s funeral, Milo and Bill go up to the coffin and think it’s weird. Milo touches Dave’s dead cheek, and it cracks open. Yuck. Then Martin comes up to him and says he needs to talk to him, probably about all that gross stuff (AKA SOCIETY) that’s been happening lately. They’re going to meet that night for more man talk about gross stuff. But at the meeting that night, Billy finds Martin’s car in a gulch and Martin inside with his throat slit. Laughter is heard in the darkness and Billy gives chase and is attacked by an unknown assailant. He continues to give chase, and chase, and chase.
He gets the cops, and brings Winny along for funsies, and they find a car in the gulch, but not Martin’s. The cops look around and don’t like this screwhead’s ideas. Winne’s having a great time with all of this. The cop threatens Billy, because that’s what police do(?), and Winnie’s kind of mocking Billy as well, but when he looks at her he’s just Kevin Arnold in the 7th grade all over again.
Maybe we both already felt we’d come too far too fast. Maybe we both realized that growing up doesn’t have to be so much a straight line as a series of advances and retreats. Oh, and everyone I know is a monster.
Back at school, Billy goes up to the podium and says that Martin is not showing up, and that there’s a society that’s killing to keep its existence a secret, but lo and behold, look who shows the fuck up! Billy beats it outta this crazy scene, and Milo says that he’s been putting all the fucked up stuff around him for a good misdirect. Milo told him that he saw Martin dead last night and taken away by a bunch of mysterious people, and that he was following him because he was worried about how Billy’s been acting lately and seems like a good friend, and it’ll be a shame when he dies.
Back at stately Wayne manor, Billy rolls up to the hacienda while Milo hangs in the driveway. A bunch of the white breads are hanging out inside and have him goddamn committed against his will, which you just hate to see. They drug Billy and whammo, he’s gone. Milo follows him to the hospital to see what he can see, and asks for his friends’ name, of which there is no record. She comes back and tells him he has to go to the morgue to find Billy. And also Billy’s car is now outside somehow. Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
Billy has a nice recap dream of the past events in the film as he lays sedated in a hospital bed, then wakes up to some awful sounds happening in the bed next to him. He finds nothing, but gets dressed and walks the fuck out of this shit show. He’s also surprised to find Milo, and his car, outside. Milo looks all fucked up, though, and says that the people inside said he was dead. Billy’s all smug about this shit, but Milo’s like, “You’re officially dead, guy,” and that he’s being set up. But now Billy says fuck it, I know the score, and zooms away….
To Winnie’s house, where he aggressively asks her what’s up, buttercup? She says things aren’t the way they seem, but he ain’t buying it. She tells him not to go home, but Billy’s like fuck everything on Earth, and goes home because he’s had just about enough of this shit. Winny’s creep mom is in Milo’s back seat, and they go for a ride together.
Back at Casa de Billy, he goes inside and relives the opening of the movie as he sneaks around the house and hears weird sounds. There’s his old friend The Knife to accompany his perambulations, and skulks about in the darkness. Milo pulls up with John Candy Mom, and Billy hears more strange sounds.
“Just you and me now, ol’ knifey ol’ pal…”
Billy’s mom and dad show up, and he’s like, let’s talk fuckos, but he’s put down quick by the cops and SOCIETY. Ya see, they’re having a little soiree at their house, and his psychiatrist congratulates everyone about how well they did fucking Billy over. Just so we can understand that some real fucked-up shit is going on, and everyone has a good laugh at Billy’s downfall. He asks what’s going on, and his psychiatrist explains that some F’ed up S is going on. Turns out his parents aren’t his parents (doy) and these people are weirdo species that see themselves as a different “class” that is born into “society.” They’re not aliens, they’re just horrible eldritch abominations, you see. He still goes with the “alien scum” line, but he’s also pretty fucked at this point as they parade him around the Tads and Marties and other goddamn WASPs.
Milo shows up with Weirdo John Candy Mom while Billy’s paraded around this Young Republican convention. Winnie Cooper shows up, seemingly reluctant, and “Dad” and Tad glad hand about what a great job they did. Even though Winnie’s also alien scum, she looks like she’s regretful about the whole thing, just like when she broke up with Kevin at the end of the first season of The Wonder Years.
So the psych ward shows up and jabs another body into the house and Milo is getting groped by John Candy Mom in the car. The masked person that was hauled in is unmasked, and it’s Dave, and he looks terrified, and they keep talking about “shunting,” whatever the fuck that is, and I guess they’re going to eat Billy afterwards. So pretty much just basic Republican stuff from the 80’s.
What is shunting? Holy shit, it’s not great, is what I’ll say. They rip Dave’s clothes off and start feasting on him while he’s still alive. And everyone gets really greasy quickly. It’s pretty fucking disgusting to watch and the classical music in the background doesn’t help any.
OH GOD WHAT IS THIS?
WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?
WHAT THE EVERLIVING FUCK
Tad makes an observant point: “Don’t you know, Billy boy? The rich have always sucked off low-class shit like you.” And the social commentary for this movie is complete.
Then he licks Billy.
Milo and etc. break onto the property, and a cop tries to stop them. But then John Candy Mom shunts that dude to death I guess and Milo puts a cop uniform on. The party gets super-freaky quick and everyone, young and old, is about to get down. Scenes from hell like this begin to occur:
And Winnie Cooper, although a hellacious abomination like the rest of these monsters, lets Billy go and tells him to run because she loves him(?). But the psychiatrist corners him, and he looks like he’s going to an audition for a stage run as The Joker:
That is, until his head turns into a giant hand:
But Billy dashes into another room, where he hears that same gristly sound effect from before. It’s his “Mom,” whose legs have turned into arms:
His sister comes out of between the mom’s legs, the dad’s face is now an ass–
And this is all wildly unsettling, to say the least. Billy escapes, only to come across one of the most nightmarish flesh tableaus I’ve ever seen.
This, all while nightmare circus music plays. It’s mind-warping.
Billy’s captured and is being presented as dinner. Winnie calls out for Billy, and Tad doesn’t like this one bit. So Billy decides he’s going to beat Tad up. They square off while the flesh-nightmare deflates back into people. It’s a weird scene, man. A weird, weird scene.
So Billy and Tad begin to fight, and Tad beats the shit out of him for a while, like eldritch abominations will do, but Billy eventually gets the…upper hand, so to speak. By bending Tad’s arm back and then shunting him good, by pushing his fucking arm through Tad’s body and poking his eyes out from the inside.
Holy shit! It’s a great practical effect, as are all the practical effects throughout this movie, and it’s super-disgusting and a nice catharsis for both Billy and audience alike when he pulls Tad inside-out.
Billy, Milo, and Winny get the fuck out of this place, but not before Billy punches not-dad in the face. They run away while classic churning horror music plays, and the eldritch yuppies stand around the inside-out body and calmly talk about how they may have an opening in Washington next summer. THEN THE FUCKING CREDITS ROLL BECAUSE WHAT ELSE TO YOU GODDAMN ANIMALS WANT OUT OF A HORROR MOVIE??
Jesus Christ, what a fucked-up movie. There are hints of the unbelievably disturbing things that are occurring throughout, but the last 20 minutes ramps up with some of the more disturbing practical effects and body horror I’ve ever seen. When I was younger, my folks would let me buy/buy for me the craziest shit that a young mind probably shouldn’t see, but what the fuck, it was the early 90’s and I was more of a reader than a radical dude anyway. So my dad would buy me stacks of Fangoria magazine and I would flip through them, marveling at the gross-out practical effects that they would feature in spreads. This movie’s effects (although I didn’t know it until now) was one of those features that left an indelible mark on my young mind. I remember looking at stills in that magazine from this movie, wondering what kind of fucked-up film would create these images. Now I know that it’s just society.
To say that the moral of this movie isn’t subtle is an understatement: every frame, every piece of dialogue, and every character is there to reaffirm that classism=bad, social status=evil, and 1980’s Reaganism=exploiting the lower classes, concluding with the rich literally sucking the life out of the plebs. But some anvils need to be dropped, and they are well-formed—if not academic or even-handed—in this movie.
It’s a classic slow-burn horror film from the 1980’s, as well: it doesn’t show its hand too early, and only disturbing hints are dropped as to the nature of “society.” Only in the last 20 minutes does the Bonkers Factory go into overtime, and it’s a memorable third act for a horror film to end on.
As I mentioned before, the practical effects in this film are phenomenal and ultra-disturbing to watch; the Hieronymus Bosch-like mutant flesh configuration of the orgy scene is as disturbing as it was when I first saw it in the pages of Fangoria when I was 12.
The film is also fun for 1980’s nostalgia buffs (it was released in 1992, but made in 1989): it takes place in Beverly Hills, circa 1989, and the styles and aesthetics presented are planted firmly and authentically in that time and place. Even if you’re a film connoisseur and can suss that something is amiss in this world, the third act’s visuals and presentation are so fuck-awfully weird, otherworldly, and horrifying that it makes the 1-2-3 beats to get to that point more than worthwhile; it’s horrifying.
While I found much of the movie somewhat formulaic, the dynamic oddness of the menacing forces that are presented make it more than worthwhile to watch. The practical effects are stunning, and it’s a disturbing world that’s developed in the film. While not Shakespeare, it’s on par with Cronenberg. For these reasons, I give it 3.5 out of 4 Tads.