It’s not uncommon for movie theaters to put on retro screenings. It's special for cinephiles to see some of their absolute favorites on the big screen. Take a gander at what the Texas Theatre has on the calendar leading up to Halloween (a 4K scan of The Evil Dead, Return of the Living Dead in 35 mm, and Nosferatu with a live score, among many others).
It’s enough to make any horror fan salivate.
There will be plenty of opportunities to catch Patrick Swayze locking hips with Jennifer Grey on the big screen. But when will you get the chance to drink a beer, watch one of the weirdest movies ever made and talk to the filmmaker? Some of the most exciting viewing experiences are the out-there movies, and it doesn’t get more fantastically bizarre than Brian Yuzna’s grotesque 1989 satire Society.
Lookup any list online of the weirdest horror movies, or strangest horror movies scenes, and you’ll likely find Society near the top. Yuzna has never been afraid to test audiences’ limitations or take you to uncomfortable places. He’s responsible for such works as Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dolls and Bride of Re-Animator. (And let’s not forget Honey, I Shrunk the Kids — more on that later). But Society may be his magnum opus of abnormality.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Society is Slither meets Get Out. It’s got that 1980s cheesiness, along with the “OMG!” factor of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. The story centers on a teenage boy named Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock, a spitting image of Michael J. Fox). He has it all. He's on the basketball and debate team, has ladies giving him the Basic Instinct treatment, drives a brand new Jeep and lives in a Beverly Hills mansion.
But deep down, Bill faces many of the same issues as other high school kids: he questions authority and resents his parents. He also has paranoid fantasies, or maybe it’s raging hormones. Whatever it is, Bill suspects that his family is up to something nasty and sinister. And it may involve orgies and an activity called “the shunting.” (You have been warned.)
Society screens in 35mm at 9 p.m. on Saturday at the Texas Theatre. Yuzna will be there to answer questions and perhaps offer therapy upon your exit. The Denton Record-Chronicle recently had the opportunity to speak with Yuzna ahead of the screening. We discussed what makes his films such enjoyable experiences and what it’s like to project the dark corners of his mind on the big screen.
Preston Barta: You have been talking about Society for 30 years. What do you personally get out of attending screenings and talking to audiences now?
Brian Yuzna: “I get satisfaction from people, and that there’s still an audience [for Society]. Society was a big flop when it came out. It didn’t at all do what I thought. It worked in other territories, like the UK. Back then, you had no idea how a movie would do. There was no internet. So, if something did somewhere else, you had no idea. It really disappointed me when the film didn’t do well because I thought it was so much fun. I thought it was going to do great and break box-office records. But, of course, that was just naivety.”
“So, about ten years ago, I started getting inquiries about it, and that was really surprising and gratifying. All of a sudden, it found its audience. I think part of it comes from an interest in all things ‘80s and what happened in movies before CGI... When you’re young, horror movies make an impression on you. I know it did with me. That never leaves you. As you get older, you look back and reconnect and enjoy them in a different way. It’s like people who want to play the old Nintendo games again. It surfaces a special feeling.”
“Then there’s an audience who never saw it. I know when I go to screenings now, I will ask, ‘How many people haven’t seen the movie?’ There always is a substantial number. It isn’t just people who are old enough to remember it. There is a new audience. It’s really fun to see because I have made a lot of movies. A lot of them are one that nobody wants to see any more [Laughs]. So when you have one that people do want to see, it really makes it a special event. It’s ‘80s. It’s not digital. It was shot on film and edited on film. The effects are all practical.”
“Once cinema shifted to digital, we lost all the rubber and mechanical effects, for the most part. When people see it, I think they realize it’s different. It’s not that CGI is worse (no worse than optical effects were, or stop-motion). Everything is of its own ilk. But there is something about puppets that has a life to it that we don’t get from digital (unless it’s really high end). You can get a good sense of the performance. A lot folds into it. With Society, nobody has done a movie like that again.”
I think you’ll recognize many movies from the ‘80s that didn’t do well then will find its audience today. It’s a lot like that scene from Back to the Future when Marty plays that “Johnny B. Goode” song that audiences weren’t prepared for, and he says, “Your kids are going to love it.”
“That’s probably it! [Laughs] I know that sometimes it does take time for things to find an audience. You have to find a context for it and find a way to enjoy it. And you’re right. When Society first came out, the screenings were not a whole lot of fun because it seemed like people just didn’t get it.”
Did you feel any pressure with your directorial debut after making a splash with the movies you produced with Stuart Gordon? Were you forward-thinking at the time?
“At that time, yeah, I was daunted by the fact that I wanted it to be really good. Part of it was I didn’t want to come up short based on those movies that I produced. But also it was because you are just so enthusiastic. You want to do something. I think at that time in my life, I think a lot of it has to do with my age. I was in my 30s. I was new to the movie business, and I was jazzed up about making movies. The energy was bigger than a fear of failure. You feel it every inch of the way when something is not working. The pain comes slowly and steadily. The same goes for when things work out. You see it working almost daily.”
“I was so excited about Society, as were all the other filmmakers that were a part of it. We were all having so much fun. When the movie was done, it was disappointing. I already had two kids. I was already grown up. I never took a movie class. I just came out thinking if I could make movies that would be great. I wanted to make a living doing that. I scraped along and was able to do that. I didn’t know the Hollywood system at the time. I could have had a more prominent career and done things differently. But given my background and makeup, I didn’t see that it was possible for me.”
You mentioned that you had two kids at the time of making Society. That brings me to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It’s not too often that you will look at a filmmaker’s filmography and see them go from something like Society to a kid’s movie.
“I never really had a problem with that part of it. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids – Stuart Gordon [director of Re-Animator and From Beyond], and I actually came up with the idea in my backyard at a barbecue with our families. We both had kids, and [Gordon] said we should make a movie for our kids. I said when I was little, I always imagined being really little and riding on a bee and various other bugs. We immediately improvised the story, which is the story that came out. We even said that we should take it to Disney. At the time, you didn’t really get a lot of fantasy on that level like you do today. Movies today are mainly fantasy.”
“But you think about it – if Honey, I Shrunk the Kids had darker lighting and a downbeat ending, you have a horror movie. There isn’t a big distance between that film and my other films. The thing about horror to me is that it’s more dreamlike. I like the surrealistic part of it, which is what I focused on in Society.”
For screening and ticket information for Texas Theatre’s special screening of Society, visit thetexastheatre.com. Don’t miss this chance to laugh, be disturbed and have a great conversation afterwards.