Brian Yuzna's 'Society' is the '80s horror movie fit for the times

American Filmmaker and producer Brian Yuzna took questions from the audience about his directorial debut horror film "Society" (1989) after it was screened at the Strange Hommage section of this year's Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival on

American filmmaker and producer Brian Yuzna, best known for producing '80s horror films “Re-Animator” (1985) and “From Beyond” (1986), believes that his directorial debut and body horror film “Society” (1989) is “very much in the style of” recent Korean hit content such as “Parasite” (2019) and Netflix’s “Squid Game” (2021).

“I feel like today, this movie, although it’s 30 years old and was made in California, it somehow seems very much in the style of modern Korean movies,” Yuzna said in the Master Class after the screening of “Society” for Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (Bifan) on Tuesday. “I see flashes of it from ‘Parasite,’ from the ‘Squid Game’ — this kind of strange style that is so popular in Korea so it’s almost like it’s reflecting that.”

The Master Class sessions at international film festivals in Korea are panel discussions in which well-known Korean filmmakers appear as moderators alongside invited filmmakers after screening their works. For Yuzna, filmmaker Lee Kyoung-mi of “Crush and Blush” (2008), The Truth Beneath” (2016) and Netflix series “The School Nurse Files” (2020) took the role of moderator.

Bill Whitney, portrayed by Billy Warlock, becomes suspicious of his high-class family and the rest of the town residents as they attempt to cover up strange murders of his classmates in "Society." [WILD STREET PICTURES]

“Society” is a fusion of teen movie and horror, revolving around the teen protagonist Bill Whitney who lives in Beverly Hills and becomes suspicious of his high-society family who treats him like an outcast. Mysterious murders of two of his classmates send Bill off in a spiral of confusion and paranoia. It is then revealed that what Bill has suspected all along was true: Not only his family, but all the upper class town residents are a different species that periodically performs “shunting” — physically deforming and melding into each other — to absorb nutrients from their prey, and Bill is their next target. Bill and his friends escape using their quick wit, killing one of the group members in the process, but the film ends with the group indifferent to the killing and letting the teenagers escape.

Yuzna revealed that the story was inspired by the narrative of one of the writers’ teen experiences.

“The character of Bill Whitney is very much inspired by writer Woody Keith,” Yuzna said. "He lived in Beverly Hills, his family was very, very wealthy and a lot of these characters are from his experience in high school."

Yuzna elaborated on the concept of shunting, likening it to class exploitation as the upper society feeds on the social classes beneath them.

A scene of shunting from "Society" [WILD STREET PICTURES]

“This upper class is so incestuous that they become a bit crazy, so you need to bring in a bastard like Bill or [Bill’s friend] Blanchard,” Yuzna said. “They consume them in the shunt.”

The filmmaker emphasized that the primary factor of the upper end of society lies in inheritance.

“[When] Bill says ‘You’re aliens,’ they’re like ‘No, no, we’ve been here as long as you have […] We’re a different species from you, we’re a different class.’ The joke is that the class is the highest difference [they put forward between them and Bill], not even species. So that’s why [they] say ‘You can’t join society. You have to be born into the society.’ So Elon Musk is in the society, but he just has a lot of money. You have to be one of the families, the big groups that really have the power in this world. You don’t know who they are. They don’t need to have people know who you are — just because you have a lot of money doesn’t make you society. You have to have the good breeding. It’s a course, it’s like a cartoon sci-fi version of what I think is the world is, anyway.

"And I think this has always been the case,” he said. “It’s not something new, and, in fact — remember, at the end of the movie the kids escape but nobody chases them. It doesn’t matter. That’s the truth (laughs). This is just the world. Nobody can [stop them] because they’re the power. There’s nothing you can do about it."

Since “Society,” Yuzna went on to direct and produce multiple other horror films such as “Bride of Re-Animator” (1990), “Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990), “The Dentist” (1996) and “Beneath Still Waters” (2010). When asked what drove him to focus on one specific genre for decades, he replied it was “the fantastic.”

Director Lee Kyoung-mi, left, asks Yuzna questions as the moderator of the Master Class after screening of "Society" on Monday. [BIFAN]

“I was an artist at one time,” he said. “I love surrealism and expressionism. When I’m working on the visual, even on the narrative side of a movie, I think about it in terms of surrealism. The idea is that what you see is not a depiction, not a photograph of the world. It’s what the maker wants you to feel when you look at it so it doesn’t have to be realistic. It’s how you feel when you look at it. […] I like the way, for example, that David Lynch does surrealism. [It’s] just a free association of the mind. That’s a creative technique for writers and artists where you just make up your mind to come up with messages or words, or if you’re a musician, sounds, but you don’t make it logical. You don’t put logic to the forward. You push, hit back and then just get your mind to make connections that become inspiration. Then, in my case, then I try to make it have some logic. I look for the inspiration [first] and then try to make it logical.”

The 26th edition of the festival runs until Sunday.