Brian Yuzna’s 1989 body horror film Society is most well-known for the infamous “shunting” scene, but that wasn’t originally how the story was supposed to end. Starring Billy Warlock, son of the famous stuntman Dick Warlock (Michael Myers in Halloween II), Society follows a Beverly Hills teenager who, after noticing things are getting progressively more and more strange in his suburban town, finds out that everyone around him is part of a gruesome cult for the social elite.
Society was Yuzna’s directorial debut, and the first of a two-movie deal that Yuzna was able to procure by leveraging his rights to Re-Animator as the producer. The script for Society was written by Rick Fry and Woody Keith; Brian Yuzna selected it for his first film because thematically it reminded him of a failed project that he had worked on with Dan O’Bannon (Alien) about a woman who realizes that all men are actually aliens.
When Yuzna originally saw the script for Society come across his desk, he was immediately drawn to the paranoia in the story, and was already in the right headspace for that type of story. However, the ending saw the suspicious teen protagonist discover that the elite in his Beverly Hills community use the poor for blood sacrifices in a bizarre cult ritual, and that just isn’t how Yuzna operates.
Yuzna immediately wanted to lean more into his own surrealistic influences with Society, and create something much more shocking. Rather than end the movie with a blood sacrifice in which the elite slaughter the poor, he invented the bizarre, orgiastic “shunting”, in which rich folk literally absorbed the poor in a gross-out horror scene of sexualized social satire straight from Yuzna’s own nightmares thanks to effects artist Screaming Mad George. Yuzna explained in an interview with Fangoria:
“Going into that sequence I started thinking, what effect have I never seen that I’d love to see? I settled on seeing people’s skin melting together. I used to have nightmares about that. This idea of flesh melting together really stuck out to me and I started working with George on visual ideas and then reworking the script to make it fit those ideas. I thought it was audacious and I loved doing it. I remember while we were shooting the shunting just feeling thrilled and thinking, ‘I can’t believe we’re getting to do this!’ I always like to do something really out there on a movie just so that my friends will think, ‘How did they get away with that?!’ We just went mad with our own imaginations.”
It was also Yuzna’s touch to inject the dark comedy, camp, and satire into the film, delivering a withering social commentary with a comedic tone and surrealistic imagery. Having worked with Stuart Gordon on Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dolls, Yuzna clearly had an appetite for the bizarre prior to stepping into the director’s chair, so it only makes sense that he would bring that to his own movie.
While Yuzna freely admits that much of his decision-making in the designs for Society was done out of wanting to make something as wild as possible, he also asserted that his sense of humor is firmly rooted in irony and satire thanks to a love of Mad Magazine as a kid. “I always like to have a little snide comment in my movies,” he says, and Society certainly delivers.
Unfortunately, the horror movie’s social commentary and bizarre surrealism didn’t resonate in the US the same way it did in other countries. Society became a huge hit pretty much everywhere in the world other than the United States. Of course, the confusion and lack of connection people had to the idea of an elite upper class exploiting the poor is much more relatable in modern day than it was in the 1980s. The ending that Yuzna created, watching members of the lower class being literally consumed and sucked dry by the rich elite is even more poignantly relevant than it would have been if the ending had just been about a murderous cult. As bizarre and surreal as the infamous shunting scene is, it does a lot for the movie, especially in terms of creating something that burns itself into the mind and really sticks even after the movie is over.
The great thing about Society‘s ending, particularly the movie’s practical effects, is that it still holds up today, working just as well if not even better than it did back in 1989. In the modern day, when so many tropes of horror are becoming played out and boring, directors are having to create new and interesting ways to tell stories without delving too far into what’s been done before. The shunting scene in Society is never going to feel stale.