Surrealist Horror Society Arrives From Arrow (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Speaking of 80s social satires aimed at the hollow lives of Beverly Hills' upper class, here's a fun stab at the topic from the horror genre, which actually came out the exact same year as yesterday's Scenes From the Class Struggle In Beverly Hills. Originally announced by Second Sight, Brian Yuzna's Society wound up receiving a very cool, limited edition blu-ray/DVD combo pack by Arrow Video. And thanks to their expansion into the US, it's available region free in both markets. I've got the USA version, plus Anchor Bay's long out of print DVD that had been getting awfully pricey before Arrow's new release came along. So let's open 'em up and let the shunting begin.
So it's probably true that Society is a look more at the collision of youth and adulthood and the divide between upper and lower class strata more than just being particularly anti-Beverly Hills. But you could say that about any of the satires, really; they're more about aspects in all of our humanity, rather than just a particular little group of people. But this is certainly set in Beverly Hills and full of Beverly Hills specifics. It just takes it to a whole 'nother level by introducing the surrealist visuals of Screaming Mad George to the story. Our hero Billy Warlock is a high school senior, who's right on the cusp of adulthood and high society, as his family seems to have been groomed into the local, elite culture, and it's time for him to follow in their footsteps. But he can't help noticing something's off - really off - about the upper crust and they seem to be hiding a very dark secret about how they treat the less affluent members of their community. Like I said, it's a horror film, so thing's get gruesome; but it's also a metaphor for something much less far-fetched.
The fact that this film works so well on two layers, even if it's not the most subtle take on the subject you'll ever see, is what makes this one of Yuzna's best films. That and the totally gonzo final act of the film, that rises to levels of fantastic cinema few horror titles strive for. The first two thirds can get a little flat, and some of the acting is very after-school-specialish, but the script's fairly clever, and the film's last act is a totally unforgettable mind-blower. Some aspects along the way don't seem to work as intended, like Billy's mute mother who eats hair and would even have John Waters telling the actress, "maybe we can tone this down a little." But the occasional too-silly moment is never enough to spoil the occasional brilliant moment. It's far from a perfect movie, but you'll definitely want to have seen it.

So, like I said, I've got the US version of this release, but both set's blu-ray and DVD discs are region free, so I believe the sole difference is that the UK release's DVD is PAL, while the US's is NTSC. Now, Anchor Bay originally released this in 2002 on DVD, and it was a very respectable edition. In 2003, they reissued it as a double-feature with Tobe Hooper's Spontaneous Combustion, which is the one I've got. It's a double-sided disc, where each side is exactly the same as they were presented on their original single-sided releases. And both remained quite desirable after they went out of print and became pretty collectible. But let's see how much better Arrow's new 2015 edition is.
Arrow's blu on top, their DVD mid, and Anchor Bay's DVD bottom.
So, Arrow's new release is a blu-ray/ DVD combo pack, so I've included both just to be thorough, and you can see the benefits of the higher definition; but it's really the first and third screenshots in each set that I think will be interesting. Arrow's got a fresh, 2k scan and it sure looks cleaner and more natural than the old disc, and obviously far less compressed. The first thing that caught my eye was how much more vivid the colors are, too.

One interesting change is that the old Anchor Bay disc is slightly letterboxed for an anamorphic 1.85:1 picture, while Arrow leaves the mattes open for a 1.78:1 image. But not only does Arrow have those strips of extra picture on the top and bottom, it's got more on the sides, especially the left. Look at that orange patch of ground on the left side of the Arrow scans in the second series of shots that's completely cropped out of Anchor Bay's. There are certainly a number of advantages to upgrading to the new blu, including a nice uncompressed stereo track; but even if this film really ought to be in 1.85 rather than 1.78, the otherwise corrected framing is one of the top improvements. And since this new transfer is Yuzna-approved, I think it's safe to say 1.78:1 was the director's preference anyway.
Anchor Bay's DVD. Note the "\\\" lines in the blue sky on the left hand side.

One detail, though.'s reviewer pointed out a little technical flaw I have to admit I missed. But now that I've gone back to look for it, yup, there is some diagonal banding in a couple of shots. Well, one piece of information I can add to the discussion is that this same flaw exists in Anchor Bay's previous DVD as well, though a little less pronounced. Therefor I assume this must be an issue with the original film itself, not Arrow's disc or the new 2k scan they made it from. So I've got no complaints.  :)
Now, Anchor Bay's disc wasn't bare bones. It had the theatrical trailer and most importantly, an audio commentary by Brian Yuzna. But Arrow has come up with a lot more, including a brand new Yuzna commentary. Now I've got them both on hand and can confirm that means, yes, Arrow's commentary is a different, freshly recorded track. The new commentary is moderated by David Gregory, while the Yuzna flies solo on the old one. I'm not sure one is so much better than the other, and obviously there's a ton of overlap; but big time Society fans may want to hang onto their old DVDs just for the exclusive alternate commentary.
Anchor Bay's DVD; the Spontaneous Combustion flip-side.
For the record, the Spontaneous Combustion side of Anchor Bay's DVD looks pretty nice, too. I don't think it's one of Hooper's better films, but it's still a mildly entertaining 1989 B-movie about Brad Dourif as a guy who develops Firestarter like powers and winds up on the run from a government conspiracy to capture and control him. It's presented here in a nice, 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, but doesn't have any extras apart from the theatrical trailer. Fans of this film will probably be more interested in the recent blu-ray of this release from Code Red; but personally I'm happy enough just having it here as a bonus feature.

Anyway, that's where Anchor Bay's release ended. Arrow has plenty more to offer, starting with an additional video interview with Yuzna that runs another 17 minutes. A second, more fun featurette interviews four of the film's leads: Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell. Another featurette, then, takes on the all-important special effects crew, including Screaming Mad George himself, as well as David Grasso and Nick Benson. And then Yuzna comes back for two more features, a 2014 Q&A from a film festival and a vintage interview with him backstage at Society's premiere. Finally, there's the theatrical trailer and a music video which incorporates many of Screaming Mad George's wild creations, including a couple from Society.

The limited edition package also comes with a few extra physical bits and pieces. Besides coming in a wild fold-out digibook and sleeve representing this film's nutsoid climax, there's a nice invitation card, which includes the film's original poster art. Then there's a standard Arrow card with the same artwork and a nice 22-page booklet, which I'm guessing will also be included in the non-limited version to follow. The Anchor Bay DVD, to its credit, also had an insert with the poster art and chapter titles. But the biggest inclusion to the limited edition, surely, is the complete reproduction of a two-part comic book sequel to Society, called Party Animal, originally published in 2003. Interestingly, the first and second issues are drawn by two very different artists; and it's presented here on very high quality stock and a squared spine. It looks great.
This film looks great, and all the extras and everything really add up to a great package. Anchor Bay's DVD was nice for the time, but this is one you'll want to upgrade for sure. The film itself has its flaws for sure, but even if you're unsure about it, I think Arrow's made it more than worth your while.

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