Shadowvision: “SOCIETY”Columns,Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black and white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
This week’s entry into the Shadowvision re-examination column is difficult at best, but not in the way that you might think. Visually speaking, the film works for the column, especially considering the grand thematic message of the piece. Rather, SOCIETY is a difficult film for Shadowvision in expectation alone, or rather the lack thereof. The Brian Yuzna film, unfortunately, is rather overlooked by the horror audience at large, and release problems have kept it from truly getting the push the film’s cult audience believes it deserves. And it’s those same fans who are the only ones who would walk into this entry with any expectation at all, and likely a negative one at that, considering the visual overhaul within the last act.
But at its heart, SOCIETY is the kind of film that is also perfect in many ways to be revisited in black and white. Firstly, I am hoping to include films in this column that have a greater relationship to color, whether it be giallo or just some of the more experimentally lit fright flicks of the ’80s. Secondly, the film’s satiric edge, biting social commentary and practical SFX is evocative of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, an oft-referenced program of this column but for good reason, considering how effective the series is without color as opposed to its nominal later counterparts. And lastly is the perspective of the film’s lead, Bill, and how shockingly appropriate it would be to the visual medium, considering how polarized and straightforward the character is in his feelings towards the eponymous faction.
Technically speaking, SOCIETY doesn’t need much alteration aside from a minor shift in contrast. To my surprise, I discovered the film carried a stark lighting and therefore didn’t need much in the way of tinkering technically. Also, I would be careful enough to alter the brightness, as the overbearing sunlight in the outdoor sequences may blow out the image if increased in brightness. So even if you dare to watch completely unfiltered, you’re likely to still get a pretty great Shadowvision experience from SOCIETY.
And if you haven’t been able to tell thus far, SOCIETY plays incredibly well in black and white, with Yuzna’s social allegory become even more frighteningly represented via the change in shadowing. The earlier TWILIGHT ZONE comparisons feel incredibly justifiable, as the black and white experience lends emphasis to the paranoid aspects of Bill’s personality as well as give a visual continuity to the entirety of the film. In fact, the biting dialogue in the film feels even more fitting in black and white, as the era-appropriate production design feels muted in favor to the more universal message of the film, punctuated now by the emphasis on shadows and the visual composition.
However, that doesn’t mean SOCIETY is a home run when viewed without color, considering how important certain visual flourishes are when viewed in color. Of course, the “shunting” scene is no longer bearing it’s trademark bronzish glow, removing a definitive element that makes the scene less creepy and haunting as a result. Furthermore, the lack of bright colors also counteracts the movies message as the visual division between the decadent society and the lower classes feels less apparent and more reliant on dialogue in monochrome. And the more gory moments also feel out-of-place without color to punctuate the reality of Screaming Mad George’s excellent effects.
Nonetheless, the aspect of color is a very curious one when it comes to SOCIETY, as even the intended use of color have drawbacks that are counteracted by the monochrome presentation. As much as Screaming Mad George’s gore effects are much better visually in color, the basic body modifications and make-up SFX actually meld together nicely in black and white, helping cover up otherwise noticeable skin tone variations. In addition, SOCIETY becomes a much more visually powerful film without color, especially with night-bound scenes such as Bill’s opening nightmare and Bill’s discovery of Petrie’s staged murder where the focus turns to Rick Fichter’s exceptional cinematography.
I think the biggest difference between viewing SOCIETY in black and white and in color is how much the atmosphere of the film changes, and that the film truly feels scarier in black and white. The humor is always present in the film in any case, as the case is with most Yuzna films, but perhaps the color presentation offers more emphasis to the more “on-the-nose” jokes as opposed to the funnier subtle jokes that shine without color. And, yes, the titular society feels much more like an intimidating and frightening beast without color, almost as if it’s presence is more evil and singular when attention is more given to their performances.
Overall, SOCIETY is a divisive film as is, and to remove color is something that more curious and hardcore fans would want to explore. But in this case, SOCIETY will always feel more complete with its intended color format, especially considering how unforgettable the shunting sequence is when soaked in a red hue. That said, SOCIETY does play really well to those who want to give the monochrome treatment a shot, so I’ll call this round a stalemate and leave it up to you to decide.
Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: Maybe.