1989’s Society is one of the most batshit crazy horror movies ever to emerge out of the genre. Perhaps most remembered for its iconic orgy/shunting sequence in the final act, Society goes down in the annals of goopy practical effects history. As of the past decade, all-encompassing horror documentaries (such as In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic 80s Horror and Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy) have been all the rage. The bar set by some of these is so high that trying to replicate their success is an act in futility. Admirably, writer/director Larry Wade Carrell does not even try to compete with the hugeness of a cinematic deep-dive or critical analysis. Instead, The Darkside of Society, clocking in at a meager hour-and-twenty-minutes in length, tells an intimate story almost too disturbing to be real.
Narrated by recently-deceased treasure, Julian Sands, The Darkside of Society is a decidedly different kind of documentary that evolves far beyond a typical making-of. Similar to Society, this doc morphs and contorts into a heavy dissection of sex cults and satanic rituals. The film is edited in a way that utilizes footage from the 80s cult classic as it juxtaposes stories from cult survivor Woody Keith. Forced to change his name, Keith became Zeph E. Daniel and eventually found a new lease on life well past the brainwashing and mental institution stays.
Daniel lays it all on the table as he exposes many of the awful things he faced during his time indoctrinated by this cult. In an attempt to channel his own pain and trauma from his rich elite family, Daniel made Society his de-facto autobiography. Many scene-by-scene comparisons are made between his actual experience to the movie. The rich literally feeding off the poor matched Daniel’s own experiences, perhaps give or take the big shunting sequence.
From disturbing polaroids taken by his sadistic family to deep conversations about child sexual abuse, ritualistic violence, and deeply depressing asides, The Darkside of Society truly lives up to its name. Creatives chime in for some fun tidbits, and further corroborate Daniel’s recountings. This includes, but is not limited to effects artist Screaming Mad George, director Brian Yuzna, and co-writer/occult expert/child abuse survivor Richard Stanley. One can’t help wish this documentary explored the film Society itself on a deeper level, complete with cast interviews, yet the subject is so deeply personal that it’s hard to write off The Darkside of Society entirely.
The Darkside of Society screened at 2023’s FrightFest.