Brian Yuzna On The Novelization Of His Cult Classic SOCIETY—And A Possible Sequel

More shunting!

By Michael Gingold · December 20, 2023, 2:30 PM EST
society 1989
SOCIETY (1989)

Paperback novelizations of past horror favorites have seen a surge in publication and popularity over the last few years, and one longtime fan of the form who appreciates that trend is veteran director/producer Brian Yuzna. “I remember when I was in junior high and all the Roger Corman Poe movies were coming out,” he says. “I’d go see The Pit and the Pendulum, and then I’d go to the drugstore and buy the novelization, which usually had a few pages of black-and-white photos. It was another way to enjoy the movie.”

A couple of years ago, it also became a way for him to share a horrific scenario he originally intended for the screen with the world. “I wrote a novel based on a screenplay that John Penney and I did called The Pope,” he recalls. “We tried to get it financed, and then I just went ahead and wrote the book, because I thought that at least we’ll have this story out there, and I won’t be beating my head against the wall over trying to get enough money to make it as a movie. Then I thought about Society, which had never had a novelization.”


Made in 1989 but not released Stateside until 1992, Yuzna’s directorial debut (after producing Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and From Beyond, among others) follows a young man named Bill (Billy Warlock) who begins to suspect there’s something seriously wrong with his wealthy Beverly Hills family. What he discovers is far more bizarre than he ever expected, leading to a climax involving a perverse body-horror ritual called “shunting,” with memorable makeup effects by Screaming Mad George.


“Mark Miller at Encyclopocalypse Publications republished the old 1980s novelization of Re-Animator [by Jeff Rovin], and it was fun to have that out again,” Yuzna says. “When I mentioned Society to Mark, he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a guy who would love to write that,’ and I told him, ‘No, no, Zeph has to write it.’”

“Zeph” is writer/filmmaker Zeph E. Daniel, who co-scripted Society with Rick Fry, taking the pseudonym “Woody Keith.” The duo also wrote Yuzna’s Bride of Re-Animator, and Daniel/“Keith” further collaborated with the director on Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation. “After that, we kind of lost touch with each other; he made a couple of independent movies in the ’90s, and I wound up moving to Europe and then Asia. Then, a year or so ago, I contacted him about doing the novelization of Society, and he was really excited about the idea.”

Society (1989)

Daniel was, in fact, then involved in Larry Wade Carrell’s documentary The Darkside of “Society” and invited Yuzna to come aboard. “He wanted to come to my house in LA, where we sat in my living room working on the script for the movie with Rick Fry, and shoot in the same place! I hadn’t seen him in twenty years or something. We had a great time reminiscing and remembering what we went through on Society, sitting there with Rick and Screaming Mad George and others, cross-pollinating ideas, especially coming up with the shunting.”

The duo are currently in the midst of refining the Society novelization; “Zeph is the author, and I’m kind of the editor, so we’re working on getting that finished up” for publication in 2024. Given the greater freedom that the printed page allows, does the book expand on the storyline presented in the film? “It does, a little bit. We’re trying to keep it in line with the movie because I think people want that, you know? I always consider the primacy of the movie, and I feel like if someone’s buying the novelization, they want to get all the basics of the film. But it does get a little deeper into the character of Billy—Zeph is very much into that part of it—and it definitely embellishes certain things.

society 1

“Now that Zeph and I are back together, we’re thinking of doing a sequel to Society,” he reveals. “I’ve toyed with the idea a lot, and John Penney and I actually wrote a treatment for one. But I was spending my time trying to get a TV series made with a British company that’s been working on it. Now we’ve separated the series from a sequel, because if you do a series, it’s gonna turn into something else. I was actually contacted by a Korean director who wanted to do a Korean-language TV series based on Society, like a Squid Game kind of thing. I think there’s a lot that can be done in that world, but what I’d like to do is a true sequel with Zeph, and get back to the basics.”

All that interest in Society and the follow-up projects it has inspired are validation for a movie that didn’t receive its due during its first release—which, as noted above, took some time to happen in the States. “In the UK, Society came out right away, in 1989. The company that bought those rights, Medusa Communications, also bought the North American rights,” Yuzna explains. “But then they just didn’t get their distribution going here, so it was two or three years before it came out in the US, and people here just didn’t like it back then. It was my first time directing, and it was certainly a bit clumsy, but it did really well in England; it was a theatrical release there and also in France, Italy and Spain. In the US, I thought it was going to be a huge hit, but even my friends weren’t very enthusiastic about it [laughs]!


“It was funny because I made Bride of Re-Animator back to back with that, and in the UK, they didn’t care that much for Bride of Re-Animator but they loved Society. In America, they didn’t care much for Society, but they liked Bride of Re-Animator, so it was a weird situation. About twenty years later, Society found a new audience in the US, and now it has become quite popular. It’s a new generation, plus it benefits from the nostalgia for ’80s horror. I think people are appreciating the lack of pretension that genre movies had back then. Today, they tend to be very serious; there’s a sort of message-forward idea in them that is not as entertaining. Also, there’s a kind of forgiveness for the rougher parts of ’80s movies. If you say, ‘That’s kind of corny,’ people say, ‘No, no, that’s the ’80s style!’ [Laughs] So I think filmmakers like me get the benefit of that.”