Welcome to the real horrors of Hollywood...
Brian Yuzna’s Society is not only one of the most bizarre and controversial horror movies of the past 50 years but also (once you see beyond the sticky stuff) one of the strongest satires of the ’80s. Of course, the film is a gonzo surreal trip into the rich literally consuming the poor in explicit Dali-esque detail… and if all of that wasn’t disturbing enough there is a very personal story behind the film’s co-writer Zeph E. Daniel who claims to have been born into satanic ritual abuse carried out by the Beverly Hills elite 'Keith' family. Born Woody Keith, he eventually changed his name and, having suffered severe abuse and trauma, went on to co-script Society… subconsciously exorcising the demons from his violent youth. Zeph and director Larry Wade Carrell share some further thoughts…
What is the main thing you are wanting audiences to take away from this documentary?
Zeph E. Daniel: I had no idea, as I was still struggling to integrate my personalities — Zeph and Woody. I guess the main thing that fascinated everybody was the idea that when I wrote the first words of Society, I didn’t know it had been real. I mean, at some point in the past I knew it was all real. That all of that really happened to me. But I couldn’t look at the truth because I was coerced by psychiatrists; that nothing like that is happening in our society and if you keep on with that, you’ll never get out of the hospital. I guess I did it because a producer at Crazed House, Loris Curci, recalled my story (I told him on the set of Girl Next) and he thought it would make a good documentary. I really haven’t thought about what audiences would take away. I knew Larry just killed it — tightest editing and storytelling in the direction — plus, his motive was that I might be healed of the past traumas. If there is one takeaway from it’s that I hope if there are others suffering from extreme family related trauma or in any situation, that they would find some comfort or inspiration.
Larry Wade Carrell: For me, I would say Hope. I know that there are a great number of people out there with stories like Zeph’s. I think seeing how he has survived and overcame the nightmares of his past and then turned them to create something positive is inspiring. I hope this will encourage others to speak up; tell their stories and find a way to use their experiences for something good. I believe this is a piece of the path to healing from something like this. Ultimately the worst story can still have a good ending.
What were the challenges in production?
ZED: For me it was enduring the process… but Larry made me feel like I was just talking with him, like so many conversations we’d had in the past.
LWC: This was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was a very long journey into some really dark and very serious subject matter. Anyone who knows what it takes to put a movie together knows that you really have to live with it for a year, sometimes two. And it was all so personal. But now that the movie is finished and coming out I must say it was all worth it.
Do you feel Society has even more relevance today than when it was originally released?
ZED: Oh yeah! Society is what’s wrong with the world — metaphorically and literally speaking — and as many are now awakening to that fact. The world runs on abuse; on destroying the ‘little guy’. At one point I just wanted to burn L.A. to the ground… but I picked up the pen instead. It’s a vector for anger toward the man, toward the corrupt asshole who runs this, a plea for regular people to have a chance.
LWC: It still resonates with me… and I am not alone. We recently attended Texas Frightmare Weekend and I was amazed at the number of fans that came out to meet Zeph and brought some really cool items for him to sign. Original theatrical posters, VHS copies and Laserdiscs of Society. The really cool thing was hearing the fans talk to Zeph about how the movie impacted them.
Were there other parallels — other similar Hollyweird stories — that were referenced at all in early discussions and perhaps very close to what happened personally to Zeph?
ZED: Not really. I got Rick Fry involved as a writing partner (we were school mates) at around page 85 or so because I felt I was having a nervous breakdown writing the finale. I really didn’t believe it was real even though the basic story was real — our documentary kind of explains it — but mind control is a deep subject. Trauma based mind control, abuse and murder were all these were things I had to contend with, so when they told me it wasn’t real, I wanted very much to believe them.
Eventually, Rick’s first effort yielded a long draft that was unusable and I cut that down to 120 pages from 250 and then we did several drafts, a couple with other producers. But… from day one the story had one simple structure: a kid feels alienated by his family and friends and he is being gaslighted for apparently no reason. He finds out there is a secret society and his parents and friends are a part of it — but he isn’t. So, he fights back as best he can as he’s being set up to be sacrificed. That’s it. That was always it. No matter what anyone else says, the structure never changed. Not that different from the gaslighting in Rosemary’s Baby, only this was campy and satirical while aimed at the cult audience rather than a broad mainstream audience.
LWC: I really didn’t know much about that side of Hollywood until I started digging into it . Once I started down that road I quickly discovered many horror stories that I once would have believed to be nonsense. This ‘darkside’ of Hollywood, well it is one of those things that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Do you see yourself making more film related documentaries? If so, any particular characters, films, or themes you would explore and make people more aware of?
ZED: If there is a subject worth doing. I think Larry is a very gifted filmmaker and editor when it comes to documentaries but this is not his first love. I myself would love to do a documentary on the stupidity of the human race. But that has been widely covered and produced no discernible results. Actually, human trafficking is a subject I am interested in and have been an activist in, and so more in this area and the damage that has been done to people worldwide is of interest to me.
LWC: I would never say never but I am more of a narrative storyteller. I view movies as an escape, a 90 min vacation from reality and the horrors of real life. I love to craft the characters, build the worlds they live in and then rip their arms out of their sockets, skin them alive and see them offered up as a sacrifice to a some sort of horrible monster. You know, the good stuff most of us horror fans crave.
The Darkside of Society has its world premiere at FrightFest on Monday 28th August. Book your tickets now.