top of page
  • Rich


Updated: Feb 4

“It’s all true.”

As if the shunting wasn’t disturbing enough in Brian Yuzna’s 1989 horror movie Society, we are presented with an apparent truth behind the groundbreaking satire. In The Darkside to Society, director Larry Wade Carrell documents the story of the film’s co-writer Zeph E. Daniel who had, according to his unsettling accounts, suffered satanic ritual and sexual abuse as a child.

Born Woody Keith and raised in a Beverly Hills social elite family, he would eventually change his name and find himself exercising his demons. The most obvious ‘exercise’, working on Yuzna’s film. “I sat down to write Society. I felt naughty, I felt bad. For me, it was like, ‘Don’t do it, don’t touch it, don’t go there. Don’t stir that up. Leave that alone.’” If all is to be believed in the documentary, then Yuzna’s bizarre movie was a Daniels autobiography; one that delved into disturbing areas of a warped ‘society’; unimaginable things that happened “… and are still happening.” But for Zeph, it had remained dormant… all but forgotten.

Zeph E. Daniel with director of Society, Brian Yuzna

Opening aptly on a quote from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair — "Mother is the name of God on the lips and hearts of little children. And here was one who was worshipping a stone” — we cut to Zeph on a beach flying a Kite… if ever there was a symbol of an individual holding onto whatever remnant is left of his damaged childhood. While narrated by the late Julian Sands, throughout the documentary many are interviewed about the original film — including Yuzna, Screaming Mad George and those close to Zeph — as the parallels of gaslighting, paranoia and brainwashing are explored… before it begins to delve into the obvious abuse of power and “sacraments of perversion”. Zeph was so brainwashed that when he had written Society he claims to have received an anonymous phone call explaining the truth and sending explicit polaroids of the rituals which unlocked so much he had locked away… “No one thought that it might be real.” He states as we continue further down a tunnel of trauma; The Darkside of Society going places most hardened horror fans would never wish to visit. On one hand, there seems to be a great deal of healing on display, yet the documentary, in its effort to highlight how a victim of abuse has gone on to help others, seems to skirt around Zeph having become an activist in human trafficking and aiding abroad. A missed opportunity to see him in action.

In terms of the production, Carrell would be the first to admit that he prefers directing features, as mentioned in a recent chat, “I am more of a narrative storyteller. I view movies as an escape, a 90-minute vacation from reality and the horrors of real life.” This often shows as the documentary feels a little rough around the edges in terms of editing and lead-ins with an interviewee becoming a random face with no introduction… just nodding their head. But where it seems to succeed — if you believe what is being presented — is in how it manages to capture something deeply personal, highlighting a lot of the insidious activity that has boiled underneath Hollywood for over a century. Both the documentary and Yuzna’s ‘80s classic seem more relevant than ever as the very people working within the industry are consumed, replicated and spat out the other side as those at the top continue to gorge themselves on the bottom feeders.

While audiences (and critics) will stay as far away from it as they can in the first place, I imagine this documentary will divide audiences, sparking discussions on how credulous the story is and, ironically, the strange feeling that you cannot help but feel sucked into something you will never fully understand or even want to believe. But if it is all true, you can wrap it up in those LA dreams and nightmares however you like… there was no escape for Woody Keith.


bottom of page