3/12/10

The Stuff (1985): You Are What It Eats


While taking a long look into the career of Larry Cohen on this past week’s Sinful Cinema, I was excited to talk about all the great films of his that I’d seen, but also more than a little sad that there were so many I’d missed. Out of 21 directorial credits, I had seen barely more than half, and I knew I needed to start correcting that. So expect to see a lot more Larry Cohen around The Lair. With all this great stuff to start watching, how could I not start with 1985’s The Stuff? I was drawn to this film because it was about killer junk food, and there are few people who like junk food more than I do. Many people have told me that the kind of food that I eat will kill me, but at least it’s not eating me from the inside out and making me into a mindless zombie who craves more. On second thought, maybe it is. Excuse me while I grab some Cheetos and a couple marshmallow filled Easter eggs, and I’ll be right back to tell you a little more about The Stuff.

When a group of mine workers discovers a white substance bubbling up from the ground, they taste the goo and find it to be delicious and addictive. It doesn’t take long before the corporation gets wind of the discovery, and The Stuff becomes the number one selling food product in America. The rival snack food companies hire David ‘Mo’ Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), and ex-FBI agent turned industrial saboteur, to discover the secret of The Stuff, and it doesn’t take long before he finds that the snack food treat has a sinister side to it. ‘Mo’ gets some help on his mission from Nichole (Andrea Marcovicci), the ad executive who feels guilty about marketing The Stuff, Jason (Scott Bloom), a kid who refused to eat the snack after his family became obsessed with it, and ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie (Garrett Morris), the cookie tycoon who got run out of business by The Stuff. They must find a way to break The Stuff’s zombie like hold on the minds of people across the country.

As with many Larry Cohen films, the surface of this film seems like a trashy low budget horror/comedy, and there’s no reason that it can’t be appreciated in that way. Digging just below the surface, it becomes apparent that Mr. Cohen had something to say about the proliferation of fast food chains, junk foods, and the power of advertising. It seems easy to believe that corporation would market a product that makes its users hopelessly addicted. How many of us can’t get through the day without caffeine laden soda, overpriced coffee, or, perhaps the best example, cigarettes that are not food but certainly ingested? In the 25 years since The Stuff made its debut, America has become the most obese nation on Earth, and our hunger for cheap, fast, nutritionally questionable food has grown unabated. Now, I don’t want folks to think I’m preaching from the pulpit. I’m as guilty, if not guiltier, of junk food lust. I just want to point out that when the film asks, “are you eating it or is it eating you”, it’s more than a funny line. It’s a question we could viably ask ourselves every day.

This was the second of three films that actor Michael Moriarty would make with director Larry Cohen (the first being Q: The Winged Serpent and the last Island of the Alive). I have always been kind of hit and miss with Mr. Moriarty, but I found his portrayal of the nonplussed saboteur for hire quite entertaining. His character, ‘Mo’, keeps up his laid back southern style no matter if he is uncovering a vast conspiracy or being attacked by moving mounds of The Stuff, and I liked that though as a Southerner I have to say that his accent could have used a lot of work. I was very impressed with Scott Bloom as the young anti-Stuffer David. For a kid actor, he handled the material quite well, and he’s still at work today though his most recent credit is as FBI agent #3 in 2006’s Smoking Aces. For sheer entertainment, there’s no one better in this film then Garrett Morris. I was sold on the film by the time Morris as the Famous Amos inspired ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie, showed up, but his performance really put it over the top. Of all the SNL alums, it’s really too bad that Morris didn’t become a bigger star, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment he has in this film. If there’s a weak link, then it has to be Andrea Marcovicci. There were quite a few of her scenes cut out of the film according to Cohen’s commentary track, but I don’t think a further exploration of a love story between Marcovicci and Moriarty’s characters would have really added much to the picture. There are also quite a few cameos to check out as well. So keep a look out for Danny Aiello, Paul Sorvino, Eric Bogosian, and Patrick Dempsey.

Typically, the film is well directed, and Cohen adds great visual flair and special effects to really sell the movie. One scene, where The Stuff attacks Marcovicci and Moriarty in their hotel room features a stunning sequence that combines stop motion with a rotating room set that allowed The Stuff to pin one character to the ceiling. While listening to the commentary track, I found it very interesting to hear that the effect was achieved with the use of the same rotating room used in Nightmare on Elm Street for the memorable blood spurting bed scene. All the stop motion effects were very smooth and well done and make the white goop actually seem sinister. The Stuff itself was made of many different materials for different scenes. At one time or another it was represented by liquid plastic, fire retardant foam, whipped cream, and partially unfrozen Haagen-Daaz.

Larry Cohen has many great films in his oeuvre, and The Stuff surely ranks near the top of that list. Not only does it have a fabulous subtext that might actually play better now than 25 years ago, but works as a creature feature horror film equally as well. Will it make me reconsider my next meal? Probably not, but I doubt that I’ll get a craving for Marshmallow fluff anytime in the near future. If you’re a Larry Cohen fan and, like me, this film has flown under your radar, then definitely check it out. It’s also a great film to introduce people to Larry’s work. The Stuff gets my highest recommendation, but I think it’s time I bring this review to a close. I’m feeling a bit peckish, and I think there are some snacks that are calling my name.

Bugg Rating

12 comments:

  1. This sounds like a neat little gem. I've never heard of it. Checking this one out, sounds like a hoot.

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  2. A 4? Really? I loved this movie as a kid, but caught it recently and thought it felt like it added up to a whole bunch of nothing. It has some great moments, but overall it was just...meh. Like most of Cohen's films it opens well enough, but by the end it feels like he was stretching the story out too thin.

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  3. @PoT- Check it out, I think you'll like it.

    @Rev- It's like Dead Snow part 2 in reverse. As we talked about on the show, I love me some sub-text in my zombie films, and this was definitely Zombiesque + a creature feature. The more I thought about it the more I liked it!

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  4. i just finished watching this. loved it!

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  5. I saw this in San Antonio at the cinema when it played there and got kicked out later for sneaking into another movie.

    I like the new layout. To be honest the old one was a little garish. I mean the layout was nice but the changing of font colors all the time sort of made it look less 'serious'. The white text on gray background is my preferred look as well. I like a justified text as well to fit into the post but I am little neurotic in that area.

    Bill @ The Uranium Cafe

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  6. @James- glad you enjoyed it! Definitely a gem.

    @Willy- That's cool to have seen this in the theater. I would love to check this out on the screen someday.

    The layout is still a work in progress. I have never claimed to be savvy in the ways of the internet, but thanks to the wonders of blogger in draft, I've managed to pull together something I'm pretty happy with.

    I'm sure to be tinkering with it for a while, but for now I'm pretty happy with what it looks like. It's a step up.

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  7. Love this film. Great review, dig how you added commentary and humor to it.

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  8. The Stuff is a childhood favorite of mine and I used to be so fucking scared of the scene with Chocolate Chip Charley. The one I won't spoil for other potential readers!

    I actually have a bootleg of this and didn't know there was a proper DVD out for it. I would love to listen to that commentary and that Elm Street same room thing is a very cool little piece of horror trivia. Great review and the new look of the blog is smooth like butta!

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  9. Loooooooove this movie. Matt-Deep Discount had this on sale for about $7 a few months back which was when I scooped it up.

    Moriarity is a nutball, both on and offscreen, but he has SO MUCH fun doing so. Kind of reminds me of someone like Nic Cage, Christopher Walken, or even more recently, Timothy Olyphant in A Perfect Getaway: someone who takes what could be a plain leading man and just gives it so many odd little quirks that whether it works or not, the performance takes the film to a whole different place.

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  10. Man, I've gotta see THE STUFF. Like you, it's shameful the amount of Larry Cohen films I haven't seen. He is a brilliant director...a low budget exterior with a very deep interior if you're brave enough to break the surface. Have you seen Black Caesar? Hands down my favorite Cohen film so far. God Told Me To is also great.

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  11. THE STUFF is freaky fun to watch. I love how the way a guy gets sick than his throat starts to swells in horror. I think they really should do six or seven sequals about this movie from 'THE STUFF 2' to 'THE STUFF 8,' have them way the four or five guys eats these white stuff creams and their throats, bellies, and other body joints will start to swell, expand more horrifying way, and than they all mutate into huge stuff cream creatures, of course the directors and producers would have to use a lot of puppetry fx, and lots and lots of makeup air-bladders fx on each of these movies. I really do hope they'll make them soon.

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  12. Really hope they will make thousands to millions of new makeup special bladders effects crazy horror flicks.

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