1985 - R - 93 Mins.
|Director: Larry Cohen
|Producer: Paul Kurta
|Written By: Larry Cohen
|Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino and Scott Bloom
|Review by: Bill King
More or less forgotten today, "The Stuff" is an enjoyable, cheesy 1980s horror film from director Larry Cohen. Though it's classified as horror, it isn't scary at all. It's really more of a campy film with a neat premise, and with social commentary to lend it more credibility. Cohen's résumé is littered with strange titles ("It's Alive," "Q"), and movies don't get much stranger than "The Stuff."
The indispensable Michael Moriarty stars as Mo Rutherford, a former FBI agent now working freelance for whomever wants to pay him to dig up information. A new product has hit the shelves in the form of The Stuff, a yogurt-like substance the ingredients of which are a closely guarded secret. No wonder, since in the opening scene, we see The Stuff oozing right out of the ground. The competition, comprised of various dessert manufacturers, is going out of business. All the CEOs get together to hire Mo to investigate The Stuff, discover its ingredients and find out why the Food and Drug Administration approved The Stuff for general consumption when the ingredients aren't listed on the label.
There's plenty of suspicion to throw around. All the members of the FDA are either out of the country or retired. Mo visits one such former member (played by Danny Aiello), who doesn't offer a lot of help, but his actions indicate that he's hiding something. Following up on the available clues, Mo heads for a small Virginia town where the product was tested. It is now nearly abandoned. The few residents who have stuck around aren't very friendly, and they chase off Mo and his friend Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garrett Morris), who owned a popular brand of chocolate chip cookies before his own board of directors voted him off.
The malicious nature of The Stuff becomes clearer when young Jason (Scott Bloom) sees the dessert moving around inside the refrigerator. Soon, his family is under the influence of The Stuff, which can render the consumer a mindless zombie following its orders (a great reference to how new products become addictive). Mo rescues Jason from his parents and brings him along, to visit the factory where The Stuff originates and uncover its true nature.
The Stuff resembles The Blob in nearly every capacity. It oozes around in large quantities and can devour victims whole. Unlike The Blob, it tastes good, and anyone who eats it goes under its control. The special effects are adequate for the material. The late David Allen, an expert stop-motion animator, was part of the team tasked with bringing The Stuff to life. His stop-motion techniques actually increase the hideousness of the substance.
"The Stuff" came out in 1985, right in the middle of the wild consumerism of that great decade. Products were marketed like never before and the birth of new technology caused buyers to race for the stores to get the latest innovations. Video game systems were born, and along with that, accusations (false accusations, I might add) that these new systems could rot the brain. Realistic toy guns were sold without the now-required colorful markings, action figures flew off shelves and everyone had to get an Apple computer. The Stuff was made as a reaction to consumer trends.
Larry Cohen, whose recent credit is the screenplay for the brilliant 2003 film "Phone Booth," has a clear idea of what he wants to say about mass consumerism. His film, though forgotten, is actually just as relevant now as it was in 1985. The special effects may have aged, but not the movie's message.