The Stuff (1985)
“It’s smooth and creamy. I’ts low calorie and delicious. And it kills. It’s The Stuff!”
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris
Synopsis: A delicious, mysterious goo that oozes from the earth is marketed as the newest dessert sensation. But the tasty treat rots more than teeth when zombie-like snackers who only want to consume more of the strange substance at any cost begin infesting the world.
The Stuff begins with a miner finding a strange white substance bubbling out of the ground. This guy had obviously never heard that old adage about never eating yellow snow, because the first thing he does is scoop up a couple of fingers’ worth and pop it into his mouth. To his surprise, it tastes pretty good, and before you can say ‘Food Standards Agency’ the stuff is packaged in pink-and-purple pots and being snatched from supermarket shelves by America’s housewives. But the Stuff is bad news – not only for its quickly-addicted consumers, who find themselves unable to stop gorging on it (‘You can never get enough of the The Stuff!’ trills the advertising jingle), but for the ice cream industry too, whose profits are decimated by the Stuff’s popularity.
An Ice Cream cartel hires ex-FBI agent Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) to find out just what goes into the Stuff to make it so delicious, and with the help of the marketing executive who developed the Stuff’s catchy jingle (Andrea Marcovicci) and a kid (Scott Bloom) who has seen his entire family succumb to the stuff’s addictive qualities, he slowly uncovers the deadly truth.
The Stuff is a Larry Cohen film which firstly means that it’s not to be taken seriously, and secondly that it’s not very good. Cohen is the director who brought us such classics as It’s Alive (1974) and Full Moon High (1981) and wrote such titles as Scream Baby Scream (1969) and Wicked Stepmother (1989). Cohen, is a marginally better writer than he is a director, but he’s poor on both counts with The Stuff. Which is a shame, because he has come up with a good idea, and his use of the film to take swipes at mindless mass consumerism is to be applauded. Sadly, he’s not quite talented enough to aim accurately or concisely, and too often he seems to lose sight of his target when he focuses on delivering some of the story’s horror elements.
In fact, the plot doesn’t make much sense a lot of the time, and you find yourself watching not so much to see what will happen next but to find out which side of the wobbly tightrope between satire and farce the plot will fall. Cohen’s direction lacks momentum most of the time, while the choppy editing and uncertain pace suggests he was making it up (or at least changing many things) as he went along. But then, this is a movie that relishes its b-movie status, and perhaps its saving grace is that it never for one second takes itself seriously.
(Reviewed 6th August 2012)