October Horror Movie Series-The Stuff

October 24, 2008

The Stuff(1985); Dir. Larry Cohen; Starz/Anchor Bay DVD (2000)

While The Stuff  is a gleeful skewering of American consumerism and unscrupulous corporations, it also attempts to be a horror film and this is where the movie does not seem quite as ambitious or effective as it should be.  Larry Cohen the director, writer, and producer of this movie is certainly very capable of both relevant social commentary and horror, as he demonstrated with Bone(1972) and It’s Alive!(1974) but in The Stuff  the two just do not come together.  This is not to say that the plot of the movie lacks cohesion but it does get a little convoluted and it just suggests too many things that the movie does not take the time to develop.

The Stuff, which has the appearance of oozing Marshmallow Fluff, is quickly introduced in the beginning of the movie bubbling out of the ground as an unsuspecting miner discovers it, tastes it, and immediately decides that it tastes good enough to keep eating. That is the last we hear of him and the next thing we know there are full blown ad campaigns complete with catchy jingles and celebrities such as Abe Vigoda and Brooke Adams selling The Stuff as a nicely packaged snack to a public that just cannot get enough.

Here the plot branches off in several different directions(so bear with me) and involve an ex-FBI agent specializing in industrial espionage played quite well by Michael Moriarty(who worked a few years earlier with Larry Cohen on Q:The Winged Serpent), an unhinged self appointed Colonel who spouts off anti-communist rhetoric and worries about fluoride in the water in the fashion of Dr. Strangelove’s Jack D. Ripper, played by Paul Sorvino, who is enlisted by the the ex-FBI agent ‘Mo’ Rutherford to help destroy The Stuff after he discovers what it really is and have seen what it does to people after they have been eating it. Then there is Jason who we meet first in the film and is suspicious of The Stuff from the very beginning. He is resistant to eating the Stuff while his family is literally consumed by it and at one point goes on a rampage through the grocery store which almost feels like a slapstick moment as the adults bumble around trying to catch him.

 Then there is ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs who was a cookie mogul until The Stuff came along and ruined his business, and Nicole who directed and worked full time on the ad campaign for The Stuff. There are many more characters, some that are significent to the plot and some that are not, but trying to keep up with them is a little distracting as ‘Mo’ Rutherford crosses and gets double crossed by the corporation that hired him to investigate The Stuff, The FDA, and the corporation marketing and selling The Stuff. 

Perhaps it is the cynical times in which we live and the series of corporate scandals we have been witness to in the last few years, but greedy, unscrupulous corporations and crooked government agencies do not seem as shocking as they should. In fact, it is what we expect. They seem like an easy target and without any real biting satire to back it up, the comedic aspects of the movie go flat after being played up through most of the movie. Then there is the horror elements of the film which feel underdeveloped compared to the other aspects of the film. There are several scenes where we see people, called ‘Stuffies’ after they have eaten so much of The Stuff that it takes them over, moving and acting like zombies as they come after ‘Mo’ and Jason. Towns are emptied out and people do nothing but consume The Stuff which is really consuming them.  The horror aspects of the movie are not so much underplayed as they are fleeting and I found myself wishing that the comedy was a little less stated and the fears the film was only flirting with were more deeply explored. This would have been more satisfying but it also would have been an entirely different film.

Up Next for the October Horror Movie Series is Italian director Mario Bava’s first feature film, Black Sunday, starring the illustrious Barbara Steele.

Charles Jacob;



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