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June 21, 2010

The Stuff

1985, Dir. by Larry Cohen.

Considering my love for all things blobular or blobesque, I have no idea why Larry Cohen's The Stuff has evaded me for so long. It always seemed to be throwing itself in my path by showing up in bargain bins and used DVD racks consistently, but something kept me from grabbing it. Now that I've finally seen it, I'm a little baffled as to what was wrong with me to avoid it for so long.

From guerrilla writer/director Larry Cohen, most famed for It's Alive and Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff starts with a pair of arctic workers discovering a bubbling substance that most definitely isn't snow. They go straight past the "let's poke it with a stick" phase to the "let's taste it" phase, and quickly realize that this "stuff" tastes sweet...and addictive. Flash forward a bit, and The Stuff is the world's best selling treat....so much so that ice cream companies hire an investigator (regular Cohen colleague Michael Moriarty) to figure out what The Stuff exactly is.

From there, the film throws in a young boy who doesn't get his family's obsession with that darn Stuff, an advertiser responsible for sexifying The Stuff, and a few other kooky characters (including SNL alum Garrett Morris, who I've always wished was more known). Cohen makes his film's satiric points extremely clear - the film is foremost a statement about the consumerism of the '80s, and would make a fabulous double-bill with Carpenter's They Live - but I was surprised to find how much the film also borrowed from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There are some wonderful moments of unease, especially when the suspicious boy (Scott Bloom) has to deal with his Stuff-altered family. The film also makes the characters who recognize the stuff's power work through a lot of questions about where they can go and who they can trust as the film moves into its final act, which again reminds of classic sci-fi/invasion stories. (This all isn't too surprising when you notice that Cohen would go on to co-write the story behind Abel Ferrara's 1993 remake, Body Snatchers.)

The Stuff itself is an extremely nondescript substance, which lacks the charm of my beloved Blob, but fulfills the film's purpose well. Portrayed by the combined efforts of ice-cream, yogurt, and fire-extinguisher foam, it's a simple creature whose aggressive nature is shown off well via some cool effects. The film's biggest effect occurs when a money shot of Stuff traps an insurgent against a wall, a nice bit of trick film-making that was created in the same room that hosted Johnny Depp's demise in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

But the real villain here is, of course, society. A low calorie dessert that can replace ice cream is enough to get almost everyone in the film's world hooked, and I'm sure most of us witnessing today's obsession with weight loss wouldn't find that hard to believe. Like the greatest parasitic evils on film, The Stuff lives in the weak and the wounded. (Oh, and the world of advertising, too.)

As a film, The Stuff (by the way, it's really difficult to write a descriptive review when you have to refer to a film, a food stuff, and a parasite as "The Stuff", so sorry if this has gotten convoluted) both impressed me and kept me entertained. Cohen brings his A-game, producing a film that's less raw and disjointed than his previous efforts, and the cast shines. Moriarty has long been a favorite of mine through his work in Cohen's Q and Pick Me Up (also playing the heroic patriarch in Troll with gusto), and his method stylings work here. The lovely Andrea Marcovicci (previously of The Hand), Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, and Patrick O'Neal also give good support.

As far as amorphous killing machine films go, The Stuff is one to see. Ripe with plenty of social relevance, solid acting, and a goopy killer, it's got something for anyone who, like me, has looked at the horror genre and realized that enough...is never enough. I'm glad to have finally made contact with The Stuff, and I urge anyone out there who's looking for a sci-fi/horror/creature fix to give it a whirl.

3 comments:

Emily said...

Love this movie, though it took a second viewing to really make me happy. The only downside is that jingle gets stuck in my head for days.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Your review is stirring memories I didn't know I had. I'm about 95% positive that I've seen this movie, and now I want to watch it again!

Joe Monster said...

Like you, I've heard of this one for awhile. I also have put off seeing it. Perhaps I shall learn from your story, O wise Mike.

I really liked your examination of the film as a symbol of consumerism. Very fascinating. I'm a sucker for that type of analysis. Great work!