The Stuff is an intensely ‘80’s anti-consumerism joint coming atcha from Larry Cohen. It involves some sinister bastards finding white sludge bubbling up out of the ground and deciding to just package and sell that shit because it tastes sweet. Trouble is, it’s actually a sentient parasite that will eat you from the inside and burst out at any given moment in the least comfortable way possible. Still sound yummy? Well, check out the objectively amazing trailer below and then continue on to the spoiler-filled review to get the lowdown on what we thought of the flick.
Reviewed by: Jake
Some random rubes in a trainyard pick up and lick a white mystery sludge because that’s the safest and most normal thing they can think of to do upon discovering something that looks sinister. Turns out, it tastes sweet and they immediately decide they want to sell that shit to people because capitalism.
It quickly becomes all the rage and there are jingles and shit all over the place because consumerism and marketing and #80’s.
Enter a couple of characters. First, we have David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), a saboteur with about the most dimwitted demeanour you could find. He’s hired by some reps in the ice cream industry to investigate and take down The Stuff because it’s kicking ass and they assume there has to be some dirt if they dig far enough. Meanwhile, we see just how “good” The Stuff is from Jason (Scott Bloom) and his family. Jason is just a kid, trying to figure out the world. And he’s VERY dubious of the nutritional benefits of The Stuff. So you know what he does? This:
In fairness, you’d probably be a bit paranoid too if you’d seen shit that looks like yogurt writhing around in the fridge and had your entire family turn into robotic slaves of a dish that should be a snack AT BEST.
Mo hears about Jason’s rampage and comes to the rescue. The two escape Jason’s brain-melted family and head on down to Georgia where Mo goes right to the source, infiltrating The Stuffs factory and eventually discovering that it’s basically just mined from the earth like oil. It’s worth mentioning that I’m gonna gloss right over an entire plot element where a cookie tycoon (Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garrett Morris)) freaks out and provides some vocal assistance on the anti-Stuff front and a washed up Army colonel, Gromett, (Paul Sorvino) is brought into the mix to lead a militia in eliminating stockpiles of The Stuff because frankly it’s convoluted and I just don’t give a damn. Jason tried his hardest to get killed by The Stuff but Mo keeps him tickin’ and the good guys blow the corporate distribution facility to kingdom come. It’s a success in terms of the sabotage eliminating distribution of The Stuff to the masses, but as the end of the film clearly shows, the black market is a powerful and important tool that can deliver what a craving heart desires. The Stuff lives on....
What the Movie Does Right
The Stuff is a great time capsule film. It does a great job of encapsulating a lot of the excess that was the 1980’s via its focus on consumerism and marketing. By taking such a specific angle, the movie is fairly unique and it has some staying power. There is plenty to like about watching shit that looks like melted marshmallow pose a threat to humanity. It’s dumb, and it knows it. More importantly, it knows the 80’s were really fucking dumb, and it shows it.
As far as the nuts and bolts of the movie are concerned, the most noteworthy element is the effects. There are silly practical effects are pure ‘80’s glory and they mesh extremely well with the film as a whole. When Chocolate Chip Charlie (pretty sure that dude’s supposed to be karate Famous Amos btw) implodes on himself via Stuff attack, it’s an amazing sight to behold.
I also think that Moriarty does a really good job with the role of Mo because it’s a weird one. He’s a smart FBI type who plays dumb an awful lot and the remarkable thing is that he’s actually sort of believable in his role as the hero. The police procedural part of the film is a fun approach to the horror element as represented by the Stuff and Mo carries that load pretty damn well.
What the Movie Does Wrong
The audio quality of this movie is absolute ass. I’m not sure what exactly was going on but there are a lot of dialogue sequences in the film where the vocal audio is completely detached from the should-be ambient background noise in an alarming way. Most notable is a boat sequence near the start of the movie where things are so out of whack, it's reminiscent of the train wreck that is The Bermuda Triangle.
Another problem with The Stuff is that it’s pretty unfocused. If it wasn’t abundantly clear from my punt of a plot synopsis (you can hear me fail at that even worse in the podcast if you’d like. It’s swell.) there were some opportunities to tighten things up a bit. I really like to core of the film, with Mo tracking down the culprits of the atrocity that is the titular product, but mn oh man, they could have trimmed things down by finding a more elegant solution than bringing in the Colonel. It’s only an 87 minute movie so I’m not necessarily arguing for the cutting room floor here either, I’m lamenting a script that was not really what one could call “tight”. It’s a bit of a shame too because Cohen is a bit of a cult hero. There’s plenty of fun in this script, but I feel like there was an opportunity to better build what the Stuff is than introduce a racist militia leader...
Story: 6 - This isn’t an extremely unique story in terms of the nuts and bolts because at the core, this is a monster movie with a lot of police procedural peppered in, but it is noteworthy in it’s on-the-nose take on the ludicrous nature of American consumerism and processed/packaged food bonanza that was taking place at the time it was made. Really good time capsule film.
World-Building / Immersion: 4 - You will not forget you are watching a film while you take this thing in. It’s a little too absurd and offbeat to suck you into its world and from a technical standpoint, there are plenty of things going on that will make it difficult to really get wrapped up in the proceedings. One of the most noteworthy is the downright dodgy dialogue audio. It’s rough.
Scare-Factor: 4 - Yeah, there’s a parasitic life form in the food people are eating that takes over people’s brains and compels them to continue ingesting more of it until it’s able to break free from the host’s body in a gruesome way. That’s kinda creepy, and it would be a higher score if the tone of the movie wasn’t so goofy.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 4 - I already mentioned the issues with dialogue audio in this movie, so I’ll just add that on the whole, the sound effects and score are nothing to write home about. The Stuff jingle is nice, though. From a visual standpoint, there are some cool practical effects used in the death scenes (most notably in Chocolate Chip Charlie’s), and they used the room from A Nightmare on Elm Street to great effect.
Overall: 6 - Synergy. This movie has it. There’s something deep within the recesses of my weird little brain that movies like this tap into. When I watch this, It’s just hard to wipe the smile off my face, and I have no idea why. If you want to have fun, grab some beers and a few pizzas, kick the fuck back and pop this movie on. Pro tip: double feature this with They Live and you’ll unlock nirvana.