Friday, October 10, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Stuff

The Stuff

"Are you eating it? Or is it eating you?"

Larry Cohen, man. It's Alive, Q, Maniac Cop. I even liked Return to Salem's Lot. He's a writer with interesting ideas and a director with... well, with tiny budgets. Larry Cohen makes B movies - but they're interesting B movies.

The Stuff was one of my favorite horror/comedies in 80's. It was just so ridiculous - killer yogurt? Kung-fu chocolate chip cookie kings? A racist militia that saves the day? The commercials and the jingle - "Enough is never enough - of The Stuff!"? All solid gold. And there was plenty of gore - though a particularly bloodless kind.

When Gatorade came out with their "Is it in you?" campaign my brother Jeff and I found this hilarious and he immediately started to refer to it like a The Stuff campaign. This tickles him mightily, even to this day, and I made a quick mockup of an ad for him.

The Medium
I watched this on Netflix streaming. The quality is okay - and honestly, with a movie like this you're not really paying attention to composition and color quality. I'd still like to see the British Blu-ray release - if only for the commentary.

The Movie
My first reaction upon finding a mysterious white substance bubbling out of the ground at my mining facility? It would NOT be to taste the damn Stuff. "Say, this stuff tastes real good. Maybe we can sell it to people!" I would have loved to be on the wall of that pitch meeting, "Yeah it comes from the mine tailings, but damn - it's delicious! Just try some... wait, where are you going?"

Brand new natural food source? Nope, birdshit again.

Somehow this Stuff - which does end up being marketed as The Stuff - passes FDA inspection and becomes a huge commercial success, threatening rival fast-food corporations who hire an industrial saboteur to 'handle' things. This is Mo Rutheford, former FBI agent, played with good-natured dimness by Michael Moriarty. He might not be as dumb as he looks - "Nobody is as dumb as I look" - but he's still not all that bright.

Mo quickly uncovers the truth - that The Stuff is not a low calorie, natural dessert (well, not JUST that). It's actually alive, possibly self-aware, and that it gradually takes over anyone that eats it, devouring them from the inside out. Along the way he manages to convince the ad exec in charge of the The Stuff campaign, Nicole, to help him (mostly by posing as a millionaire oil baron - though she doesn't seem much bothered by his eventual reveal that he's not rich). He also befriends Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garret Morris) who is trying to find out who convinced his relatives to sell his successful cookie business to The Stuff executives.

Meanwhile, a young boy named Jason has seen The Stuff move and is convinced something is wrong. He even destroys a bunch of The Stuff at a local grocery store. His family have succumbed to the evil dessert and try to get him to eat it as well, before Mo shows up and saves the day.

I'm not seeing the four food groups in this fridge....

While Charlie heads to Washington DC to warn the FBI, Mo, Nicole and Jason head to the company headquarters to find out what's really going on. This turns out to be nothing less than world domination, as a huge lake of The Stuff is pumped into trucks to be distributed worldwide. Barely escaping with their lives the trio recruits members of a militia to attack the distribution center and spread the word via their radio stations.
In the aftermath, Jason and Mo confront the corporate executives who started the whole thing, delivering a heaping helping of their own product.

Yeah, The Stuff is ridiculous, but Cohen embraces the lunacy completely. It doesn't always make sense - in fact it sometimes seems like he was making the movie up as he went along - but it's always fun. The satire is also pretty pointed, even with tongue firmly in cheek. The faux commercials sprinkled throughout the film - featuring some fun cameos - may seem too cheesy and over-the-top now, but they're dead-on perfect parodies of the kind of thing you'd see on TV in 1985.

This is actually the least ridiculous ad.

The dialogue is terrible - when you can hear it - and the cinematography is uninspiring at best, but the effects are often quite good. A scene in which the hotel bed turns out to be full of The Stuff has some great sequences with vast amounts of the liquid spurting around, crawling up walls and catching on fire. Garrett Morris' sequence near the end is crazy gross, both laugh-out-loud funny and gag-inducing.

Open wide, wider, wiiiiider....

Morris and Moriarty are great and any scene they're in benefits from their energy and charisma. The child actor is not so good, unfortunately, and Paul Sorvino as the militia captain chews so much scenery you expect there to be bite marks taken out of the walls.

The Bottom Line
There's so much wrong with this movie, but I love it anyway. It's a movie about a killer dessert. It's got Michael Moriarty. It's got pointed commentary about consumer culture AND Garrett Morris karate chops a guys face off. What's not to love?

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