BBFC Classification: 15
Director: Larry Cohen
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Danny Aiello, Paul Sorvino, Patrick O’Neal, Scott Bloom
Well, it was only a matter of time really, wasn’t it? We’ve had killer sharks, killer piranha fish, killer crocodiles, killer dolls, killer cars and even Killer Klowns, so killer food wasn’t going to be far away. Originally released in 1985, The Stuff was written and directed by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive/God Told Me To) and became a staple of video shops up and down the country during the latter half of the 80s, building something of a cult following along the way, which makes it a perfect candidate for a Blu-ray release from Arrow Video.
Industrial saboteur David ‘Mo’ Rutherford (Michael Moriarty – Troll) is hired by the top dogs in the ice cream industry to investigate a popular new product on the market called The Stuff that is eating into their profits. That’s not all The Stuff is eating into, though, as anybody who consumes the mysterious yoghurt-like substance becomes a mindless, non-thinking zombie-like creature. Mo is joined on his mission by advertising executive Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci – The Hand), junk food tycoon ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie Hobbs (Garrett Morris – The Jamie Foxx Show), Colonel Spears (Paul Sorvino – Goodfellas) and Jason (Scott Bloom – Smokin’ Aces), a young boy whose family has been taken over by the dessert, and the more he finds out about The Stuff the more difficult it is to find somebody he can trust as the addiction to the delicious goo takes over the whole of the country.
Much like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, The Stuff has a lot of social commentary bubbling away under the main plot, a lot of which is still applicable today – possibly even more so. Inspired by people’s desire to smoke even though they know that it will eventually kill them, Larry Cohen was obviously influenced by Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Blob when he decided to swap cigarettes for ice cream, and although the message is one that is fairly serious the film sets a very light tone to deliver it, with one or two ludicrous plot moments that need to be overlooked to make the film work.
This light tone is helped along by the performance of Michael Moriarty as Mo, so-called because he always wants ‘mo. Moriarty’s deadpan delivery and laid-back demeanor could be seen as lazy or just plain bad if you were to be technical about it, but some of his lines are quite amusing and his presence is very noticeable throughout the film. His interactions with a very OTT Paul Sorvino as the ultra right-wing Colonel Spears towards the end of the film keep Sorvino’s character barely on the right side of parody but had Moriarty not been so relaxed and personable in his role then Sorvino could quite easily have taken the film into even more absurd territory.
The special effects are also worth mentioning as they really do hold up quite well nearly thirty years on. Naturally you can tell when animatronic heads are being used, and by today’s standards they may look a bit cheesy but they do add to the charm of the film and at least they aren’t CGI and are actually there in the same room as the actors; it may not sound like much but it makes a big difference to the mise-en-scène. If you wanted to be harsh towards the film it could be said that for a horror film there isn’t actually a lot of horror in it; the instances where the dessert does make a return out of a victim’s system are mostly off-screen and implied with sickly sound effects, although there is one scene where Cohen and his crew decide to let you see how The Stuff really works. There are some gooey face-smashes that provide a little bit of a gross-out factor but on the whole the film bounces along like a ’50s sci-fi B-movie mixed with classic Bond-esque espionage, providing both action and laughs along the way.
The film has gone through a 2K restoration process and looks wonderful, the pinks and purples of the food branding logos looking bright and sharp, but the real joy for fans is the 52-minute Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature Feature documentary that covers the making of the film, featuring contributions from Larry Cohen, Andrea Marcovicci, producer Paul Kurta, mechanical effects man Steve Neill and film critic Kim Newman.
Overall, The Stuff has moments that work and moments that don’t but is kept going by a sharp satirical outlook and a compelling performance from Michael Moriarty. If you can get past the opening scene where a worker in a frozen outpost comes across this bubbling ooze coming out of the ground and within seconds decides to eat it then you’ll probably get on with the rest of it, but despite its flaws and shortcomings The Stuff remains a good time and worthy of a 21st century spruce up
Special Features: Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature Feature documentary, introduction and trailer commentary by director and The Stuff fan Darren Bousman, original trailer, reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joel Harley.
UK Release Date: 10th March 2014
Read Myron’s review of The Stuff here.