Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Stuff

I had never heard of The Stuff until by buddy Danny O'D recommended it to me for my month of horror reviews.  I've seen a lot of horror movies, but Dan is my go-to guy for horror, so when he says that I'll like a horror movie, I usually take his word for it.

The Stuff opens with some redneck miners, giving Death the middle finger by heading into the underground labyrinth/health spa that is their job.  One particularly hillbillied redneck stops to notice some white goo bubbling from the ground.  What would you do in this situation?  If you answered "taste the goo," then get back in the mine, you hillbilly slacker!  Personally, my first (admittedly uneducated) assumption about white goo coming from the earth is that it is planetary semen (AKA Earth jism), so putting it in my mouth would be toward the bottom of my to-do list.  I am not much of a 'billy, though, and this miner ate it up.  And it was good!  So good, in fact, he convinced his friend to have some.  And he liked it, too!  A jump cut later, and we are in the near future, where The Stuff is the number one consumer product on the market.  It's sweet, it's creamy, it's filling, and it has zero calories --- no wonder America "can't get enough --- of The Stuff!"
Not even trannie spokespeople can derail The Stuff
There is just one problem...The Stuff isn't good for you.  It's highly addictive and even has a limited ability to control people who have eaten too much Stuff.  Once it's had its way with you, The Stuff will ooze out of your body, leaving a hollowed-out corpse behind.  Where does it go?  Um.  Home, maybe?  To be honest, that part isn't really explained.
One particularly mediocre child actor, Jason (Scott Bloom), realizes the danger The Stuff poses and starts to act out.  He knocks over hundreds of dollars of Stuff at the grocery store and refuses to eat The Stuff at home, even though that's all his family is eating.
Trust me, son --- I want to see you dead with white stuff on your face

Meanwhile, Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) is hired by the ice cream industry to steal the secret of The Stuff, because their sales have been so negatively impacted by this new craze.  Mo is an industrial saboteur/blackmailer/former FBI agent that seems pretty stupid with his thick-enough-to-cut Southern drawl, but he's actually a clever, likable guy.  He manages to befriend fellow dessert-employed investigator Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garrett Morris) and seduce The Stuff's head of marketing, Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), with shockingly little effort on his part.  After seeing the effects of The Stuff on normal people --- and surviving an attack from some rogue Stuff --- Mo decides that his key to success is a dim-witted child, so he rescues Jason from his Stuff-controlled parents.  Mo has assembled a marketing expert with terrible taste (Nicole) and a child (Jason) to aid his investigation, and has sent a cookie spokesperson (three guesses) to contact the FBI.  Normally, this assembling of the main characters would happen toward the climax of the film, but The Stuff reaches this point within the first thirty minutes.  What could the next hour have in store?  More Stuff.

In many ways, The Stuff is a stupid, stupid movie.  Most of the characters are slow on the uptake at best, and significantly handicapped at worst.  The special effects range from pretty good to "that's obviously a green screen," although it is the easiest effects that often look the worst.  For instance, goo filling a room gets the noticeably bad green screen treatment...
...while Garrett Morris's head expanding gets some solid (although not frightening) practical effects. 
While I was surprised at how well the plot holds up (considering is begins with hillbillies getting a money shot from the Earth), there are many stupid moments in it:

  • When Mo has a glob of Stuff on his face, smothering him, Nicole says "Hold on, I'll burn it;" by "it," I assume she means his face.  Remarkably, his face and hair are none the worse for wear after having flaming Stuff on them.
  • As it becomes known that Mo is investigating The Stuff, a Stuff-branded truck tries to run him over in the street.  Sneaky!  Sadly, the vehicular homicide subplot is quickly dropped.
  • There are hundreds of Dairy Queen-like shops that exclusively sell The Stuff.  Okay, so maybe we'll see Stuff concoctions, like a Stuff pie, or a Stuff cone, or Stuff with Reese's Pieces in it, right?  Nope.  You get the same pint container that you buy from the grocery store.  All you get from these locations is a plastic spoon to go with it.
  • Okay, you're a kid trying to spy on The Stuff factory.  You climb on a tanker truck to hear the employees talk, but are forced to hide or you will be discovered.  Where do you go?  If you said "inside the tanker," you deserve whatever happens next.

To be completely honest with you, though, The Stuff is surprisingly fun to watch.  The acting isn't great by any means, but it is certainly interesting.  I'm not too familiar with Michael Moriarty, but I was fairly certain that I would hate his stupid twang and frequently explained nickname after the first scene.  Remarkably, Moriarty kept the ridiculous accent up for the entire movie, complete with some unusual cadences and a nearly permanent smirk --- and, even more remarkably, I actually ended up liking his goofy-ass performance here.  I'm still not entirely sure why. 
I'm pretty sure his next line is "Hyuk, hyuk."
Garrett Morris isn't in much of the movie, but he was perfectly fine.  Andrea Marcovicci and Scott Bloom were both pretty wretched, though. 
Mild disinterest is the best he can do
There are a decent number of notable bit parts in this movie.  Paul Sorvino plays a nutty right-wing colonel with more of a straight face than the role probably required.  Danny Aiello get mauled by his Stuff-fueled dog.  Patrick O'Neal not only got his name featured in the credits with a box around it (80s cast credits were weird), but he also got to play a weaselly executive.  There is a fake ad for The Stuff that features Abe Vigoda in it; it's not a great part, but it was enough for me to say "Oh, hey...Abe Vigoda.  Huh."  If you have a good eye, you can spot some no-dialogue cameos from the very young Eric Bogosian (in the supermarket) and Patrick Dempsey (the street thug at the very end with what looks like a perm).

The Stuff has many aspects that place it within the horror genre, but it's not a very good horror movie.  There is no suspense or scares.  There is some pretty decent gore, especially when Stuff-controlled people get their heads caved in; as one soldier comments, "I kind of like the sight of blood, but this is disgusting."
Above: a novelty SNL toothpaste dispenser
Writer/director Larry Cohen seems to realize this, and has made a pretty decent horror/comedy instead.  This is a poorly/cheaply made film, with several scenes of dialogue obviously being overdubbed and a few moments where a supporting cast member seems to flub their lines but still continue on.  What sets this apart from other crappy horror movies that try to be funny is the fact that it is actually decently amusing.  The gags aren't great, but there is a little wit in there, and some light satire of our consumer culture.  Perhaps the most important thing about The Stuff is that the main actors are committed to the silliness of this story; they could have tried to play this straight as a monster-type movie, but I thought Moriarty in particular did a good job matching the film's tone.  Admittedly, The Stuff isn't much of a horror movie, but it is good choice for a not-too-scary, not-too-gory 80s horror flick, especially if you want to break a youngster into the genre gently.  I imagine that if I saw The Stuff as a child, it would have been an early favorite.


  1. Are you still striving for 31? You got six movies and four days. You can do it champ! You just gotta be like a greasy I-talian chicken!

  2. Thanks, coach! I've still got my eyes on the prize!

  3. Thanks, coachi. Specially I like "a novelty SNL toothpaste dispenser". Keep on posting.

  4. When you buy weed or crack from somebody, you probably may ask "the stuff", right?

    1. Actually, I just ask loudly "May I have some crack, please?" If you ask for The Stuff, you get what you deserve.