The Stuff

The Stuff.jpg
UK Release Date 1985
Director Larry Cohen
Starring Michael Moriarty
Runtime 87 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 22nd February 2014

Picture the scene-an old miner discovers a white oozing substance bubbling out from under the ground. He’s probably just pulled a twelve-hour shift and he’s feeling peckish. Rather than give the pulsing slime a wide berth, report it to the relevant government agency and grab a MacDonald’s (other fast food joints are available) he decides to eat some. “That tastes good! Tasty! Sweet!” he drools. And that ladies and gentlemen starts Larry Cohen’s anarchic creature feature The Stuff - a film that lurches from the ridiculous to the down right crazyass batshit.

Soon the whole of America is devouring the Stuff, it has no calories but boy is it sweet and addictive like sugary nicotine goodness-you can have your cake and eat it! The Stuff is an 80s consumer miracle like Cabbage Patch Dolls and leg warmers - the kind of product that you’d see on the news one day before it invaded every inch of your life the next. The slogans come thick and fast, “Can’t get enough of that Stuff” and “Enough is never enough.” The theme tune is catchy and the packaging is fun and aspirational. Basketball players love it, foxy models in fur coats and swimsuits love it, and so do wannabe Kids from Fame prancing in leotards in front of graffiti covered brick walls.

Yep the Stuff is street, edgy and chic and quickly putting the old ice cream mafia out of business. On a yacht the confectionary Cosa Nostra are planning their revenge. They’ve hired blackballed FBI agent turned industrial saboteur David Mo Rutherford to steal the Stuff’s secrets, “They call me that 'cause when people give me money, I always want mo'.” Mo’s strength is that he knows how to play dumb, flying under the radar like a washed and scrubbed version of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. He can throw a right hook, handle explosives and charm the Stuff’s advertising guru Nicole into bed without the hint of a coherent scene to establish their sexual relationship.

Mo quickly discovers that all isn’t well with the Stuff and sets out to destroy the horrific Häagen-Dazs. He teams up with fast food impresario 'Chocolate Chip' Charlie W. Hobbs and a young kid Jason, whose entire family have turned into all American Nazis after guzzling gallons of the sinister dessert. Jason’s mum and dad are filmed in shadow looking like extras out of Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, mentally torturing their son for not conforming to their hi-tech version of the American Dream. Microwave ovens and gaming consoles dominate their house and their fridge is a cavernous shrine to tubs and tubs of the Stuff. Did Jason see it move? Is the Stuff taking over? As Mo says later, “Are you eating it…or is it eating you?”

The Stuff rips along at such a blistering pace that at times it outruns its own narrative. Characters come and go with wild abandon and the sentient Stuff can’t make up its amorphous mind whether it takes people over like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or dissolves them from the inside out like The Blob. Inconsistencies aside, The Stuff offers up such random delights as Paul Sorvino’s Col. Spears, a right wing survivalist nut in search of a media makeover that leads a cut price Bond finale on the Stuff’s factory. Even Danny Aiello pops up as Vickers, an FDA man haunted by his bully of a dog and willing to give over incriminating information over at the drop of a hat.

But the real reason to see low budget auteur Larry Cohen’s capitalist fable is for Michael Moriarty’s swaggering performance as Mo Rutherford. Cohen has always married the preposterous with the plausible in films like his excellent Q: The Winged Serpent and Moriarty gives the The Stuff a solid center to embark on its flights of fancy. For every cum shot death, army militia riding around in yellow taxi cabs or tacky fight scene, Moriarty’s Mo always delivers, “Everyone has to eat shaving cream once in a while.” And you know what? He’s goddamned right. 

Check out the trailer here.

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