Stuff, The (1985)

The Stuff (1985)

Are you eating it …or is it eating you?

David ‘Moe’ Rutherford is an industrial saboteur hired by a group of unscrupulous businessmen to steal the secret ingredients of a new fast-food product called The Stuff that is sweeping the nation. No one knows what is in it but as soon as anyone eats it, they become hooked, eventually replacing all of their regular food with pots of the yoghurt-like substance. But as he investigates further, he discovers that The Stuff is actually alive and is highly dangerous to whoever should eat it.

 

Ah 80s horror movies – the best kind of horror movies! Gleefully doing whatever they could get away with and not caring about the consequences, they owned the home video market for the decade, turning everything and anything they could into instruments of death. With one of the strangest ideas for a film yet, The Stuff updates the old 50s sci-fi B movie formula into the 80s with gloriously gory results. Coming off as some comedy-horror mash-up of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Quatermass II and The Blob, The Stuff never has enough laughs to constantly amuse and never has enough scares to really get under your skin but it will leave a memorable impression on you.

Ice cream. Yoghurt. Flavoured dessert. Whatever it is, ‘The Stuff’ is a fantastic creation. You can’t criticise Larry Cohen for lacking ambition with this project. The way he constructs the whole frenzy over ‘The Stuff’ as a product is scarily-realistic, with our supermarket shelves today full of weird products we know little about and which are aggressively marketed to the consumer. Who knows if there is anything like The Stuff sitting in there today? The commercial satire in here is something that Paul Verhoeven would have been proud of in Robocop or Starship Troopers. The mock adverts for ‘The Stuff’ are hilariously realistic and a whole marketing campaign looks to have been constructed purely for the film, with catchphrases, slogans and packaging all really hitting home the conglomerate message. Though the film is pitching ‘The Stuff,’ for all intents and purposes this could be Coca Cola or McDonalds with its multi-national propaganda. Scary thought. Consumerism doesn’t get an easy ride here.

But we aren’t here to watch commercial satire, we’re here to watch a horror flick and this is partly where The Stuff falls down. I think the comparisons to The Blob just created false expectations of how the white goo was going to behave but it’s not far short. The Stuff works very well until the final third. Though not that much happens, it works more like a crime thriller or episode of The X-Files as slowly but surely the conspiracy behind ‘The Stuff’ is revealed. Suspense is built up, there are a few tantalising glimpses of what ‘The Stuff’ can really do and there are lot of interesting loose threads that you’d expect the final third to answer. Lead actor Michael Moriarty works with Cohen again here after Q, The Winged Serpent and he’s one of the film’s strongest assets, portraying his seemingly dim-witted saboteur with a great relish and cunning.

Sadly, it’s in the last third where it all falls apart and you have to wonder how rushed Cohen got when he was editing it. Crucial plot points seem to get forgotten about and the story moves along far too rapidly considering the leisurely pace of the first act. The introduction of a far-right militia group to save the day in the finale just seems to show the film running out of creative ways to end the film. Ultimately, The Stuff is let down by the quality of its special effects. The more effective make-up effects scenes involving ‘The Stuff’ seeping out of victims’ mouths look alright, if a little rushed, and the film’s best gore moment comes right at the finale involving one unlucky character. But it’s the matte work and some dodgy miniatures which hurt the film as ‘The Stuff’ isn’t brought to life very convincingly when it moves. I think the correct word is ‘dated’ and no doubt the effects looked a lot better thirty years ago. Above all, despite the numerous gore moments, the film isn’t very scary. Yes, you wouldn’t want to get caught in the same corridor as ‘The Stuff’ but it’s hardly nightmare-inducing material.

 

The Stuff is one of those films that you’ll look back upon and believe that it was better than it actually is. The idea is fantastic, the mood is generally spot-on and there are some memorable moments but it’s a definitely a case of the execution not living entirely up to its premise. It does look quite delectable to eat though!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Snake Island (2002)

Snake Island (2002)

There’s terror in paradise.

An African tour boat operator leads his latest group of tourists onto Snake Island, a hunting resort famous for its resident snake population. Only the snakes have multiplied in number and grown more aggressive and the resort is now deserted. It isn’t long before the group realise that the snakes have killed everyone there and they face an uphill struggle to escape.

 

I struggled to write a synopsis for this one as the story is really flimsy but hey, it’s an island full of deadly snakes and a bunch of humans get stuck there. You don’t really need much more plot than that because it takes care of itself. Another title which does what it says in two words, Snake Island says it all really.

Truth be told, I quite enjoyed Snake Island. I was expecting more of the usual CGI killer snake rubbish but was pleasantly surprised with how Snake Island turned out to be. It’s a rather terrible film but it gets that bad in places, that it becomes fun to watch. Sometimes it’s nice to watch a film about killer snakes where the snakes aren’t giant 50ft pythons or mutated crossbreeds with piranhas but rather the common variety of snakes that you’d find across the planet. Real life animals can be scary as we know we could come across them at some point so the sight of real snakes slithering across the ground will be enough to make your skin crawl (if you’re like Indiana Jones and hate snakes). I’d rather watch that than another fantastical giant mega snake slither around the woods for an hour and a half.

Snake Island at least ticks boxes for its use of real snakes, with sporadic dodgy CGI snakes thrown around when required. Using real snakes adds an extra element of danger to the film as you realise that they will have been unpredictable during filming. There are lots of them too of all shapes and sizes. But that’s as far as reality goes. These snakes have had enough of humanity and are communicating, organising themselves into an army of slithering soldiers ready to wipe man off the face of the Earth. They set traps, they team up and they understand what we are saying. They’ve got personality and a little bit of nous. The fact that they’re on an island with no way off kind of puts a kink in their plans for world conquest however.

The snakes might well be the biggest stars of the film and you’ll support their cause rather than get behind any of the numerous characters who become trapped on the island with them. The characters are really unlikeable here and it’s hard to get behind any of them, save for William Katt’s writer character. Katt is a B-movie mainstay with appearances in such nonsense as The Bone Eater, AVH: Alien vs Hunter and the TV movie remake of Piranha and stars as Malcom Page. He’s fairly affable as a cheap hero and most likely only did the film for a cheap holiday to Africa for a few weeks shoot. The rest of the cast whine, moan, bitch and generally irritate each other constantly – the worst bedfellows to get stuck on a remote island with!

Surprisingly, there’s a fair bit of female skin in this one. Director Wayne Crawford knows exactly what he’s doing, spicing things up at exactly the point in the film where your interest will be trailing off by throwing in two topless women dancing to techno music, promptly followed by a snake doing the same thing (not dancing topless, just dancing!). In fact the whole film thing has a bit of a dodgy undercurrent of sleaze, prompting me to wonder what this would have been like had it been made in the mid-80s.

After this aforementioned nude dance, the film begins to pick up steam. It’s rather lacklustre opening salvo, which has the characters roaming the island for what seems like an eternity with the snakes lurking in the background and waiting for their opportunity, seems to go on forever. But the nakedness kicks off a chain of events where the bodies begin to drop. It’s almost as if the snakes were waiting to get a glimpse of the girls before deciding whether to proceed with their plan or not. Loads of silly low budget nonsense ensues, with characters being dispatched in quick fashion. Whilst the film tries to remain serious, there is an element of tongue-in-cheek throughout, almost as if the director knew what he was doing without making it totally obvious. The finale, free of the obligatory ‘blow everything up to kill the monster’ clichés, seems to round this off perfectly as one character battles his way through the snake-infested forest smashing the reptiles out of the way with a cricket bat.

 

You’ll hate Snake Island if you have no tolerance of terrible films but suspend your disbelief for a little and you might warm to it. I am under no illusion that this is a bad film but there’s just the right amount of charm, sleaze and the fact that it’s a bit different to every other snake film out there to make it stand out a little.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Undead, The (2010)

The Zombie Undead (2010)

Run. Hide. Die….

After a dirty bomb goes off in Leicester, Sarah and her injured father are rushed to a rural hospital by paramedic Steve. Upon arriving, they see how bad the situation is with dozens of injured survivors littering the corridors. Sarah faints and when she wakes up, she is apparently on her own in the hospital and confused. When she is attacked by a man and then saved by another man waving a machete around, Sarah realises that the situation is far worse than she realised. Zombies now roam the corridors

 

Highly derivative British zombie film The Zombie Undead ticks pretty much all of the generic low budget zombie apocalypse boxes to bring you a film which you’ve seen time and time again and will no doubt see time and time again in the future. This isn’t a knock on the director, the writers, actors or anyone else involved here or anywhere else but a knock on this over-saturated, ridiculously stagnant sub-genre. Zombie films need to die a death. A swift bullet to the head.

Unfortunately there’s nothing swift about The Zombie Undead, a painfully slow, unengaging trip down apocalypse road which never threatens to be anymore more than a director’s blatantly-obvious debut feature film. With ‘nods’ to the likes of 28 Days Later (see: rip-offs) and the usual Romero homages, it’s like a best-of zombie flick only without anything ‘best’ on show. Devoid of any real exposition, the film short-changes us early on with a convenient fainting to eliminate any need to explain how the zombie epidemic has come to prominence after the dirty bomb has gone off.

You know maybe if there had been some interesting characters on show then The Zombie Undead would have upped its game. But the survivors are bland, boring and wholly uninteresting and will never have you rooting for them. Writer Kris Tearse stars in the film but forgive me for forgetting his character’s name or that of any of the other characters save for Sarah (and that’s only because I wrote the synopsis before I watched it). There’s too much wandering around the hospital, too much talking and nowhere near enough stuff to make you want to care. Yeah there’s some obligatory “I did this before the apocalypse” moments to extend their dimensions from one to three but for all intents and purposes, these are a bunch of nobodies that you won’t blink twice at if they don’t make it until the end.

Excitement must have been blown up with the bomb because The Zombie Undead is sorely lacking it. The film chugs along blissfully unaware that it’s supposed to be doing something to make itself stand out from the rest and opts to kill as much time as possible with the same inane conversations. The hospital setting looks legitimate but little use is made of it as the characters seem to spend the entire time walking along the same corridors, going in and out of the same lifts and hiding in the same toilets. Scenes last for far longer than they need to and there’s a lot of filler time of people standing around looking shocked after just escaping from another zombie attack. Aside from the three main characters, there are a few other people who join the group from time to time but don’t get too attached to them. After all, we need a human body count of some kind.

This is low budget so I wasn’t expecting too much on the gore front. The zombies don’t look as bad as I thought they would even if they were pretty much the basic face paint and ketchup variety. There is a little bit of gore with some intestines and stuff flying around but you won’t get bodies being ripped apart in full view of the camera or anything crazy like that. The zombies don’t seem too bothered about eating either. Sometimes they lazily attack their victims as if they are going through the motions. In other scenes the zombies are just standing around in the middle of the corridor waiting for something to happen. Yes, well we are waiting for something to happen too. It just never materialises.

Who is naming these films too? I mean come on, The Zombie Undead? I can understand that due to the sheer amount of zombie films out there it’s almost impossible to come up with something original. But still….The Zombie Undead sounds ridiculous. What is it even supposed to mean? Zombies are the undead! And don’t think you’ll see anything as close to the images on the front cover as this flick follows the recent zombie film trend of featuring totally irrelevant (and borderline fraudulent) artwork which depicts nothing that happens in the film. If only there was half as much excitement and action in the film as there is in that cover artwork, then the world would be a better place.

 

The Zombie Undead is a film which lazily plays upon its clichés and familiarity to the audience but without the faintest clue of how it’s going to breathe new life into a sagging sub-genre that really has reached its zenith. It’s not the worst zombie film ever made but you’d be hard-pressed to remember anything about it when it’s over. Watch the two-minute trailer to save yourself the other seventy-seven!

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆