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!

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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