If you’ve ever stumbled across this blog in a drunken stupor, you know I love horror movies. So much so that every year my fellow bloggers and I review 31 horror movies in October. Naturally, some films slip through the cracks, this is one of them. The VHS box to The Stuff is an image firmly burned into my memory. Tell me, how could you walk past this film at the video store (image posted above) without at least a second glance? “Why is marshmallow fluff pouring out of this man’s eye sockets?” Well past John, let me show you the way.
FADE IN: a railroad worker—who seems far too old to be an effective member of society—is doing a nightly patrol by the train yards when he discovers a creamy white substance bubbling out of the ground. So he does what any sane individual would do and sticks his finger into it and eats it. Who’s first thought after discovering a puddle of bubbling ooze is, “Ah yeah, I gotta get me a piece of that!” Well good move old man, because the ooze tastes great! I believe the line was: “That tastes real good! Tasty! Sweet!” The old man shows one of his coworkers and tells him they could sell it. So it begins.
Next, we meet Jason (Scott Bloom), an average young boy who one night sneaks into the kitchen and finds a container of The Stuff moving. As you can see we’ve jumped ahead a few months. On a side note, we never see the old rail worker again. Someone must have Social Networked his idea away from him. Anyways, Jason’s dad (who has a real serial killer vibe) walks in on him and tells him he’s a dumb shit and sends him off to bed, but Jason knows. The Stuff isn’t what we think it is.
I have to take a sidebar here to point out how absurd it is that The Stuff moves, yet apparently only one person in the whole country has witnessed this. Sidebar over.
In the next scene, we are introduced to a group of ice cream magnates, who are concerned by The Stuff’s monopoly on the candy market? Which is weird because Jason’s family eats it at night and for breakfast. Is this like a snack? Or a meal? Is it fourthmeal?!? Who knows. All anyone knows is it’s so good.
A former FBI agent turned “industrial saboteur”, which sounds made up, is then hired by the candymen to find out what The Stuff is and bring it down. The character’s name is David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty). The “Mo” stands for “Mo money” according to him, in a recurring joke which is funny 30% of the time, but he’s an interesting character Imagine a laid-back Foghorn Leghorn, but a human in a suit and you have Mo. I can’t decide if he’s the greatest character in cinematic history or the worst, but Michael Moriarty has a lot of fun with the part.
Surprisingly, the driving plot is engaging. Watching Mo interrogate corporate bigwigs trying to cover up the origin of The Stuff provides for some entertaining scenes. Particularly, one between Michael Moriarty and a young Danny Aiello, and by young, I mean like 50. Think of the film as a mix between Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Soylent Green and Street Trash. To learn more about Street Trash check out this link to my original review. I apologize for the formatting.
David is joined by Charles W. “Chocolate Chip Charlie” Hobbs (Garrett Morris), a struggling junk food mogul who knows karate. It’s a pleasure seeing Garrett Morris, and I can’t help but wonder if he improvised all of his lines. Either way, I like him and the two make a bizarre yet enjoyable pairing. Mo also partners with Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), an advertising executive who becomes Mo’s lover.
Later, Mo and Nicole are attacked by The Stuff in a hotel room when a white glob attaches itself to Mo’s face. This leads to Nicole lighting Mo’s face on fire to get The Stuff to retreat, which it does, by clinging to the wall. How did she know it would do that? What if she had burned Mo’s face off?
Meanwhile, Jason makes national news after throwing a fit in a supermarket and tossing containers of The Stuff on the ground. It must have been a slow news day. Jason’s creepy parents try to attack him and Jason runs away. He is found, oddly enough, by Mo who read about his outburst in the paper and asks Jason to join his team. Wait, what?
The film has its first significant casualty in the death of Chocolate Chip Charlie. Though I don’t recall seeing Charlie eat The Stuff, it apparently takes over his body and makes him go crazy. Charlie tries to kill Nicole in a scene I can only describe as confusing. Take a look for yourself Not only does the camera break the 180-degree rule, which is filmmaking 101, it’s edited in such a way that I’m not even sure what happens. At least we get to see a bunch of goop pile out of a puppet version of Garrett Morris.
In an effort to stop The Stuff, Mo partners with a ridiculously patriotic Army Colonel, Malcolm Spears (Paul Sorvino), who feels like an Animal House character. Spears is so gung ho about protecting America all it takes is a few words from Mo to convince him to lead a militia to where The Stuff is manufactured. The army battles Stuff-infected soldiers and they transmit a civil defense message to Americans, pleading with them to break their Stuff addictions.
Mo confronts the CEO of The Stuff, Fletcher (Patrick O’Neal), who along with a former ice cream magnate, Evans (Alexander Scrubby), has created a new product called The Taste. The difference being, The Taste is 88% ice cream and only 12% the Stuff, so it won’t make people addicted or crazy. In retaliation, Mo points a gun and forces the two men to eat container after container of The Stuff as punishment for their crimes. The film ends with criminals smuggling The Stuff on the black market. When will people learn?
The Stuff is by no means a great movie, but I appreciate its originality and satire. A great deal of credit goes to writer/director Larry Cohen, well known for taking the craziest ideas for movies and turning them into clever horror commentaries. His best is perhaps the infamous 1974 killer-baby movie It’s Alive.
The jabs at greed and commercialization are the best parts of the movie. They even nabbed Clara Peller to do a “Where’s the Stuff?” commercial in honor of her iconic “Where’s the Beef?” commercials. Though she’s so old and unrehearsed it sounds like she’s saying, “Where’s the tuff?”
What I could do without is all the boring army guy stuff. Paul Sorvino is funny but the action sequences are dull as dirt. The film loses its horror edge in the latter half of the film and I’m disappointed we don’t learn more about The Stuff.
I suppose the question is: did this movie live up to the VHS case I saw as a kid? It sure did. There were definitely scenes with white goop oozing out of people’s eyes and mouths, so it gets a check there. Man, I could go for some marshmallow fluff about now.