The Stuff (1985), by Larry Cohen, has long been on my radar. For some reason I never saw it on cable, nor has the film fallen into my lap. I know the film has made several lists for cult and horror, but it wasn’t until Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release that The Stuff found its way onto my TV. Lately, the film’s director, Larry Cohen, has had a resurgence with his films suddenly becoming available on Blu-ray. Cohen’s films dabble in everything from giant lizards attacking New York in Q (1982), to babies eating their way out of their mother’s wombs in It’s Alive (1974). His films are an acquired taste and not for your average movie goer, which made The Stuff all the more a curiosity.
The Stuff, at the beginning, pays a quick homage to classic sci-fi thriller The Blob (1958). An older gentlemen finds this strange goo on the ground. Instead of “it” consuming him, he consumes it and thinks it tastes pretty good. Thus, the product that will become known as “The Stuff” is born. Now before you start citing FDA regulations and question how they market such a product, Cohen’s script addresses all of that. It is protected by the same copyright that keeps Coca-Cola’s formula safe. This is where David Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), who goes by ‘Mo’ and finds a way to work it into all of his various aliases, enters the picture. His job is to discover and bring back the secret ingredients for “The Stuff” by any and all means possible. A rival company is sick of losing sales to “The Stuff” and feels that the monopoly on the dessert should be over.
The story switches gears, for all but a moment, to reveal the essential sub plot that “The Stuff” is actually an addicting drug with a possible mind of its own. We meet Jason (Scott Bloom) and his typical American family. Jason discovers “The Stuff” moving on its own, one night, in the fridge and it’s enough for him not want to eat it, ever. The poor kid discovers he is on his own since his entire family is already addicted to “The Stuff”. To illustrate this point even further, they have replaced every meal with this dessert-like substance. Jason goes on a personal crusade to take out “The Stuff” in his own home town, but the odds and its addiction are beyond this young boy’s control.
There is a lot of good stuff (wink, wink) here for this film. In the special features, which are new for this Blu-ray release, Cohen talks about his inspiration for the film stemming all the way back to WW2. According to Cohen, cigarette companies supplied the troops with free cigarettes to get them addicted and thus secure their market for after the war. He also cites how marketing has gotten completely out of hand, circa 1985. So just after a few minutes of watching the film, you can see where The Stuff developed its cult status. It’s a scary concept, even now. However, if Cohen made the film today, it might be an app, a mobile device, or a social media page that has everyone addicted.
The Stuff suffers from a lack of cohesion in the script. Moriarty’s Rutherford finds his first in with “The Stuff” company by flirting with its head adverting executive, Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci). He makes a great promise about buying her agency and talking about it over dinner, but before we ever see that scene take place, he is already questioning Vickers (Danny Aiello), a former founder of “The Stuff” corporation, and a checking out a whole town in Virginia that had marketed “The Stuff” first. When Nicole does reappear, she is on board with stopping “The Stuff” and letting the public know how horrible it is. We never saw her moment of realization about “The Stuff”, nor how Rutherford brought her over to his side.
Another odd thread in this story is Garrett Morris’ ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs. Hobbs was put out of business by “The Stuff” and he looks to settle the score. Rutherford and Hobbs meet in Virginia and their familiarity with one another is that of old college buddies, not two perfect strangers that have just met. It is completely jarring and really takes you off the film about an addicting and killing dessert.
We are given some great elements to the story that could have been. “The Stuff” is actually oozing from the Earth and makes everyone who eats it want it more. We see its affect and that alone is scary enough to hold up a mirror to ourselves with anything we over indulge in. Cohen, as well as many others in the special features, talks about budgetary constraints, which is only one of the problems with the film. Michael Moriarty may have been Cohen’s “go to” actor, much like Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfus, but his bad hair piece and even worse accent make him ridiculous and not a leading man you want to root for.
The Stuff is a film with a lot of great ideas, but is poorly executed. I have found this to be true with a lot of Larry Cohen’s work. I wish that someone or some studio would take his crazy stories and build a world out of them, like Marvel and DC Comics are doing with their properties. His films are ripe with rich and timeless ideas, they just lack that one element that makes them great: direction.
New High Definition restoration of the film from a brand new 2K scan of the original camera negative
Original stereo 1.0 uncompressed PCM Mono audio
Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature Feature – Documentary featuring Larry Cohen, producer Paul Kurta, actress Andrea Marcovicci, Steve Neill (mechanical makeup effects) and Kim Newman
Introduction and trailer commentary by director and The Stuff fan Darren Bousman (Saw II, Saw III)
Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joel Harley, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials
Order The Stuff HERE from Arrow Video!