For this week’s Horrorfied! feature, I decided to watch something I’ve never seen before. After perusing what Netflix had to offer I landed on The Stuff. Two factors went in to my decision, the cover stood out, and I had already seen most of what was presented there. My love for horror started with 1980′s films and I have had many an eighties horror movie marathon which made for slim pickin’s. I’m pretty glad that most of these films are relatively campy because despite my love for horror and taking on this feature, I am pretty easy to scare. At times I have to watch these films all alone and with my imagination not put in check, that can make for a very long night.
I don’t know how I missed this film, especially with it’s pretty eighties movie boys with the bright blue eyes and pretty, dark hair that I loved so much when I was a kid. The Stuff is a film by Larry Cohen, a man who definitely knows his eighties horror. The film was released in 1985 and has some pretty familiar faces, thought I don’t know that I would put this film on their current resumes. It’s about a product that is found literally bubbling out of the ground like oil that tastes sweet and has everyone hooked. One young boy, Jason (Scott Bloom) sees the dangers of The Stuff early on when he gets up for a middle of the night snack and sees it moving around. He tries to warn his family and others to no avail. Everyone is addicted, eating the treat that is marketed as and meant to be dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The distributer who are marketing the product start seeing strange things happening as a result of The Stuff and bring in David ‘Mo’ Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), an independent investigator who takes down corporations for a living. All they wanted to know initially was what The Stuff is made of, what it is. Once he starts looking into the addictive nature of The Stuff, Mo finds the same thing Jason has discovered, that The Stuff is turning everyone in to walking, talking zombies that are just shells used as vessels for The Stuff. This film is a mix of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Blob.
Though the idea behind the film seems to be marketing and overbranding, Mo and his lady love Nicole (and the person responsible for the marketing campaign for The Stuff)are upset and shocked that The Stuff’s not processed. I love seeing the difference between the way things were in the eighties to where they are now. So much has changed. The couple’s shock and awe at unprocessed, untouched food is what we strive to achieve these days with the organic movement. Another thing I love about these films is that there are no cell phones, if you need to call someone you have to find a phone either in a home, office or a good old fashioned pay phone. If your phone chord is cut, you’re as good as dead by the rules of eighties horror. It’s also contradictory that a film about the dangers of blindly following marketing and the masses has such blatant product placement throughout. Mack trucks, Chevy, Coca Cola, the list goes on. Another eighties horror element that is evident in this film is that a kid sees through the hype and works to help stop the invasion as happened in numerous other eighties films, Critters, Gremlins, etc.
The film moves pretty slowly; the action is little too far between for my tastes. The acting is painful at times, particularly with Jason’s family, but great at others and what would a B movie be without some less than stellar acting? The Stuff definitely fits in the “so bad it’s good” film category. Michael Moriarty is awesome as the fast talking, Stuff-battling Mo and his banter with just about anyone else in the film automatically makes their delivery better. Simon does okay as Jason, landing a good line when talking with Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears, played by none other than a somewhat blubbering Paul Sorvino. Sorvino plays the head of a military group that Mo recruits to assist in their rag-tag group’s attempt to stop The Stuff from taking over everyone. His daughter Mira Sorivno was even in the film for a moment in a factory scene, cast as an extra in the film.
Colonel to Jason: “We’ve never lost a war, we’re not going to start now”
Jason to Colonel: “What about ‘nam sir?”
Colonel to Jason: “We lost that war at home, son.”
I know it’s not funny by itself, but the fact that they are even referencing Vietnam certainly dates the film and the delivery makes it a chuckle-worthy moment. There are a few more memorable moments. One such moment is the “Where’s the beef?” lady’s cameo, another the jingle for The Stuff, including the tag line “Enough is never enough of The Stuff”, which instantly made me think of Lays and their “No one can eat just one” chip campaign (apparently that marketing worked). Even Garrett Morris (‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs) is taken down by The Stuff in the best death scene of the film. Colonel Spears’ emergency broadcast message is one the likes I’ve never heard..”we are under alien attack by a substance that represents itself as the popular dessert product The Stuff”. The effects are horrendously entertaining and I love some of the lines, but the scares are minimal (unless you’re the FDA) and unimpressive and I should be scared to go to sleep right now.
Greed and sales and the corporate way are the target of The Stuff. We see even after it is proven that The Stuff is not only addictive and dangerous, but literally and alien substance taking over people’s bodies, the corporation re-brands it and just puts a small percentage in with dairy products to make their new product, The Taste, a little less dangerous but still addictive as ever. We also find people akin to crack-heads waiting in back alleys for a taste of the old The Stuff, one of whom is a very young Patrick Dempsey. This film is a commentary on just how far people will go to make a buck, and back in the eighties I don’t know that they even could have dreamt of how far we would take that notion, what with reality TV, tattooed advertisements, the Internet itself. Society is selling it’s soul for all of that Stuff. Scaring people away from consumerism is much harder than it sounds.
So…are you eating it, or is it eating you?
What is your favorite eighties B horror movie? Share in the comments!