The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>The Stuff</i> (1985) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - The Stuff (1985)

Arrow Films' release of Larry Cohen's cult killer yogurt flick.

Directed by: Larry Cohen
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom, Danny Aiello

The Movie:

Larry Cohen has always been the king of the high concept, adept at picking an idea that just seems ripe for cinema. Be it the titular emergency vehicle of The Ambulance kidnapping people, mutant babies in It’s Alive, his more straight down the line writing for such pulp fiction works as Best Seller and Phone Booth or his more outre works featuring Mexican Dinosaur Gods in Q: The Winged Serpent and his hermaphrodite space Jesus in the never bettered God Told Me To. As an ideas man he is unsurpassed, but what makes him interesting as a filmmaker is his satirical edge; his films have a nuance and texture that, like the genre work of John Sayles, give what in lesser hands could be by the numbers horror an added bite.
That said, Cohen is a wayward talent who can miss as much as he hits. The Stuff is a lesser work, but his everything but the kitchen sink approach and constant switching of tone gives it just about enough pep to pass muster. Honing in on the embryonic health food, low cal, body conscious fads of the early 80’s, The Stuff is a gooey white yoghurty substance that is low in calories, highly tasty and can be kept in the fridge or on the shelf (like Sunny Delight then). Unfortunately it is dangerous and highly addictive (okay, Sunny Delight turned you orange and didn’t possess you, but you get the gist).
Unable to compete, a group of Ice Cream manufacturers hire nefarious ex FBI agent David ‘Mo’ Rutherford (Cohen regular Moriarty) to find out how it passed FDA approval and what it is made of, so they can rip off the recipe. With the assistance of a hoodwinked Ad Agency owner, Nicole (Marcovicci), and a young boy called Jason (Bloom), who has run away from his increasingly sinister and brainwashed Stuff obsessed family, they discover the truth behind the seemingly innocuous dessert. Oh, and just in case that isn’t enough, throw in a jive talking refugee from one of Cohen’s old blaxploitation films as Kung Fu fighting Ben & Jerry Curl Ice Cream magnate Charlie Hobbs (Morris), and you have the strangest team of industrial saboteurs in history.
It may start out as a satirical Body Snatchers riff, but it's best viewed as a comedy. Moriarty’s mannered performance and clowning with Garrett Morris jar with the attempt at early horror involving Jason being co-opted into the cult of The Stuff, which is eerie in the way it uses the argot of TV advertising to show something is very wrong in the family home. The special effects are also variable in the extreme, the ambition obviously far bigger than the budget. What it also misses is an overriding reason for the stuff; is it taking over people as is hinted then dropped, or does it just use people until they drop? In the end, the message appears to be rich people will sell it to you because money can be made from it, which seems dispiritingly true to life.
There are a couple of cameos, one from Danny Aiello as an FDA worker who helped pass The Stuff and now seems strangely intimidated by his dog, and best of all, Paul Sorvino, who pops up in the final act as a proto Chief Wiggum, turning the film from a hotchpotch of elements into a straight down the line comedy. It’s a bizarre turn, but one that strangely fits a film that seems as though it's being made up on the spot. It’s high minded ideas meets lo-fi production values, but utterly unique in execution.

You get a great transfer made from a 2k scan of the original negative, which does have the downside of showing up some of the effects, and an hour long interview with Cohen, actress Andrea Marcovicci and Special Effects man Steve Neill, amongst others. An interesting watch, and Cohen admits himself he is no picnic to work with, a lot of The Stuff in the bigger scenes were made up of fish guts; nice. A Trailers from Hell commentary from Saw’s Darren Bousman and the original trailer rounds off the blu-ray extras. You also get a booklet by Joel Harley and a reversible sleeve. Not as comprehensive as some releases from Arrow but still good stuff; hopefully some of Cohen’s classics will now get the full treatment.

Jason Abbey