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Review by Michael Jacobson
Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Scott Bloom, Danny Aiello, Paul
Director: Larry Cohen
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer
Length: 86 Minutes
Release Date: October 24, 2000
The Stuff is one of those films that embodies
everything we’ve come to love (or not) about 80’s horror.
It’s a simple us versus it (or them) premise, with cheesy acting, low
grade but effectively gross special effects, a self-depreciating humor, and even
some satire about the decade’s corporate greed.
In other words, by nature, it could never be considered a great film by
any stretch of the imagination. However,
for horror fans that like their pictures campy and enjoy chuckling as much as
shrieking, The Stuff fits the bill nicely.
It opens when a couple of guys find a puddle of white goo
bubbling up from the earth. Naturally,
when you see something like that, you have to stick your fingers in and taste
it. They discover it’s delicious.
“If there’s enough of it here,” one of the fellows excitedly
states, “we could sell it!”
Next thing you know, thanks to a slick Madison Avenue
campaign created by Nicole (Marcovicci), the newly named dessert The Stuff is in
stores everywhere, and people can’t get enough. Soon, some angry ice cream makers hire an ex-FBI surveyor, Mo
(Moriarty) to get to the bottom of the mystery and find out:
what is The Stuff?
His investigation turns up some mysterious facts:
all of the original FDA people who approved The Stuff for sale have
either skipped the country or died. People
associated with The Stuff behave in weird ways…some even react with violence
to the questioning. Meanwhile, we
get a close up look at the effects of The Stuff in action as a young boy
(Bloom), who discovered the glop moving around in the fridge, refuses to eat it,
but slowly sees his family going mad with it.
They eat nothing but The Stuff and chatter in second hand advertising
slogans about what a wonderful product it is.
Soon, Mo has teamed up with an ex-cookie maker, Chocolate
Charlie (Morris, and no, I didn’t make that name up) to investigate the small
town where The Stuff originally came from.
It’s practically a ghost town now, but still harboring some secrets.
Later, when the kid and the ad rep join up, we begin to
learn the horrible secret of The Stuff: it’s
a living organism, apparently with some intelligence, that doesn’t mind being
eaten. Once inside a person, it
begins to control their mind. They
become addicted to The Stuff, eating more and more…however, when The Stuff
decides it’s time to move on, it tends to evacuate a host body with gruesome
The point of the film is not so much the horror but the
satire. Writer/director Larry
Cohen, perhaps most known for the It’s Alive series of films, used The
Stuff to poke fun at the way advertising created so many obsessive fads of
the decade. I mean, after all, what
was the Rubik’s Cube all about? It’s
nearly forgotten now, but there was a time when EVERYBODY had one.
To drive this point home, Cohen inter-cuts his story with plenty of
catchy commercials and jingles hawking The Stuff, even with Wendy’s Clara
Peller making an appearance to spoof her famous “Where’s the beef?” line.
The overall film, therefore, works best with humor…not so
much with horror, which is little more than a variation of the The Blob
with different workings. In
addition to the satire, there are the great cheesy throwaway lines that fans
would be quoting long afterwards. My
favorite: “We’ll just tell them
our pillow tried to kill us.”
I also appreciated the guest stars…Danny Aiello as a
former FDA man who seems afraid of his dog for some reason, and even better,
Paul Sorvino as a paranoid military man who leads the final assault against The
Stuff. He may not remember this
role with much fondness, but he manages to deliver some of the film’s funniest
moments with a straight face. And
Garrett Morris is easily the picture’s highlight…his scenes are fast, funny,
and far too few.
So, by mixing satire with horror, classy actors with a
cheesy script, and tons of bubbling goo, you end up with the dreams The Stuff
is made of (ouch...sorry).
It doesn’t matter that this is a goofy cult horror flick
that will only appeal to a limited fan base…Anchor Bay treats it like Citizen
Kane when it comes to the anamorphic transfer.
This is a surprisingly good looking film, with a clean print and really
only one noticeable image problem (a brief dark scene toward the end that looks
a bit faded and grainy). The rest
of the picture boasts clear, clean sharp images with good, natural looking
colors and no hint of compression interference.
Most films from the 80’s on DVD don’t look this good.
This is a simple 2-channel mono mix, which is perfectly
adequate, but not spectacular. Dialogue
clarity is never a problem, but dynamic range is fairly limited.
The disc contains a trailer and a commentary track from
writer/director Larry Cohen, which is occasionally a bit sparse but still
manages to contain some good information, including the answer to the all
important question: what exactly
was The Stuff? (Many things, it
turns out, including firefighting foam).