Monday Movie: The Stuff, by David Bax
Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie–it could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like–and we’ll tell you where to find it online.
Okay, so The Stuff is not exactly a great movie. But as a distillation of writer/director Larry Cohen’s signature approach (off the wall premise stocked with Elmore Leonard style, heightened but realistic characters), it’s a lot of fun. It’s also a perfect vehicle for Cohen’s most well-suited collaborator, actor Michael Moriarty. The Stuff is the second of four movies the pair made together in the 1980s before reuniting twenty years later for a devilishly delightful episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series entitled “Pick Me Up,” in which Moriarty plays one of two serial killers fighting over the same victim. But I digress.
The Stuff starts with railyard workers discovering a substance bubbling up out of the ground and, for some reason, immediately deciding to taste it. Turns out it’s really good and, from there, Cohen jumps forward in time to find that the stuff has been packaged, sold and, most importantly, marketed as, well, The Stuff. People love this new product but it seems to be doing something to them; it may even have a mind and goals of its own. An ex-FBI agent named Rutherford (Moriarty), an advertising executive named Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci) and a precocious suburban kid named Jason (Scott Bloom) team up to find out what’s really going on.
Most of this is played for laughs, even the sinister parts (“We don’t get tired anymore,” Jason’s father monotones, “now that we’re eating right.”). Still, Cohen never quite forgets that he’s making a horror movie and makes sure to ladle on the gore. One of the side effects of becoming a Stuff addict—or “Stuffie,” in the movie’s vocabulary—is that it hollows out your insides. So, as you might imagine, it doesn’t take much more than a punch to result in bodies crumbling into gooey messes.
These zombified consumers aren’t Cohen’s target, though. He takes aim directly at corporate greed and amorality. Rutherford, for instance, is first hired to look into The Stuff by the board of an ice cream conglomerate, whose profits are suffering drastically in competition with the new product. Cohen’s liberal, anti-big business stance is offset, surprisingly, by what would appear to be a pro-right wing militia message. Or at least a pragmatic one. Paul Sorvino’s off-the-grid, anti-commie paramilitary leader is depicted as a racist and a louse; nevertheless, he and his followers are key to bringing the Stuff empire to its knees.
It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek. While frequently uneven, The Stuff is a quintessential Cohen film. That is to say, it’s a blast.
The Stuff is available to rent on Amazon.