This week on WTF Sunday, Netflix and I are hitting up the old New World Pictures library for a bit of classic 80’s cheesy horror. I’m also (maybe) starting a new tradition: all through the movie I was working on a few Jack and cokes, so this is going to be My Drunk Film Review, also known as Praise Be To Spellchecker.
One lick is never enough.
A disgraced former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur is hired by a cabal of ice cream manufacturers to investigate a mysterious substance marketed as The Stuff, which is destroying their profits. Along with the advertising exec behind The Stuff, he discovers it is not a calorie-free dessert, but a parasitic organism that takes over your mind before destroying your body from the inside out.
Written and directed by Larry Cohen (the man behind Q: The Winged Serpent), this is a high water mark for classic B-movies. The story is ridiculous, the acting is glorious – sometimes gloriously bad – and the effects are, eh, inexpensive at best. Michael Moriarty, also from Q and, later, Law & Order, plays our hero ‘Mo’ Rutherford as a typical Southern charmer, all cowboy boots and faked naivety but with a sense of honour that belies his less than salubrious line of work*. Andrea Marcovicci is Nicole, the ad exec that Mo seduces rather too easily frankly. Scott Bloom rounds out the main cast as Jason, a boy whose family have been taken over by The Stuff. His attempts to destroy a supermarket’s supply of it brings him to Mo’s attention. He arrives to talk to the boy just as Jason’s family are trying to kill him, so Mo is forced to bring him along.
There are some highlights in the supporting cast as well. Danny Aiello shows up as an FDA administrator whose dog has developed a taste for The Stuff. Garrett Morris from Saturday Night Live steals what few scenes he is in as ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie, the junk food magnate who has been put out of business by The Stuff. And then there’s Paul Sorvino. Big Paulie turns up as the third act deus ex machina. He’s a retired Army colonel who has his own militia based out of a castle in the middle of the Georgia woodland. Mo investigated him while still an FBI agent, and recruits him and his soldiers in order to launch an assault on the old quarry where The Stuff has been bubbling up from underground, and which now houses the distribution hub. He is also a raging right-wing extremist who refuses to allow ‘Chocolate Chip’ to deliver their warning message over his radio because he doesn’t like black people. Oh, the hilarity.
What I love about this flick is that it’s not just some cheap Blob knock-off. Like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, this is a satire on not only consumerism but the power of advertising, corporate malfeasance, monopolies, basically 80’s capitalist America in its entirety. Hell, even The Stuff company headquarters is in Georgia (oh hello Mr Coca-Cola. Didn’t see you there). It amuses me that Rupert Murdoch is the one who now owns the rights to this flick after News Corporation bought out New World.
It is obvious Roger Corman had already moved on from New World by the time The Stuff was produced, since there are no boobs on display at all. Despite the lack of skin, the few gore effects are pretty good considering the era and the budget and the movements of The Stuff aren’t bad. There are a couple of nicely used collapsing head gags after The Stuff has had its way with an unlucky victim, and the trick upside-down room from Nightmare on Elm Street gets another workout, only this time it’s Stuff instead of blood that is gushing for the ceiling. It is in some of the composite shots where the lack funds really show up, but that just adds to the overall charm of the movie. I really enjoyed The Stuff, and I reckon you will too.
On the down side though, some of the scene transitions are a bit jarring, as if you expect to find another shot in between. And if you are expecting to find out what The Stuff is or where it came from prepare to go home empty-handed. One last thing: this flick has made me a little nervous about the two tubs of Ben & Jerry’s in my freezer…
*I’m sorry. Whiskey makes me wordy.