Starring Michael Moriarty, Paul Sorvino, Garrett Morris, Andrea Marcovicci
Directed by Larry Cohen
Distributed by Arrow Video
There are a handful of filmmakers who excel at subversive cinema, though perhaps none have done it as succinctly and successfully as the legendary Larry Cohen. Over the course of his four decades making movies (Cohen hasn’t done anything since a 2006 “Masters of Horror” episode), he’s tackled blaxploitation, childbirth, the FBI, ambulance drivers, cults, and consumerism. His filmography is brimming with cult classics, but for my money one has long stood above the rest: The Stuff (1985). Cohen delivers a scathing indictment of the binge diet and bandwagon culture, skewering producers, marketers, and purchasers with equal aplomb. The script preys on mindless dolts who blindly accept what big corporations cajole them into buying, never once stopping to question whether or not what they’re buying is any good for them or the environment. Cohen’s picture is a prescient piece of filmmaking, perhaps more relevant today than ever before.
When a mysterious white goo begins to bubble up from within the Earth, an elderly mining worker makes the logical decision to scoop it up with his fingers and eat it. Lucky for him, the stuff tastes pretty good. Cut to an indeterminate time later and “The Stuff” is everywhere – billboards, commercials, huge store displays, and in every kitchen in America. Who wouldn’t want it? Tastes so great, less filling, and no calories! The declining ice cream industry, for one, doesn’t like it and they want to know the secret to The Stuff. Enter David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), a corporate saboteur hired by the ice cream industry to expose and destroy their new chief competitor. While Mo begins his quest to uncover the truth behind the enigmatic white substance, a young boy, Jason (Scott Bloom), gets a dose of reality himself during a late-night fridge raid. He watches in horror as a container of The Stuff moves about freely inside the fridge before settling back in to its pint-sized home. His family refuses to listen to his concerns, so he does the next best thing and trashes a store display touting The Stuff, screaming about its dangers to anyone who will listen.
Jason’s antics don’t win him any fans at home, but they do draw the attention of Mo, who through his own research has uncovered the same shocking truth – The Stuff is alive, possibly even self-aware, and it takes over people’s minds before slithering out of their bodies and leaving behind a shriveled husk. The two team up, joined by Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), a former marketer for The Stuff, with plans to infiltrate the massive factory producing America’s latest obsession. Their mission causes the realization that more firepower is needed to combat the country’s latest craze, however, leading Mo to enlist Col. Spears (Paul Sorvino) and his troop of trigger-happy soldiers to put an end to The Stuff.
Where The Stuff succeeds is not only in its subversive qualities and objective view of American consumerism, but also in its ability to add scope and feel bigger than its limited budget might otherwise allow. Cohen does a fantastic job of making it seem like The Stuff has taken over the country, with massive billboards hanging in New York City, frequent adverts on TV, and mammoth store displays championing this new magic foodstuff. I love the commercials Cohen shot for the film, complete with flashy imagery and a catchy jingle (“Can’t get enough of that wonderful Stuff!”) you’ll be singing long after the credits have rolled. Similar to the effectiveness of faux advertising in Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987), the marketing seen in The Stuff greatly adds to the immersion necessary to make it seem like this new product really has taken the country by storm. The verisimilitude of this approach is scary accurate.
Cohen has brought along his good luck charm, too: Michael Moriarty. This was the second of their five collaborations. Moriarty is a unique actor, a method actor, and he can always be counted on to deliver a memorable performance. I haven’t always found him to be the strongest actor in any given room, but he adds little touches to his characters to ensure his work is, at the very least, noteworthy. Here, as Mo Rutherford, Moriarty plays the role with a cocksure swagger and even keel, coolly getting himself out of a host of sticky situations by using his head.
Less impressive is Scott Bloom, as young Jason. I know that Cohen strives for realism in his pictures, often casting amateur and non-actors in appropriate roles but geez, this kid is the pits. I’ve always thought he was the weakest link in the leading role chain, though thankfully he isn’t as much of a major player.
In addition to adding a sense of scope, Cohen’s film also (mostly) succeeds in the FX department. Many of the effects showing the movement of The Stuff, how it slinks around the fridge or oozes out of a person’s mouth, have been done with a strong sense of realism. Even some of the obvious optical and projection effects work aren’t half bad… except that bit near the end when Moriarty is blasting away at it with a machinegun. The creative team clearly had high ambitions for what they could pull off with this viscous white goo, and a number of tried-and-true cinema techniques worked perfectly well in bringing the sentient slime to life.
Maybe I’m a little biased here, as I adjust my rose-tinted glasses, because The Stuff has been a favorite of mine for over twenty years. The themes and not-so-subtle subtext presented here are eerily relevant to the current climate. This might sound like total blasphemy but this is a film I could see being remade, with updates reflecting the “instant results” culture in which we live. Cohen’s film is a work of genius low-budget filmmaking, but there are clearly areas where the ambition wasn’t able to meet the execution. To sound less blasphemous, I’d recommend Cohen himself update it. Regardless, The Stuff is going to last a long time thanks to a shrewdly observational script that captures consumerism at its best (worst?). One thing is for sure: you just can’t get enough of that wonderful Stuff!
Fans of this film have likely owned it on at least a few formats – most notably Anchor Bay’s OOP DVD – but Arrow’s new Blu-ray is an unquestionable winner. Hardcore Stuff fans may have purchased Arrow’s UK release, of which this edition is a direct port. As such, expect to find the exact same 1.85:1 1080p picture, sourced from a new 2K scan of the original camera negative. The restoration is often remarkable, allowing for impressive clarity, bold colors, a virtually immaculate print, and shockingly seamless effects work – optical effects are less inconspicuous, but matte work looks solid. There is some minor damage to the right side of the frame during a couple scenes, nothing major. The strong definition even extends to nighttime scenes, where the image holds up reasonably well in dim lighting.
Although the included audio here is a relatively simple English LPCM uncompressed 1.0 mono track, the sound is pretty damn good. The track is clean and free from hisses or pops. Sound effects and score have an equal weight, with dialogue registering nicely in the mix. There are a few decently powerful moments, giving the track a greater presence than expected from single-channel mono. The score, composed by Anthony Guefen, is an odd one that sounds like it would be more at home in a superhero movie than what is ostensibly a horror movie. Subtitles are included in English SDH.
“Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff” – Larry Cohen commands the majority of this in-depth making-of piece, which covers all aspects of the production. This was a feature fully under Cohen’s control – and everyone including Cohen will attest he was very much in control. The man was a taskmaster on set but nobody will disagree with the results of his intense direction. This is pretty comprehensive and very much worth the watch.
“Darren Bousman Trailer Commentary” – Bousman, himself a horror director, is a big fan of the film and he delivers a short commentary on its trailer. Cool?
The film’s original trailer is also included.
And if you own the old OOP Anchor Bay DVD, hang on to it because this disc does not include Larry Cohen’s commentary found there.
- New High Definition restoration of the film from a brand new 2K scan of the original camera negative
- Original stereo 1.0 uncompressed PCM Mono audio
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature Feature – Documentary featuring Larry Cohen, producer Paul Kurta, actress Andrea Marcovicci, Steve Neill (mechanical makeup effects) and Kim Newman
- Introduction and trailer commentary by director and The Stuff fan Darren Bousman (Saw II, Saw III)
- Original Trailer
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joel Harley, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials
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