When discussing Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent last week I made mention of his other great film, The Stuff and decided to go ahead and discuss that as well. The Stuff is his 1985 horror film about killer yogurt… or is it ice cream. It’s a movie that defies logic, that’s certain, as its entire premise relies on some characters being as stupid as possible. The result, however, is a film that’s both full fo gripping suspense and delightful comedy. This is helped along by its great cast which includes Michael Moriarty (the best thing from Q: The Winged Serpent) and Paul Sorvino.
A couple of railroad workers see some white stuff oozing out of the ground and don’t know what it is. So they decide to eat it – because that makes sense(?). That’s what I mean by the entire plot relies on people being stupid as it all starts with these idiots eating strange stuff they found on the ground. Apparently this stuff tastes amazing (if we take the word of a pair of idiots eating stuff from off the ground) and the film jumps to months later and now that strange goop is being sold in stores as “The Stuff,” with a catchphrase of “Enough is never enough.” Indeed it’s not because it’s highly addictive and therefore the biggest selling item in supermarkets. Enter Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarity), a professional industrial saboteur hired by ice cream companies to find out more about this competition.
Mo eventually discovers that The Stuff isn’t just an addictive product, it’s some sort of living thing that takes over people’s brains. He’s helped along the way by Nicole, a marketing woman who happened to design the advertisement campaigns for the stuff and Jason, a young boy who lost his family to The Stuff. Together, this motley crew is out on a quest of industrial sabotage to save the world.
What makes The Stuff such an enjoyable 80s romp is multiple things. There is Michael Moriraty’s performance, which always feels like a more laid back Jimmy Stewart. There’s Paul Sorvino’s odd role halfway through the movie as an army general. What’s odd is that everyone is familiar with Paul Sorvino playing mobsters (like in Goodfellas) – not so much as a mad right-wing army general which is what he plays here, and does a fine job of it at that. His daughter Mira Sorvina makes an uncredited cameo as a factory worker only because she happened to show up on set to visit him that day.
The film has fun practical effects as this ice cream like substance comes alive and kills people, or explodes out of people or things. For the effects is was usually ice cream or yogurt with fire extinguisher foam being used for some of the much larger effects. Produced by New World Pictures which, although no longer run by Roger Corman at this point was still operating with Corman’s style of low budget productions for major distribution and has a good feel of 80s low budget horror to it. Far better looking than a lot of horror and sci-fi from the 1980s and more enjoyable at that. The film crosses genres, artfully blending humor, excitement and horror into one picture.
Spoiler alert (I suppose unnecessary though since this movie is 3 decades old) but you never truly find out what The Stuff is. There’s some suppositions about it being “maybe alien,” but no certainties. You never learn the backstory nor is there really an open enough ending for a sequel for us to discover the truth about The Stuff. Well I know what The Stuff is – it’s one of the best goddamned horror movies from the 1980s. This and Q: The Winged Serpent… I really wish I was as avid for these types of movies in the early 1980s as I am today because experiencing these in theaters with out 30 years of discussion already out there would truly have been a wonderful experience.
Well I suppose I can always go and watch his It’s Alive movies. I’ve seen plenty of movies about killer babies before but not Cohen’s – and if he’s at the helm I know they’ll at least be pretty awesome.