Just like The Thing only sweeter!
If you’re going to watch this movie, maybe don’t eat beforehand.
I mean, it’s not Salo or anything, but like a lot of films from the 1980s it has that look and feel that I can only describe as…icky.
The plot doesn’t help.
Written and directed by Larry Cohen, The Stuff tells the tale of a new food fad that turns consumers into mindless zombies who attack anyone that dares to criticise their new diet.
It’s basically Atkins: The Movie.
In this case, the food craze is not a brutal high protein/low carb eating regime but The Stuff (ha, that’s the title!) a sentient, white goo that oozes from the centre of the earth.
In the opening scenes, The Stuff is first noticed by two yokels, who immediately do what anyone would if they found a thick, white, viscous liquid bubbling through a crack in the ground, they taste it.
After declaring it delicious, the mysterious white sludge is then packaged and marketed to an unsuspecting public via glossy advertising campaigns that promise that this sweet, yoghurt-like mire has less calories than ice cream.
Silly 80s people, it’s the carbs you have to worry about, not the calories!
Unfortunately, in addition to being low calorie, The Stuff is also a living, parasitic organism that takes over the bodies and minds of its hosts eventually eating them from the inside out. So, only slightly worse than Slim Fast.
The Stuff instantly and inexplicably becomes America’s number one sweet treat even out-selling ice cream.
This angers the ice cream barons, so, Ben, Jerry and the other ones join forces and hire corporate saboteur, Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) to sort this shit out.
Teaming up with the marketing whizz behind the advertising campaign, Garrett Morris from Saturday Night Live, and a young boy whose family has been possessed by The Stuff, Mo investigates its origins.
Origins that we as audience members already know. So, it’s a tad anticlimactic.
Anyway, prying into its life before it was famous angers The Stuff and it attacks: forcing its way out of the bodies of its victims through distended throats and grotesquely twisted mouths. Once free, The Stuff attaches itself to the faces of its enemies, smothering them with its creamy goodness.
When faced with death by white chocolate, our heroes sensibly attempt to kill it with fire. At which point, The Stuff screams and writhes in pain like the alien in John Carpenter’s The Thing if it were a pudding, rather than a horrifying, shape-shifting monster.
In fact, this movie has a lot not-in-common with The Thing.
Firstly, the film making is atrocious. The plot lingers too long on the corporate espionage angle which is objectively the least interesting thing about it.
The editing is shoddy. Scenes don’t transition so much as they smash together violently and it often feels like connecting scenes either weren’t written or were removed entirely, leading to a very disjointed viewing experience.
The acting is also…varied.
While a couple of the actors manage a semblance of gravitas in the face of evil Cool Whip, Michael Moriarty seems like he’s about to burst out laughing in every scene. Not that I blame him.
And the message, well, according to the director this is supposed to be a story inspired by food recalls that occurred during the 1970s and 80s and the questionable, possibly dangerous additives used to make junk food more addictive. Unfortunately, there’s no real theme or message behind the movie other than: corporations are terrible and would literally sell you something they scooped off the road to turn a profit. Something that everyone who’s ever eaten at an Australian Hog’s Breath Café already knows.
Still, The Stuff is worth a watch if you are a fan of the evil corporation thriller/horror sub-genre, like I am. Other notable entries in this sub-genre include: Agency (1980) and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), which both have similarly intriguing ideas but, sadly, fail as coherent pieces of entertainment.
Then again, it’s probably very difficult to make a great movie about greedy, evil corporations when you’re being financed, supported and distributed by the very industries your movie is criticising.
Maybe it’s impossible.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into this.
If you do watch The Stuff, (preferably not whilst eating yogurt) here’s some er…stuff…to look out for:
- The original movie poster.
No not the logo one. The one that will make you rethink your yogurt at morning tea (I did warn you).
- The final line in the film: are you eating it, or is it eating you?
Which should be commended for evoking more disgusting imagery in my head than the film shows.
- The suburban 80s mom who muses that spilled Stuff doesn’t even leave a mark on her kitchen cabinets. An odd comment which posits that, in this universe, spilled ice cream eats its way through hard surfaces like acid. No wonder it’s losing popularity with consumers.
- The scene in which an extra is smothered and stuck to a motel wall by the stuff. It certainly makes you think/retch.