Synopsis: A delicious mysterious goo that oozes from the Earth is marketed as the newest dessert sensation. But the sugary treat rots more than teeth when zombie-like snackers begin infesting the world.
Stars: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom, Danny Aiello
Director: Larry Cohen
Running Length: 86 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: When schlock director Larry Cohen passed away in March of 2019, he left behind a legacy of campy horror films that ran the gamut in tone and style. He was comfortable with tightly paced Hollywood fare like Cellular and Phone Booth, likely because he was used to filming quick and fast having cut his teeth in low-budget horror films It’s Alive and God Told Me To. Though his movies were amusing in a throwback sort of way (I dare you not to watch the ‘80s monster movie Q: The Winged Serpent and not have just a little bit of fun) they often were one joke/concepts that didn’t always have a resolution to their rather fantastical set-ups. Good starts, bad endings.
Never is that more apparent than in The Stuff, Cohen’s 1985 sci-fi horror satire about a tasty substance that becomes everyone’s favorite snack. Obviously commenting on the yogurt craze that was happening around that period of time, Cohen spends the first half hour or so of the film nicely structuring a framework of a society eager to jump on the bandwagon of the latest craze. Marketed as The Stuff, every supermarket has a healthy stock and nearly all American households have one or more cartons in their refrigerators waiting to be consumed. The advertising parodies Cohen has dreamed up are a riot, with commercials and jingles for The Stuff providing some decent laughs in their ridiculous earnestness.
There’s something bad about The Stuff, though, and we know it early on. Suburban boy Jason (Scott Bloom) wakes in the middle of the night looking for a midnight treat and when he opens the fridge he sees The Stuff moving…crawling back into its carton. His parents and brother don’t believe him, likely because they have been eating The Stuff on the regular and soon are trying to get him to eat it as well. At the same time, a private investigator (Michael Moriarty) is hired by a rival corporation interested in stealing The Stuff’s formula and he begins to suspect the food may not exactly have the full support of the FDA. Teaming up with an ad exec (Andrea Marcovicci) who had been working on The Stuff’s campaign, the investigator uncovers more than he bargained for and is soon on the run with Jason joining their ranks. Can they stop the spread of The Stuff?
Cohen wastes no time diving headfirst into the action. Literally, within the first moments of the film we see the goo bubbling out of the ground where an old man finds it, samples it, and thinks it could be something the entire world would want. This all in the span of, oh, twenty seconds. The first half of the movie is so front loaded with information and action that Cohen runs of interesting developments before the film has reached the sixty-minute mark. That’s when he brings in Paul Sorvino (The Gambler) who has been waiting in the wings and, let me tell you, he is hungry to nosh on some scenery. Sorvino’s military figure battling The Stuff like he’s going to war with the communists is a tired old cliché and only shows you how little the finale was truly thought out.
The concept of The Stuff is intriguing but Cohen did not fill the rest of the movie with anyone we remotely want to root for. As Jason, Bloom is a total dud lacking conviction in any of his line readings and Marcovicci might have made for an interesting female lead playing a powerful businesswoman of the ‘80s…if Cohen didn’t have her jump into bed with Moriarty immediately when she thought he was a headhunter for another account she wanted. As for Moriarty, he’s the lead and is truly, truly, atrocious. A longtime Cohen favorite, Moriarty is going for some slick kind of character with, I’m guessing from his accent, some kind of bayou roots but winds up giving a bad performance for the history books. Sporting a hideous toupee and laughing at the material almost as much as the audience is laughing at how bad he is in the movie, Moriarty pretty much ruins the movie.
When The Stuff starts to take on a life of its own, there are some decent special effects but it too often reminded me of The Blob (the original and the fun ‘80s remake), reminding me it had been a while since I’d fired one of those films up. When you spend more time thinking of when you can start another movie you know the one you’re watching isn’t filling you up. The Stuff isn’t a feast, just an interesting first taste.