"The Stuff" is a wildly ambitious movie that fails because it forgets to attend to its bottom line. Before you can make a clever, funny, satirical horror film, first you have to make a horror film. The groundwork in "The Stuff" is so unconvincing that it sabotages all of the good things in the film, including a deadpan performance by Michael Moriarty.
The movie's premise: Some kind of gooey white stuff comes bubbling out of the ground near a petroleum refinery in Alaska. A workman sticks a little of it into his mouth, and, hey, the stuff tastes good. Before long it's in pink and purple containers on the shelves of every grocery store in the country. Seems like people can't get enough of it. They eat it morning, noon and night. It takes over their whole diet. It's just so damn good.
Larry Cohen, the writer and director of "The Stuff," takes this premise as a springboard for satirical shots at TV commercials, marketing, industrial espionage and nutrition. One of the many messages in the movie seems to be: Since we don't care about food additives that will kill us eventually, why should we care about a food that doesn't prolong the misery? (Without revealing too much about "The Stuff," I can say it does for this movie what pods did for "Invasion of the Body Snatchers.")
Since his first film, "It's Alive" (1976), Cohen has specialized in quasi-realistic horror films. In other words, the basic premise is off the wall, but it's surrounded by three-dimensional characters in plausible situations. That was the case with "Q" (1983), his film about the prehistoric lizard that nested on top of the Chrysler Building, and it's the case this time. Moriarity, a good New York actor, is the star of both films, and in "The Stuff" he plays a low-key good ol' boy named Mo ("My friends call me Mo, because no matter how much I get, I always want mo"). He's hired by a food company that wants to discover The Stuff's secret, and eventually he stumbles across a whole sci-fi scenario in which people are being converted into Stuffies.
Popular Blog Posts
For the 36th installment in his video essay series about maligned masterworks, Scout Tafoya examines Ken Russell's "L...
A piece on the experience gained from seeing bad movies.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
Remember Pearl Harbor and remember how prejudice shaped history.