Despite its floundering final act, The Stuff gets enough right in the first portion of its runtime that it deserves a spot next to They Live and Troll 2 on your shelf.
When a rail worker discovers a gooey substance bubbling out of the earth, he can’t help but taste a little—it looks so delicious, and tastes as sweet as ice cream! He turns to his buddy and suggests they start selling the mysterious yogurt-like goo like it’s the most natural idea in the world; nevermind that they have no idea what’s in it. The gunk, branded as The Stuff, gets packaged in pretty purple and pink bottles with a sexy ad campaign behind it. (Its slogan: “Enough is never enough”) Soon most of America is eating The Stuff. People who eat it start to refuse to eat anything else. Eventually, they become a part of The Stuff’s consciousness, not unlike what becomes of people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The movie cutely refers to these zombie-like people as “Stuffies.”
Writer and director Larry Cohen (It’s Alive trilogy, Q: The Winged Serpent) is best appreciated when considering his high concepts that are rooted in a believable reality. Not only is The Stuff a smart satire in concept, but it’s even more relevant in today’s world. The concept of corporate personhood in America has only expanded since The Stuff’s 1985 release. The food industry is just as corrupt and unchecked, while advertising is even more pervasive in today’s world. Consider that we now live in a world where ads mimic news content in the New York Times under the guise of “sponsored content.” One can’t help but wonder how Cohen would have played with such a concept in The Stuff or another one of his paranoid horror-comedies of the 70s and 80s.
It’s no surprise that the best parts of The Stuff are its parodies of advertising campaigns, as these scenes somehow manage to be plausible yet hilariously absurd. Most of these scenes occur early in the film, as competing food companies hire Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) to steal the formula for The Stuff. Mo is often seen sporting a classy grey suit with brown cowboy boots. He says things like, “My friends call me Mo, because no matter how much I get I always want mo.” This guy is quite the casanova. In one scene, he seduces a woman in a conversation that can’t be much longer than four minutes. Elsewhere, we follow the story of a little boy named Jason (Scott Bloom) who notices The Stuff moving around in his fridge, and soon realizes how sinister the product is. In one of the movie’s most hilarious scenes, Jason tries to destroy all the stock of The Stuff at his local grocery store. When Jason’s family become Stuffies he gets saved by Mo, and the two join forces to put an end to The Stuff’s hold on the American people.
Mo and Jason’s team-up in the first third of the movie is when The Stuff peaks. Almost as quickly as they meet up, they part ways. We don’t see Jason again for awhile, which is a shame considering how much fun his scenes are. New characters seem to come and go in a way that really bogs down the movie. The special effects leave much to be desired; they aren’t memorable in the slightest. (Which brings me to another point; for a horror film, The Stuff isn’t ever scary. At least it’s funny.) Towards the last third of the film Paul Sorvino is introduced playing a rightwing loon with his own private army. This is when The Stuff falls apart completely, as these scenes are tiresome and joyless. Despite its floundering final act, The Stuff gets enough right in the first portion of its runtime that it deserves a spot next to They Live and Troll 2 on your shelf.
Once again, Arrow does a good job at restoration, as the colors are very crisp here. This rerelease comes without a commentary track which I found to be a big letdown, as the long out-of-print Anchor Bay release offers one with Larry Cohen. Arrow commissioned a new 52-minute documentary that features cast, crew, and film scholar Kim Newman. There’s not much in the way of new information, and it feel drawn out at times. The release also features a booklet with a brief essay by Joel Harley, and a trailer commentary done by Darren Bousman (Saw II, Saw III). It should be noted that the trailer commentary isn’t commissioned by Arrow, but from the web series Trailers from Hell. This may be the least satisfying release in the way of special features I’ve yet seen from Arrow. | Cait Lore