Director Larry Cohen’s The Stuff takes me back to a time long ago when I was sixteen years old, a mere sophomore in high school, but my encounter with it actually comes a year later. I have this memory of my mother taking me and my best friend, Gerry, to the drive-in to see Invaders From Mars (1986), and before the movie began she asked if there were any movies she wanted me to look for when she went down to the video store the next day. I told her about Troll (1986) and I think The Stuff was thrown in there too, but Gerry may have brought that one up. My next memory is Gerry calling me up at some point and telling me his mother rented it and that he saw it the night before. I remember being jealous. I didn’t see it until it reached cable a year later.
Fangoria covered the movie in three issues—#40 (left), #42 (middle) and #45 (right). The movie even made the cover on #45! See the photo on bottom left of that issue.
Like Society (1989) and They Live (1988), The Stuff is still a socially relevant movie. At it’s core it’s about the marketing of a “food” that’s known to the marketers as being “harmful to your health,” which is putting it mildly, but ignored because there’s a lot of money to be made in getting the public hooked on it. I see parallels with junk food, which is relatively inexpensive, making it affordable to lower class citizens, while the “healthy food” is more expensive. Those damn drug commercials also come to mind. I can’t find a channel where they don’t run, and they have a litany of side effects, which the narrator is more than happy to fill you in on. But all this real world shit pales in comparison to this pseudo-yogurt called The Stuff.
For starters it’s not a food, it never was, it’s a living organism that’ll remind you of the Blob, if the Blob looked like vanilla yogurt. It comes from the center of the Earth (as theorized by the main character), and it’s not processed, just taken raw from this quarry in Midland, Georgia in tanker trucks and delivered to a plant where it’s shoved into containers and shipped out to anyone who’s willing to sell it. So how bad does your health suffer if you eat it, and keep eating it? Real fuckin’ bad. You have to eat a lot of it for it to “take you over,” to “consume you.” And once you get to that point you eventually become nothing more than a vessel for this organism. No organs, no nothing, just a walking meat sack to transport it from here to there and back again. It can also vacate it’s host if it wants, generally through the mouth, all of it rolling out in a flood to get at you.
The “possessed” have a name. They’re aptly called, Stuffies. If you pop a hole in a Stuffie, which isn’t hard to do, they’ll bleed Stuff, you can even knock the jaw off one, if you hit it hard enough, revealing the hollow shell it truly is now. Animals aren’t immune either, as seen in the flick a dog becomes a Stuffie. Oh, the humanity. The main mission of all Stuffies is to get non-Stuffies to eat The Stuff and become Stuffies. And it’s not too hard to become a Stuffie once you start eating The Stuff. Addiction is guaranteed. You thought sugar was addictive? Sugar’s got nothing on this thing!
So who’s responsible for marking this shit to us? Her name’s Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci). She came up with the marketing campaign and the name The Stuff. You can’t blame her, though, she was hoodwinked like the rest of us.
Early on when no one knew anything all the big ice cream companies got together eager to learn what the secret formula was. They employed an ex-FBI turned industrial saboteur, David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), to infiltrate the company putting out The Stuff and find out why everyone is hitting up local vendors at two in the morning to get their fix of this shit. I’m talking long lines here, people.
David aligns himself with Nicole, fancies her as well, and begins his detective work of tracking down the origin of The Stuff. This leads him first to Vickers (Danny Aiello), who has a Doberman he’s been feeding the “food” too. Vickers won’t tell him much except where they first tested the product in Stader, Virginia. But why is Vickers afraid of his own dog? This dog ends up attacking its master by barfing up its blobbish host later on when it thinks he was to forthcoming with David. Oh, yeah, apparently this thing can “reason.” Shiver.
Next on the list—a visit to Staderm which is now a dried up town with only a handful of Stuffies living there to take care of anyone who might get this far. This is also where David meets and for a little while joins up with Charles Hobbs, aka Chocolate Chip Charlie, (Garret Morris), a famous cookie mogul who had his company taken over by his own family who became Stuffies. While encountering a bizarre post office clerk (James Dixon), and then running for their lives from Stuffies, David and Charlie manage to find a place all the Stader residents moved to—Midland, Georgia!
As David continues his search for ground zero, the film segues at occasional intervals to a family so we can see the effects this organism has on average people. This family consists of before-he-was-famous Brian Bloom and his real life little brother, Scott, who play brothers. It’s Jason (Scott Bloom) who’s the focus as his family is slowly consumed and we learn that’s all Stuffies eat once fully taken over, but Jason won’t touch the shit because he saw it move in the fridge one night. He’s finally ordered to take some up to his room and not come down until he’s finished it all. Jason’s got a better plan. Flush the shit down the toilet and fill up the container with shaving cream, then pretend to be eating it. This works for a little while until the shaving cream he just ate in front of everyone decided to vacate his tummy. David picks him up down the road as he fled from the house, his family running after him like the addicted Stuffies they are in a creepy homage to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.
David heard about the kid when he made the papers after flipping out in a grocery store and trying to destroy all The Stuff they had on the shelves. Before-They-Were-Famous Eric Bogosian played a clerk chasing the kid.
Once David and Nicole are in Midland the movie really starts to heat up. Under the guise of a journalist eager to do an article on The Stuff, the both of them are seemingly welcomed with open arms into the factory and even set up in a cozy motel for the night, but this was all a ruse. The Stuffies set a trap for them in the motel. The Stuff was waiting for them inside their pillow and inside the bed. It all erupts out and makes a mess of the room.
This is when David and Nicole find that quarry it’s bubbling up and getting shipped out from. Dynamiting the quarry helps for a little while, but if they just had a local militia that could help them out with storming the facility in the daytime . . . oh, wait, there is this one guy . . . enter Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears (Paul Sorvino), David enlists to help him.
Time to storm the complex, a complex I should stress that has huge, fat silos housing The Stuff. A plot point that had me thinking of Quatermass 2 (1957). There were aliens in that movie contained in similar silo-like structures. Most if not all the miniature work done in this movie is very well executed, as can be seen in this part of the film when The Stuff vacates every single worker and merges into one huge mass that goes on a mild rampage in the building. It also comes bursting out of one of the silos in a last ditch effort to attack the militia.
But there’s one more piece of FX eye candy ready to assault your senses (see photo on the right). It’s in the final act after our main heroes of David, Jason and Nicole are now in one of the many radio stations Spears owns. They plan to broadcast a warning and an apology (from Nicole for having marketed it) to the world about what’s really in The Stuff. Earlier in the film Chocolate Chip Charlie exited the flick at the behest of David, sending him to D.C. to contact a certain FBI agent. He shows up surprisingly at the radio station and even though David’s thankful he’s alive he never did hear from that agent. This little twist I wish was handled better, because you can pretty much guess what’s going to happen. I knew it the moment Charlie appears out of the blue. Anyway, Nicole wants to pump him for info about The Stuff so they go to another room. By now Charlie’s acting weird, being evasive when she wants to know what happens to the Stuffies when the Stuff leaves the host. Cue the effect this movie is well known for. Charlie grabs Nicole, his neck muscles ripple and his mouth opens impossibly wide as The Stuff comes out. We don’t see it, but the end result is seen on the floor mixed in with the stuff, pieces of Charlie’s head. Yup, that shit just erupted out of him so hard it took his head apart! Don’t worry, David comes to save the day using electricity to kill it.
The word gets out and the public retaliates against anyone selling The Stuff now, even resorting to blowing up a business. Not sure how realistic that would be with a food product so outrageously addictive.
Our next to final scene is one of poetic justice as David comes to see a man he saw earlier in the film. His name is Fletcher and he’s the head of the company that owns and markets The Stuff. By the end of the flick Fletcher and one of the Ice Cream CEO’s we saw in the beginning have joined up to re-market The Stuff under a new name—The Taste! But they swear this time there’ll only be a small percentage of the actual Stuff in this new yogurt. Not enough to take over someone.
At gun point David sits the both of them down as Jason comes into the room carrying a box of The Stuff. He then forces the both of them to eat all of it. “Are you eating it, or is it eating you?” are his final words to them.
Anchor Bay released The Stuff here in the U.S. back in 2000, then Image Entertainment got a hold of it and re-released the DVD (without the Larry Cohen commentary) in 2011. UK based boutique distributor Arrow Video acquired it for a UK only blu-ray release in 2014, but as I hear they shelled out quite a bit of cash to do this 2016 U.S. release and thank God for it!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—1.0 English Mono—English SDH subs only
This 2K restoration is the same one Arrow put out in the UK in 2014. It looked spectacular then and looks spectacular now!
Extras included . . .
- Can’t Get Enough Of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Creature Feature (52-minutes)
- Trailer (and commentary on the trailer by Darren Bousman)
- Reversible cover art
- Booklet (23-pages)
(Note: Not ported over was the commentary Director Larry Cohen did for the Anchor Bay DVD).
I would recommend hanging on to your Anchor Bay DVD, if you like Cohen’s commentary. I did and turned this new release into a double set where that old DVD is now housed. If you’re a big fan of this flick, get this blu-ray! It’s a substantial upgrade from any and all DVDs in existence.