Larry Cohen’s The Stuff

The Stuff is all the rage and people can’t seem to get enough lol, in a dusty, hazy old Larry Cohen flick that Shudder has salvaged for a VHS quality transfer. This is a great little schlock flick as long as you ignore the sheer, hilarious lack of a proper beginning or ending, seriously this thing just… starts without any sort of introduction and then when it’s had it’s fun it just… ends, quite unceremoniously as if there were multiple reels missing from the original print. What’s in between is top shelf schlock with bizarrely earnest performances from a terrific cast and some gloriously gooey, visually stimulating practical effects. Hollywood character actor royalty and Cohen regular Michael Moriarty plays some kind of corporate investigator who is mighty suspicious of The Stuff.. what is ‘The Stuff’, exactly? It’s a sentient, gelatinous white goo that literally bubbles up from crevices beneath the earth and has now been patented by a food processing conglomerate and marketed as a tasty ice cream style dessert, to massive popularity and demand from the public. Only problem is, this stuff has a malicious agenda and not only inspires dangerous cravings and maniacal addiction in its indulgers, it takes over their minds and even physically attacks them. As in all Cohen flicks there is deft social satire woven in amongst the slime and there’s something in here about mad consumerism and the unchecked corporate greed that fuels it, brought to deadpan life by some truly great actors having a blast of hammy fun. Moriarty is always on his A game and rocks it here, with a crisp suit and cowboy boots as oiled up as his attitude, while we are treated to great supporting work from Paul Sorvino as an impossibly patriotic army colonel and the late great Danny Aiello as a smarmy company man who gets his just desserts. There’s a genuinely creepy sequence where a young boy’s entire family, now mentally enslaved by The Stuff, cajoles and coerces him into eating it, it’s a terrifically suspenseful midsection interlude that’s most effective in raising tension. My favourite aspect of the film are the effects used for The Stuff, which are brilliantly tactile, wonderfully animate and really do feel like a disgusting 7-11 dessert full of horrible ingredients that has somehow come to life, like they melted down the Stay Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters and the remaining ectoplasmic goo started running about the place Terminator 2 style. I don’t know if a Blu Ray or even DVD transfer exists for this but the version Shudder has gotten it’s hands on is so shockingly low quality it’s tough to understand everything that’s happening onscreen but on the other hand it adds atmosphere and ‘lo-fi VHS’ vibes that are appropriate considering the tone of the film. Good Stuff.

-Nate Hill

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