Impulse Buy Theater - The Stuff
Every movie has a core idea…a central nugget from which all other aspects of the plot/story, visuals and everything comprising the film are rooted in. The only thing I can think of at the center of the film we’ll be taking a look at is the following: What if cream filling was sentient and tried to kill us. I’m not even exactly sure how one gets to that point. Was it a mad Twinkies binge? Maybe someone’s family had to stage an intervention over Jet-Puffed marshmallow creme? Ah-ha! That’s it…someone watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers while binge eating Fluff marshmallow crème and completely missed the point of that entire film…woke up with a horrible stomach ache and behold…we end up getting 1985’s The Stuff.
Wikipedia lists the film as a science-fiction/horror/comedy…and while I won’t rule that out, after all, horror/comedies aren’t a new thing, it’s difficult to tell if the comedy aspects of the film are intentional or just due to it being a bad film. A vote in the comedy column comes in the casting of SNL alum Garret Morris as confection-mogul “Chocolate-Chip Charlie”…while an equally strong vote in the “so bad it’s unintentional comedy” comes from the fact that the film was produced by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, well-noted purveyors of schlock. [You say that like it’s a bad thing. Without that “schlock”, this website gets infinitely less interesting. – Ed.] Point taken. Another vote in the intentional comedy column is the plot itself: the heads of ice cream companies, seeing their profits dwindle to near nothing thanks to the dominance of “The Stuff” on the market, hire a former FBI agent turned industrial spy/saboteur to get to the bottom of a highly guarded question…what is “The Stuff”?
Let’s tackle that burning question before we delve into our protagonist. The film opens in snowy environs. Wiki tells me it’s a railroad yard…but it kinda looks like a mine to me…and given that The Stuff ends up being unearthed from the ground…well, I’m going with mine. Either way, a worker sees The Stuff bubbling up from the ground…not quite blending in with the snow around it. And his first instinct is to stick his finger in it and eat it…because I don’t know about you, but when I see a strange substance bubbling out of the ground, my first impulse is a taste test. Say what you will about the absurdity of this opening scene, I did find it interesting that with the snow and everyone all bundled up, there is a slight harkening to John Carpenter’s The Thing…which came out 3 years prior to this. Granted, I might just be making this up…as I’ve been slowly going through all the special features from Shout Factory’s recent release of that particular film. Anyway, back on topic. While the Stuff has a sentience and can move about, ala the Blob, its motivations and impacts line up better with either the Thing or the Pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers…luring humanity into a hive mind all the while eventually consuming them. Since I’m delving into cinematic history here, the problem with the film is that it is carried out much in the same way as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Another vote in the…um…let me think on that one…intentional comedy…maybe…ish?
Now that we know what they’re up against, let’s look at our dramatis personae. [Yeah, using high-brow terminology reviewing a movie that you just likened to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? Um…I don’t know whether to be impressed or question your sanity. Ah, option B. It’s always option B. – Ed.] We start off with our saboteur, David “Mo” Rutherford…who’s keen on repeating that his friends call him “Mo” because he always wants more. [I guess this proves the joke was old even before the assorted Wayans kin latched onto in skits for ‘In Living Color’. – Ed.] The YouTube video that got me interested in seeing the film (which you too can see here) describes the character as Huckleberry Hound. That’s certainly appropriate, but as I sat down to type out this review, I couldn’t help but think that this protagonist, as portrayed by Michael Moriarty (who, if the name sounds familiar, was on Law & Order for its first 4 seasons), is really kind of a non-entity for a fair amount of the movie. He simply goes from place to place, regurgitating his “Mo” joke and talking with people. On the one hand, this does a good job of setting up the threat and how such a product could hit the shelves (as Danny Aiello plays a former FDA board member), but if you’re thinking that this makes for an exposition heavy first half…you’d be absolutely right. In a parallel character arc, we’re introduced to Jason, a young boy who won’t touch ‘The Stuff’ ever since he saw it move on its own one night in the fridge. The movie doesn’t even bother to try and paint this kid in any sort of sympathetic light (unless giving him Return of the Jedi bedsheets and curtains qualifies…but even then movie, close but no cigar)…so instead any time he’s on screen, you’re going to be thinking ‘Great, that little shit again…you realize how badly I’d have been beaten if I’d ever acted like that when I was a kid???” Granted, it’s not a surprise the kid turned out to be such a little shit…as his family are all…well, at first, they seem like just self-interested wankers…much like most suburbian families in the 80s…and 90…and…I guess I could’ve just stopped at suburbian families, huh? But at least later on they have a plot device to fall back on as they all become controlled/addicted to The Stuff. There are others that come into play throughout the film…but these two are the main drivers of the plot. There is the aforementioned “Chocolate Chip Charlie” played by Garret Morris…but he disappears halfway through the film only to return briefly towards the end in what I guess was supposed to be a bit of a shock…but wasn’t really…at all.
The best way to sell this movie lies within its core premise: organic sentient marshmallow crème tries to take over the world. [Take that you all-natural Whole Foods patchouli-reeking hippie/yuppie/hipster bastards…maybe mother earth IS actually out to kill you! Sigh…I can dream. – Ed.] The effects the Stuff has on human physiology [Translation: the gore effects. – Ed.] are interesting and unique…but really aren’t going to fool anyone. It’s a low budget film after all…take it or leave it. As a creature-feature that mixes elements from all the movies I listed above: The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Blob, it’s certainly worth a look to put your curiosity at ease. Is it a classic? No. Is it worth buying? Probably not. Are you addicted to Oreos and need something to help you curb the habit? Then this movie is for you. [This really works with any cream filling based addiction. – Ed.] So if you can catch it on the cheap or for free, The Stuff makes for a light, fluffy bit of disposable entertainment. My only advice? Avoid any special editions that come with any sort of creamy desert…just sayin’.
Warning: film does contain an almost unhealthy level of 80s kitsch…including bad jingles and horrible horrible fashion…you’ve been warned.