Stars: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom, Danny Aiello
Writer: Larry Cohen
Dir: Larry Cohen
There are many a film that date the 1980s as the time of indulgence, trends, and paranoia. Few capture it as well as “The Stuff.”
That is a bold statement, to be sure, but watch it. A new creamy, yogurt/ice cream dessert phenomenon has been drilled into the American culture, a dessert that seems to bubble out of the ground, have no calories, increase energy, and satisfy appetites. It is the Coca-Cola. It is Pepsi. It is a new titan on the market.
And there are ice cream and dessert companies who are fearing the new taste sensation will put them out of business, considering the new sensation, The Stuff, surpassed any FDA or any other food/government regulations, and is being distributed at will by a company.
Enter David “Mo” Rutherford (in a brilliant and having balls-out-fun performance by genre favorite Moriarty), an industrial espionage expert hired by the dessert companies to figure out how The Stuff is made and marketed and how they could compete with it. With his pretend dumb drawl, Mo asks his shady employers, “Do you know why they call me ‘Mo’? Because when I ask for something, I always want ‘Mo.’”
Yup, it’s the ’80s.
Switch to a young boy, Jason, whose midnight snack craving led him to see The Stuff “move” in his family’s refrigerator. Jason embarks on a skeptical and ultimately destructive attitude toward America’s “new taste sensation,” including attacking a grocery display, drawing Mo’s attention.
While Mo romances/influences the advertising director of The Stuff, Jason’s family ostracizes him, demanding he start to enjoy The Stuff, which they have begun eating exclusively. Jason attempts a rather humorous rouse to escape his family, meeting up at the right time with Mo, prompting Jason to explain his reasoning for puking in Mo’s car: “I just had to eat shaving cream!”
“Well, everyone has to … eat shaving cream once in their life,” Mo quips.
Oh, did I mention what seems to happen with hardcore Stuff eaters (later referred to as “Stuffies”)?
Starting with the mouth, The Stuff eats the head, the brain, and, ultimately the innards. And, during that time, it controls and consumes the consumer (subtle, right?). Mo and Jason meet up with Chocolate Chip Charlie (another hilarious turn by Morris, of a boatload of TV fame, including classic SNL), an industrialist also interested in how The Stuff has put him out of business.
When the crew meets up with Col. Spears (Sorvino), the movie takes, and embraces, the campy turn it had been speeding toward the entire time. And drives home the Reagan-era 1980s Cold War paranoia, the expense of consumerism, the price of excess, and the hopelessness of the American public to fight against corporate power.
So, bottom line: Why is this sucker here on the zomblog?
“The Stuff” expands, deftly, on what Romero introduced with “Dawn of the Dead.” In fact, Cohen’s take on the subject better encapsulated the pulse of the era. And it pains me to say that. Romero foreshadowed with “This is where we are heading.”; Cohen said “You know, you suckers, you were warned and didn’t care. And you still don’t, you sheep.”
Sadly, “The Stuff” has never been given its due. It is hardly a horror film, save for the few shots of mostly bloodless gore. It is satire first and foremost and handled better than Mr. Romero did in “Dawn.” While both directors were heavy-handed in their delivery, Cohen’s message was a sledge-hammer compared to Romero’s tack-hammer.
Zombies are of a collective mind: they all do what has been told to them via instinct: Eat and reproduce. By eating/biting us they create more of their kind.
Are we so different?