Friday, March 7, 2008

The Stuff (1985)

It's possible that this is the best picture from the 1980s. It's about this stuff that oozes out of the ground and stuff. A couple miners discover it. This stuff looks like fluff and bubbles like oil. One of the miners steals a taste and exclaims "mmm...tastes real good. Tasty. Sweet." Next thing we know the stuff is marketed and sold to every supermarket chain across the country. It's called "The Stuff" and packaged in ice cream pint containers. Unlike ice cream, this stuff has zero calories and no artificial ingredients. It also has an advertising budget that can afford Brooke Adams and Abe Vigoda. This isn't your ordinary stuff. It's highly addicting and contains a terrifying secret.

Larry Cohen (Q and the It's Alive series) created The Stuff. He's pretty much a genius. I'm not sure why this film has largely been forgotten, but it deserves a rennaisance. It's a pretty scathing satire on where the United States was in the mid 80s. Consumerism run rampant. Our motto was, and pretty much still is, "more, more, more". The jingle for one of many commercials in "The Stuff" tells us "enough is never enough". Executives in this film hold board meetings on yachts. The Food & Drug Administration is portrayed as a crooked organization that will approve anything as long as there's enough money in it. Danny Aiello has a funny guest turn as an FDA employee who justifies the stuff's approval by saying "it's not like it's prescription medicine. It's just a dessert". This is a world where the ice cream companies, facing complete collapse because of the stuff, hire former FBI agent Mo Rutherford (a terrific method performance by Michael Moriarty) to figure out what the secret ingredient of the stuff is. Why is he called Mo? "Whenever someone gives me money, I always want Mo."

I think the picture is probably misunderstood. It's certainly not scary in a traditional sense. The stuff is too ridiculous looking to generate any real fear. As the general population becomes more addicted, families start pouring the stuff into a giant bowl and eating it for dinner. Kids have the stuff forced down their throats. The more they eat, the more they become like automatons. Zombie-like, willing even to kill for the stuff.

A young boy sees the changes in his family. Thankfully, he saw the stuff moving around in the refridgerator one night and has since refused to eat it. His mother presents it to them at the dinner table and exclaims it's "the taste that makes you hungry for more" to which he replies, "why are you talking like you're in a commercial?" Eventually, the boy runs away from home after his Dad admits the stuff is alive but adds: "There's something alive in yogurt. It's called benevolent bacteria. In bread, there's yeast. We eat plenty of things alive that are good for us. Now, take this pint of stuff up to your room and don't come down until you're finished." The boy flees to join forces with Mo and take down the stuff.

Have you seen the Futurama episode, "the problem with popplers"? Well, this is where they got the basic idea from. The performances are all first rate from Garrett Morris (as Chocolate Chip Charlie, inspired by Famous Amos) to the hysterical Paul Sorvino as the bigoted, commie-loathing, sexed up General Malcolm Spears who upon seeing the stuff explode out of a human being for the first time says "I love the sight of blood, but this stuff is disgusting!"

The commericals sprinkled throughout the picture are beautiful (and funny) to behold. In one, Abe Vigoda eats at an exclusive restaurant with his wife and asks her in a zombi-fied voice (hard to tell if this was the intent or if it was just Abe being Abe) "how's the food sweetheart?". Her reply? "Where's the stuff!"

Ok, ok, humor can only take a film so far. There's plenty of terrific vintage 80s gore effects mostly involving stuff oozing and eventually exploding out of human faces. There's a nice little scene where Mo punches a "stuffie" and his face comes off. One stuffie is run over and bi-sected. Instead of blood, the infected in this picture bleed stuff. There's a terrific battle scene at the end when Mo teams up with Sorvino's underground guerilla's and attack the stuffies at their manufacturing plant. As I said earlier, sometimes the effects involving the stuff are a little weak. For the finale, the stuff becomes like the blob only it moves the way you would expect stuff to move. Clearly, these scenes are just gobs upon gobs of fluff (ernutter) stop-motioned and superimposed over the picture.

This one comes highly recommended. It's original, hilarious, and an interesting twist on the standard old monster movie. For the ladies in my audience, there's even a love story between Mo and an Ad executive who originally marketed the stuff, but has now had a change of heart. I loved how the film ended, with the stuff hitting the black market, although I think Cohen missed a great opportunity when he could have had a guy wearing shades and a fedora stroll up to the back alley dealer and say "you got the stuff?" Oh well.


steve said...

If I live to be a MILLION, I'll never master the trick of hot-linking. I tried it FOURTEEN TIMES in my latest entry, to no avail whatsoever. , you done me wrong.

steve said...

Hmmm ... guess I did it right after all! I get to join the cool kids club!

brian said...

Steve, I just figured it out myself.

1. highlight the text you want to link.

2. click on the icon to the right of the 'font color icon'. It's green, looks like a pair of little goggles (to me, anyway).

3. A little window will appear. Enter (or copy and paste) in the link you want to use.

4. Hit "okay". That's it.

steve said...

Wait a minute - did you say Paul Sorvino? AND Michael Moriarty? In a movie I've never heard of??? Does it star any other 'Law & Order' alums?

brian said...

I don't think so. Although, Andrea Marcovicci (Ad Exec) was in Trapper John, MD (I checked IMDB).

I think you'd actually enjoy this one Steve. I mean, it's way better than 'Triggerman'.

Sam said...

There are ladies in your audience? Dag.

brian said...

Nice observation Sam. Do guys dressed as ladies count?

steve said...

I don't know ... Jeff E. can be quite fetching, when he makes the effort.

Beepy said...

I had no interest in this movie until you mentioned the love story. There has to be a love story or I'm just not interested.

No, seriously, this is going on my Netflix queue immediately. It sounds great and I need a good movie after having watched "Beowulf." What's that, Steve?

Beepy, a lady

steve said...

To quote Sophocles, 'that was no lady, that was my manatee!'