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The Stuff: in Review

Are you eating it…or is it eating you? During the summer of 1985, director Larry Cohen introduced America to the discovery of a mysterious, yet delicious, white gooey treat. Found by a group of miners bubbling up from the earth, the Stuff quickly sweeps across the nation. Soon after, conglomerates pick up the Stuff and break record sales. Former FBI agent Mo Rutherford remarks, with some disbelief, that folks are willing to stand in line at two in the morning, just to buy some Stuff.  Another protagonist, a young boy  named Jason, refuses to eat the Stuff as he watches his family become addicted, turning into mindless drones– craving nothing to eat but the Stuff. In one of the oddest scenes (yes, there are a few) Jason is forced to watch his family slowly slip away from rationality and into…something else entirely. When a coup to fool his folks into thinking he’s eaten some of the Stuff fails, Jason scarcely escapes, his father yelling out in the middle of the street, chasing after him, “It’s good for us Jason…it kills the bad things inside us.”

What…you’ve never heard of this movie, The Stuff? I’m not shocked; The Stuff is by far one of the most obscure horror movies ever. This very low-budget, low-known flick does join other classics dealing with American consumerism and consumption during the 1980’s. Some of the other films during this era, and my personal favorites of glorified 80’s excess, are: Evil Dead 2, Friday the 13th part 8, Videodrome, and Dawn of the Dead (1978- not quite 80’s, but close enough!). Film critic Brian Dillard had this to say regarding The Stuff: “another 1980’s horror flick… mixed wit and gore with anti-consumerist ideology. On the surface, The Stuff is just an exploitation flick — a jumble of The Blob [and] Invasion of the Body Snatchers… full of amateurish special effects and hammy performances.” If that’s what’s on the surface, than what’s beneath? Perhaps it’s the random commercials during the movie added as clever parodies; however, on some level the audience (we) remain oblivious. Are we that conformed to commercials that even fake ones seem real? After the efforts of a few good men and women, and a boy, the public becomes aware of the vile intentions of the conglomerates and that The Stuff is actually a living thing. Yet we (the audience) are left with the feeling that the profligate has been set back up as the company executives comment that “the Stuff seeps out from many places in the ground.” We are given the notion that there will always be more Stuff.

Only until recently had I the opportunity to watch this film. That’s how obscure this horror flick is; unless you are truly a master connoisseur of the macabre, you might just have missed this one. And to be honest, the only reason I even gave The Stuff a screening was because they were featured in the documentary Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue (PS: best horror docu out there!) After screening, it took some time to get used to the extreme low quality in which the film was shot. I’m not going to say that the low budget threw me off, because as even the proliferate horror watcher knows, at least, low budget doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. Just look at Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead as an example of how low budget films can become legend. The Stuff was filmed with the 50’s B-movie in mind and the voice-overs have a definite Kung fuish vibe. The story is fairly simply. There is no complexity here. But, despite all the setbacks, The Stuff has lasted the test of time and remained, as Dillard stated above, an 80’s anti-consumerist flick, in its own right. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out the trailer below and give this classic horror piece a try. I’m not promising you’ll like it, The Stuff will require some patience, but if you’re a fan of horrible 80’s horror, you might just enjoy it.

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