Creature Features in Review: The Stuff (1985)
Tonight’s showing has to be one of the strangest selections within the sub-genre Creature Features. And it because it technically is very much a creature feature, its makes the very in your face metaphor all the more brilliant. Of course, I’m talking about The Stuff. Filmed with a 50’s sci fi B-movie in mind and with voice-overs worse than a Kung movie, we’re guided through a fairly simply story structure with a much complex core. Its a creature flick that begs the question, if we are consumers of the creature are we not in fact monsters ourselves? The Stuff, for all purposes, has lasted the test of time and remains one of the best 1980’s anti-consumerist flick. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out a trailer on YouTube and give it a chance. 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, or horrible horror in general, you might just enjoy yourself.
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 an attempt 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; unless you’re a connoisseur (see what I did there?) of obscure horror, The Stuff is by far one of the most obscure-ee horror movies I’ve ever seen. This very low-budget does take on, as other classic horror flicks such as Dawn of the Dead (78), American consumerism and consumption during the 1980’s. Some of the other films during this era, and some of my personal favorites of glorified 80’s consumerism, include Evil Dead 2, Friday the 13th part 8, and Videodrome.
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 of the movie, cheesy effects and a hammy attempt at saying something, is there anything beneath? I’d point out all the random commercials that pop up during the movie which I think are brilliant parodies to everyday life. It almost calls out the audience (we) and asks if we can tell the difference. Are we that conformed to commercials that even fake ones seem real to us? This aspect really reminds of the appeal in Invasion of the Body Snatches, more especially the 1978 version as it focused more on the characters and their doppelgangers. Its about paranoia, almost, and The Stuff really brings that paranoia into focus. Can we trust anyone to be objective regarding a product that they are bought into? Can we trust a representative or legislator to be unbiased toward a private sector entity when (s)he get’s campaign donations from private corporations? Not to get political, but…have we become like Jason, being told to “eat it” because its good for us?
As the movie comes to an end, following the efforts of a few good men and women, and a boy, the public becomes aware of the vile intentions of the conglomerates pushing the fluffy white alien goo. People “wake up” and see how The Stuff is actually a living thing. Yet, as the credits roll, 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 a true nihilistic ending as anyone can get, that there will always be more Stuff.
If you’re screening The Stuff for the first time, it will time some getting used to the low quality in which the film was shot, unless you are already a member of the 80s splatter zombie corp and uber-obscure VHS demon flick rentals from Italy club. If that’s the case, then the low budget shouldn’t throw you off. The story is there if you’re willing to follow it. 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 The Stuff of legend (oh man, I kill myself).
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Thomas S. Flowers creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Someone I know actually reviewed this one. I don’t know how I missed this in 1985. I watched quite a bit of bad horror back then. Michael “I never met an alcohol I didn’t like” Moriarty was the lead? I am sure he did his best to emote his way through this flick but quietly. Good review, Thomas!
July 6, 2017 at 4:00 pm
Thanks, Susan. I first watched this gem back a few years ago. Totally missed it growing up during the VHS horror rental era. Its a fun romp. Larry Cohen always seems to have some sort of “message” in his movies.
July 6, 2017 at 6:35 pm
Shall we discuss post-horror, Thomas, LOL?
July 7, 2017 at 5:44 am
haha, Lord. I had to look this one up. I had no idea there was an actual conversation being had on a so-called new subgenre called “Post Horror.” Personally, i like categories and ways of identification and definition, however i’m not entirely legalistic either. Horror is by definition (there i go again) a boundary breaker and is by intention to bring those questions of society and civilization to the forefront.
July 7, 2017 at 6:40 pm
To me, it is a silly, redundant argument designed for certain people to feel intellectually superior, lol. Twitter, ladies & gents.
July 8, 2017 at 9:34 pm
Lol, there’s always a couple in a basket.
July 9, 2017 at 12:27 pm
Are you eating it…or is it eating you?
The Stuff SHOULD be easy to hate, but it gets in your gut and sticks to your ribs like kick-ass 80’s horror should. This may not be the foundation of the genre, but it’s definitely an important example of legacy, blending some of the best bits of techniquefrom the four preceding decades of sci-fi & horror filmmaking.
July 6, 2017 at 6:57 pm
Too true. I do not think that any horror notice can sit through and walk away happy. It takes a true sojourner to see the deeper value in The Stuff.
July 6, 2017 at 9:57 pm
Like Susan, I don’t know how I missed this fluffy mess of a horror movie. From where I scream, B-grade, or even less, horror and science fiction flicks are as right as no rain in MAD MAX’S: FURY ROAD in post-apocalyptic Oz. THE BODY SNATCHERS (with Spock) and THE BLOB (newer or old) are the perfect mixtures of horror + sci-fi for me. Possibly as close as the taste of perfection enjoyed in a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.
Enuff fluff, I’m on the hunt for THE STUFF!
Excellent write, Mr. Flowers!
July 9, 2017 at 5:46 pm
Couldn’t agree more. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (78) is one of my all time favs. Very bleak and wonderfully acted. Plus young Donald Sutherland fro is pure joy to look upon. Watching these kinds of movies makes me want to write more sci fi.
July 10, 2017 at 12:55 pm