The Stuff (1985) – By Matt Singer

The Stuff has one of the all-time great ad copies on
the back of its DVD box; it’s arguably more clever
than the material in the movie itself. It’s potent
enough to immediately convince you that life will
never be good again until you sit down and watch this
picture. It promises a “outrageous horror thriller”
about “a mysterious new taste sensation” and “an
industrial saboteur (Michael Moriarty)” who is hired
“to uncover the snack’s secret formula. Together with
an embittered cookie entrepreneur (Garrett Morris),
they discover the horrifying truth: The Stuff is a
monstrous bodysnatching snack treat that turns its
hosts into monstrous zombies!”

Oh, The Stuff. You had me at embittered cookie
entrepreneur.

In the end, The Stuff isn’t quite a camp masterpiece,
but it’s close enough to recommend. It’s outlandish
in a way that makes its comedy unpredictable and
satisfying, and the effects are ineffective enough to
give it additional cheesy appeal. Writer/director
Larry Cohen is creative (and looney) enough to
convince me to embrace his patchwork plot and bizarre
characters.

He cast Moriarty as his lead; the Tony- and Emmy-award
winning actor (who’d later become the first D.A. on
Law & Order) had already worked with Cohen once before
in the equally quirky (though less effective) Q: The
Winged Serpent. Here he plays David “Mo” Rutherford,
the industrial saboteur who is hired by some ice cream
moguls to investigate the rabid success of a new
desert called “The Stuff” that they can’t reverse
engineer (and which looks like really feisty sour
cream). Only a low budget wacko like Cohen would make
his hero an immoral huckster, and then ignore the
philosophical implications of that choice by turning
the character into an unstoppable action hero with a
mean right cross.

When we soon learn that The Stuff is, in fact, a goo
that bubbles up from the earth and when ingested eats
out your insides leaving you little more than a fleshy
husk controlled by a pulsating blob of marshmallow
fluff. Mo’s only support against this grand, sticky
menace is, in the grand tradition of utterly
implausible movies, Jason, a small child who is
terrified by the food in his refrigerator. At first,
one simply assumes Jason is anorexic, but then he
takes his hatred of Stuff to all-new heights: marching
into a supermarket and destroying every container he
can get his hands on. It ultimately takes about four
dudes to wrestle him to the ground before he stops
breaking Stuff stuff. I didn’t even get that mad when
they canceled ALF.

Cohen’s message is so muddled. The general message is
the typical sci-fi scare tactic: you are what you eat
– and if you eat tub after tub of gross fatty crap,
you’re going to turn into a huge gelatinous pile that
will not rest until it devours your friends and loved
ones. Yet The Stuff is not an alien creature, nor a
product of science-gone-mad, it’s all-natural. It
even sort of looks like tofu. So, basically, do not
trust vegetarians with a sweet-tooth. They are hollow
soulless weirdos. But don’t take my word on it —
trust Larry Cohen!

And about that “embittered cookie entrepreneur?” He’s
played by Morris, an original SNL cast member without
the slightest hint of regret or sadness. He enters
the film in unforgettable style: Mo is investigating a
ghost town that seems to have disappeared after
falling in love with The Stuff when, suddenly, he is
attacked by a karate-chopping black man. Mo
overpowers him and stares at him, then shouts “YOU’RE
CHOCOLATE CHIP CHARLIE!”

The Stuff could have used a couple more moments worthy
of Chocolate Chip Charlie (Morris’ and his character’s
storyline are abandoned along with most of the
industrial espionage angle). The Stuff’s ad campaign
boasts the slogan “Enough is never enough of The
Stuff!” If Cohen had taken his own advice and gone
even farther over the top, he would have had an absurd
masterpiece. The Stuff is just a hokey horror movie
with terrible effects and lots of bubbling melted ice cream.