Larry Cohen’s “The Stuff” is one of those “so bad its good” horror comedies that’s managed to creep in to the collective consciousness of movie buffs since its release and for good reason. While much of the movie is so painfully ridiculous, it also kind of comes packed with a still very relevant message about consumerism and our obsession with junk food. You could mock it all you want, but when the credits roll, its message is a lot more sophisticated than bad green screen and horrendous sound design. Cohen’s film is wildly uneven in tone and never really decides if it wants to be sci-fi, horror, comedy, or complete satire.
“The Stuff” is a silly tale of mysterious white sweet goo discovered in the snow at a mining facility. Like anyone with common sense would, the man who discovers the substance he’s never seen decides to taste it and because it tastes sweet, decides it should be a dessert. Within a matter of months, “The Stuff” becomes a worldwide sensation, driving people to become rabid with hunger for the Stuff. Ex-FBI Agent “Mo” (“D’ya know why they call me ‘Mo?’ Because when someone gives me something I always want mo’.”) is assigned to investigate the appeal of the stuff and its ingredients. Along the way he learns that the stuff is actually an alien organism that drives its victims to become addictive fiends that turn on anyone refusing to eat it. Meanwhile, Jason a young boy, suspects the Stuff is not a normal food, and is anxious to flee his family who are rabidly hooked on marshmallow-like concoction.
In the end there are so many places this movie goes that it’s tough to write the entire narrative without sounding like you’re rambling in various tangents. The stuff is kind of like the blob in where it thrives on cold and consumes its victims from the inside out, and also has a sentience to it. There are also a ton of hilarious moments including character Jason being forced by his family to eat the Stuff. His natural next step is to fill a cup with shaving cream and eat that (genius!). This is the co-star of the movie, the one we’re supposed to root for who happily gets in to Mo’s car when he drives up beside him, unaware of who he is, or if he might be leading him back to his stuffed family. There’s also the bizarre green screen effects (that green room sequence is golden), and a pretty cool moment involving the stuff consuming a man like a wave along the side of a wall.
Such a scene is instantly destroyed when we notice the stand ins watching, are being hoisted on their sides. A lot of the properties of the Stuff are wildly ambiguous (how did they know it’d be vulnerable to fire? Why is it vulnerable to fire? Is the stuff one big organism, or the… semen of an organism?), and there’s never an indication if the humans are giving in to its addictive properties, or if it’s controlling their minds. This thankfully only contributes to the idea of satirizing the never ending urge for junk food, especially with the book end ad for “The Stuff” in the end of the closing credits. Adding to the fun, Cohen makes great use of his supporting cast, featuring Danny Aiello as an FDA employee held hostage by his Stuff loving Doberman, Paul Sorvino as a comically paranoid militia leader who charges in to towns with his army—in yellow cabs.
There’s also Garret Morris who is probably one of the funnier aspects of the film, playing “Chocolate Chip” Charlie, a man known for his karate kicks and love for Chocolate Chip cookies. “The Stuff” is deliriously dumb, but surprisingly whip smart, and worth the watch if only for the parade of nonsense that permeates through its ninety minute run time. Cohen’s film is such a delirious cartoon, but it also kind of feels like a companion piece to George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” While the aforementioned film is a commentary on rabid consumerism, “The Stuff” is a commentary on our vulnerability to consumerism and how much we love junk food.