The Stuff (1985) is young, dumb and full of…disappointment

Larry Cohen’s heavy-handed consumer satire has long held a quasi-mythical place in my movie subconscious. Although I never got around to watching it in the late eighties/ early nineties when I was going through my horror movie phase, it achieved a kind of legendary status thanks to its ubiquity on the trailers which preceded both rentals and purchased VHS.

Watching it now, it’s cheap, muddled garbage. Full of cheap acting and even cheaper effects (even for the time), it wastes its admittedly interesting premise with a profoundly stupid and lazy script which often fails to skewer the concepts it’s satirising.

When a mysterious gloopy substance rises from the Earth, it’s quickly marketed as the newest dessert sensation. But alarm bells start ringing when the gooey snack turns its consumers into mindless addicts who only want to eat more Stuff.

Cohen’s very much a love him or hate him kind of director. A B-movie maven with a unique sense of humour that all too often becomes mired in sometimes intentional camp. With “The Stuff”, I quickly found myself very firmly in the ‘hate’ camp. It’s so clumsily obvious about its satirical target that it veers haphazardly across genre and tone from body horror to parody to satire to social commentary with no sign of a unifying vision.

It starts in the most stupid way when someone sees some weird chemical goo bubbling up from the ground and immediately decides to stick their fingers in it and taste it. Sure, okay. Before you know it, it’s being mined and merchandised across the US of A and consumers are lapping it up.

The movie can’t seem to really make its mind up about what the Stuff actually is. Is it some kind of mind-control invasion of the bodysnatchers style subversion or is it an addictive narcotic being pushed by rich men in suits or is it just a milky white Blob rip-off.

All of these inconsistencies may have been less obvious had the performances not been so bad. Michael Moriarty is absolutely terrible as our, for want of a better word, hero and he’s matched in the awful acting stakes by Paul Sorvino who stinks the place up as a retired US Army General who now runs a private militia. In fact, there’s so much ham and wood on show this film is like the chef’s special at a hipster charcuterie in Shoreditch.

Maybe it’s because I waited so long to watch this and built it up in my mind that it disappoints so much or maybe it’s because it’s really just a stupid, terrible movie.


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