John’s Horror Corner: The Stuff (1985), a social commentary told by a mind-controlling dessert food
This movie cover reminds me of the scene when the parents come home in The Gate (1987)…but they’re not really the parents.
MY CALL: Unintentionally hilarious and lush with social commentary, this story about a delicious mind-controlling ooze is sure to entertain despite tragic writing and direction. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Stuff: More amorphous enmities may be found in The Blob (1988), The Raft (segment from Creepshow 2; 1987) and Street Trash (1987). The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Live (1988) and The Thing (1982, 2011) all provide stories in which trust and conspiracy are tested during surreptitious alien takeovers. SIDEBAR: The DVD includes commentary from writer/director Larry Cohen. It’s pretty great.
A man stumbles across a delicious, pulsating gooey substance bubbling out of the ground at an industrial mining site, which he immediately touches, sniffs and tastes. WHAT!?! Now I’m no geologist, but when I encounter mysterious STD-like, sticky, gobbledy-gook discharges oozing from Mother Earth’s orifices I tend to keep a safe distance. I mean, why was it bubbling? Was something alive under the surface? Was it super hot? Is it loaded with some dangerous bacteria or fungus or virus? I doubt I’d touch it…let alone taste it! Did this guy not see The Blob (1958, 1988)? If he had seen The Blob I bet he’d of thought twice.
But low and behold it turns out to be a sweet, tasty treat which is readily–basically overnight–mass manufactured as a domestic dessert staple. This film is cleverly complete with television commercials for “The Stuff,” marketing it as an adult snack with the tagline “enough is never enough.” This tongue-in-cheek propagandist approach reminds me of They Live (1988) as we observe so much social commentary on the American practices of consumerism, advertising, and corporate and FDA ethics.
Like in so many other stories, a young boy (Jason) discovers something just isn’t right when he sees The Stuff crawling around in his refrigerator. Jason won’t eat The Stuff after seeing it meandering around the some Tupperwared leftovers, but his parents do and they’ve been acting weird. Like buying a year’s supply of The Stuff and throwing away all of their other food in the trash weird.
Luckily, an investigator (Mo) for a competing snack food company is also going around trying to figure out what The Stuff is made out of–and he’s not getting answers. It seems that all of the FDA folks who so suspiciously and swiftly approved the product have all left the country. Hmmmm…nothing strange going on here. Just regular everyday FDA stuff, right?
A theme song plays “one lick is never enough of The Stuff” and Models lasciviously lick spoonfuls of this homicidal yogurt; Jason’s mother testifies that she lost 5 pounds on a Stuff-only diet; and Jason’s father attests that it “kills all the bad stuff inside us”… just drink the Kool-Aid and the allegory cranks on. The satire is so blatant that it’s never obscured by the clumsy storytelling, which make the movie all the more entertaining.
The Stuff functions like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). You come into contact with it (via ingestion), and it gradually “replaces” you with a Stuff-replicant that’s like you, but not quite right. Once infected, the goal simply becomes to get everyone else infected…but not by force. When Jason refuses to eat The Stuff his parents angrily ground him, sending him to his room until he conforms. When Jason “fakes” eating it, his family is pleased.
Just try it, they said. What could go wrong, they said.
The effects include evil stop-motion marshmallow fluff and the gore and facial prosthetics are pretty good for the 80s and remain most entertaining today. At times, The Stuff oozes around like The Blob. But I was quite impressed with the pacing, however schizophrenically haphazard (LOL). Much of the movie (most of the middle) was without interesting effects, yet the utterly brash satire and senselessly incohesive scene transitions of it all keep me laughing.
Here’s something that’s never explained. At times The Stuff expels itself from its host, killing them. This never seems to serve any purpose.
Characters seem to come out of nowhere without ever having been established, then they may never be seen again regardless of the rapport they may have built. The randomness is major! For example, a conspiracy-theory-toting general leading a resistance to The Stuff happens to own two radio stations to spread his message. Oh, and his “army” takes taxi cabs when travelling in military convoys. WTF!?! Oh, and an infected guy just strolls past this army security by making a scene. Oh, and a cookie industry mogul has some ancient kung fu fists of steel. Oh, and this one Stuff-infected dog was his Stuff-infected owner’s boss. Huh? Just bonkers!
This is the face of frustration I had when trying to make sense of the plot.
Curiously, we never really find out where the stuff came from. Did it well up from deep beneath the Earth’s surface, did it crash land on a meteor like The Blob (1988), or did it come in a spaceship like The Thing (1982, 2011)? We also never learn its purpose. It’s clearly smarter than the mindless consuming machine of The Blob. But was it “trying” to take over the world like in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) or peaceful domination like in The Live (1988)? No motive is ever revealed.
The Stuff attacks in various ways.
This movie (or, AHEM, it’s writer/director) may have exhibited all of the smooth storytelling of an over-excited 5-year old trying to explain something he didn’t really understand in the first place. But like a child fumbling over his thoughts in a word-salad of excitement, The Stuff is not without its own special brand of charm. This movie and its franticly forced social commentary are hilarious and it is well worth a watch.