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Review: The Stuff Blu-ray

REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS

Ice cream and scream again as Tony Cowling takes a look at The Stuff on Blu-ray...

Larry Cohen’s 1985 film The Stuff my not be a classic, or even a horror classic come to that. But it is one of the best schlock horror releases that stands the test of time. I first came across this film after watching a few Troma films with my friends in my teens. While I loved the chaos and comedy of Lloyd Kaufman’s films they never really made much of an impression.

So when I saw a trailer for The Stuff I was prepared for much of the same. At the time I wasn’t aware of Larry Cohen’s body of work, though I’d watched Q the Winged Serpent without any knowledge of its filmmakers. Stuff takes its DNA from Q. A homage to the 1950s B-Movies. A real drive-in horror.

But underneath the ice cream and over the top special effects is a solid message. Okay it’s essentially The Blob with Häagen-Dazs, a monster romp with tongue in cheek comedy and inconsistent acting performances. But when you leave the cinema or drive-in and see all of the billboards, are dazzled by the neon-jungle of advertising, you do start to think about what Cohen really wanted to say.

While this is an attack on commercialism and the apotheosis of product, Cohen manages to deliver the message with bags of fun. The Stuff is the ideal product, delicious, calorie free and good for you. It’s everything advertisers of today dream of. So of course rival dessert manufactures are terrified. They hire an ex-FBI industrial spy to figure out the secret ingredient of The Stuff so they can reverse engineer the product.

Michael Moriarty who plays David 'Mo' Rutherford (they call him Mo because he always wants “Mo money”) is a caricature of a cartoon of a character. This performance, which is revealed to have been mostly ad-libbed in the commentary, leaves the viewer nervous and bewildered. It’s a perfect performance for the character and Moriarty has to be commended on adding an underlying threat to such a comedic character, especially his scenes with Andrea Marcovicci as Nicole the PR brains behind The Stuff’s success. She took a goo from the ground and made it the biggest selling food in America with her vision. I admire Larry Cohen for taking a beautiful woman and giving her a strong role. In 1985 you’d have expected somebody like Marcovicci to be fluff to The Stuff, but she’s the real brains of this outfit.

The Stuff offers some stand out cameos such as Paul Sorvino as the fanatical private army chief, Colonel Spears. Danny Aiello brings a touch of comedic tension as a nervous FDA inspector. Aiello’s reactions to his pet dog are hilarious. It’s Garrett Morris’s role as 'Chocolate Chip' Charlie W. Hobbs that stood out for me. A Superfly version of Willy Wonka with karate moves and a side order of wit.

With so many ad-libs, keep on filming at all cost scenes, The Stuff is shaky at times. It does belong to the age it was made too. The digital transfer leaves much to be desired. At times it felt like I was watching on the original VHS, which perversely gave me a great satisfaction as I don’t think films like this should look razor sharp. When you consider it was made for less than $2m you begin to realise how hard everybody involved worked to make the film a success.

The effect and the acting of The Stuff may belong to the 1980s but the message is sadly more poignant now than ever. The tagline from the fictitious advert, ‘Can’t get enough of The Stuff’, could be the mantra of the over indulgent 21st century. You may go away from The Stuff smiling or reeling from gory horror scenes, but it’ll be Larry Cohen’s vision and his message that will remain once you reach the bottom of your ice cream tub. We don’t eat the product, the product eats us.

Extras:

New high definition digital transfer (which is hardly an extra and isn’t that great)

Newly commissioned artwork

Collector s booklet. (Neither of the above were included with review disc so can’t comment)

Documentary – ‘Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature Feature’. An all-new 52-minute documentary. The documentary was certainly worth watching. Some insightful interviews form the filmmakers, cast and crew.

Original Trailer. I’ve heard there are many alternate in-film adverts made for The Stuff out there. It would have been nice to have a few of these included in the extras, though I understand locating them may be tough.

4 stars

The Stuff is out now on Blu-ray


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