October Horrorshow: The Stuff

Some films have a premise that is promising, but then little works in execution. Such is the case with The Stuff, Larry Cohen’s sci-fi/horror/mystery/comedy from 1985. The problem with The Stuff isn’t that it tries to be too many things. The problem is that it just can’t do anything right.

The Stuff is not just the title, or the moniker for whatever is terrorizing the cast in this dog. It’s also a product. The Stuff is America’s newest taste sensation. No one knows what it is or where it comes from, they just know it can be found at the supermarket. It comes in some niftily-styled pint containers and can be eaten with a spoon. It sort of looks like a cross between marshmallow fluff and yogurt, but it’s up to the viewer to decide what it could possibly taste like. Either way, The Stuff is massively popular, almost disturbingly so.

A conglomerate of ice cream manufacturers is concerned about The Stuff eating into their business, so they hire ex-FBI agent turned industrial saboteur Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) to figure out just what this stuff is. It’s an odd trail that Rutherford has to follow. The Stuff’s composition is classified as a trade secret like Coca-Cola’s secret recipe, and all the members of the Food and Drug Administration that approved The Stuff for sale seem to have either disappeared or left the country. The more Rutherford investigates, the more it seems that The Stuff is changing the people who eat it. Changing them into what, is the question.

And that’s the end of any semblance of coherence this movie has.

The Stuff, from the opening scene, is a maddeningly disjointed film. Plot inconsistencies and bizarre leaps aren’t just numerous throughout. Rather, they pass for technique. Sometimes a jump from one scene to the next can make a viewer feel like they missed an important plot point. They didn’t. Larry Cohen just didn’t bother putting it in the film. The Stuff shows a complete lack of understanding of the art of storytelling.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the dialogue appears to consist of nothing but improvised first takes. Cast members constantly talk over each other or use inflections that make them hard to understand. Worse is when someone has to repeat themselves because the other actor sharing the scene missed what they said. This happens often. It looks like Cohen just threw some costumes on his cast and put them in front of the camera while only letting them get a few minutes with the script. I’ve seen plenty of bad acting in shitty movies, but usually it’s the performer’s fault. Here, it looks like Cohen was totally unconcerned with things like read-throughs and rehearsals. It’s truly a painful thing to watch talented actors such as Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino stumble through ad-libbed lines. It’s the responsibility of the director to make sure his cast has something to work with, and it appears Cohen abrogated that responsibility. The results speak for themselves.

The Stuff never, at any point, seemed to be a serious attempt at making a film. From the first scene to the end, the entire flick looks mailed in. It’s a lame joke of a movie. If you feel like punishing yourself because it has some cult cachet, don’t. This movie won’t raise your shitty movie street cred. It will only take away an hour and a half of your life. Alien: Resurrection is a far better film than The Stuff.