The Stuff (1985)
WRITER: Larry Cohen
DIRECTOR: Larry Cohen
STARRING: Michael Moriarty as David "Mo" Rutheford
Andrea Marcovicci as Nicole
Garrett Morris as "Chococlate Chip" Charlie
Paul Sorvino as Colonel Spears
Danny Aiello as Vickers
Patrick O'Neal as Fletcher
Scott Bloom as Jason
QUICK CUT: The new taste sensation sweeping across the nation is The Stuff! Everyone loves it, everyone wants it, and no one can have just one bite! The only downside is it eats you back from the inside out, and takes over your body for its own nefarious purposes. Whatever that might be.
Mo Rutheford - A corporate espionage expert and former FBI agent, Mo is...morally questionable, at best. It seems like there's a good person in there screaming to get out, but Mo uses his smarts, and how many perceive him to be a down home country bumpkin, to get what he wants, no matter the cost.
Nicole - Nicole works for the PR firm that's promoting The Stuff, and is largely responsible for making it so popular. Well, if you don't count the addictive properties of it. She shows remorse for her actions once she finds out the truth, and joins Mo's crusade.
Jason - A kid who has a bad experience with The Stuff and learns the truth of it before almost anyone. As a lone voice against The Stuff, he is noticed by Mo and Nicole and pulls him into their crusade for...no discernable reason, really.
Chocolate Chip Charlie - The former CEO of the company behind The Stuff, ousted to make way for those who want to take over the world with it. He has his personal reasons for going after his former company, and befriends Mo when they delve deeper into the mysteries.
Colonel Spears - An eccentric militia type that makes Mo look positively normal by comparrison, who doesn't trust the government one bit. When he learns that his country is being taken over by a poisonous, mind-controlling substance, he does what any patriot would do and gets guns and soldiers to shoot things. A lot.
THE GUTS: The Stuff opens up in a snowy nowhere that may as well be outside my own windows, save for all the heavy machinery around. A guy is wandering around, checking things out, when up from the ground comes a bubbling anti-crude. In such that I mean this stuff is white. And apparently edible.
I gotta say, seeing a strange white goo coming up from the ground, my first thought would not be, "Let's see how this tastes!" But it works for Jethro, here. And when a friend comes over to see what the hell he's doing, he has the guy try some, and he concurs that it tastes good. So naturally they decide to try and sell it.
And we cut straight from that to a kid's bedroom, where I'm not sure if he's having trouble sleeping, or doing things under his sheets I should feel bad about watching. I'm going to go with 'woken up by bug bite'.
The kid stumbles around his house avoiding walking into the credits, and finds his way to the kitchen. Inside the fridge he finds a jar of The Stuff trying to escape. Hate to tell these people, but I've had fridges like that.
His father arrives and yells at Jason for wandering around the house and almost getting shot for being a burglar. He also failed to see The Stuff squishing around like my leftover steak three weeks later. Of course, once his son is back upstairs, the father decides to have some Stuff for himself.
In between scenes, they toss in a fake commercial for The Stuff and...y'know what, that has to be the worst name for a product ever. It becomes no less ridiculous the more I type it. And I live in a world where we have things called Plurk, Google, Beebo, and Yahoo.
The movie's ADD takes us next to a yacht where some Evil Businessmen are discussing how to get their hands on The Stuff, and make improvements on it. Or at the very least, sell it themselves.
Our friendly neighbourhood business tychoons are waiting for Mo Rutherford, a corproate spy and... Hey wait. Oh crap, that's Harry Potter Senior, from Troll! At least he's dressed more respectably here. Anyways, Mo used to work for the FBI, but was kicked out. Probably for dancing around to Summertime Blues in the LA field office.
Just as I'm hoping this will be a more bearable performance, Mo starts speaking with this weird accent, almost a southern drawl, but without any of the charm. He sounds smarmy and weird, and oddly affected, as he greets his evil overlords of evil.
They get down to business, trying to come to terms, and Mo clues them in that he knows they don't like him, or his methods, and reveals things he couldn't possibly know. At least, if he hadn't bugged them when they weren't looking. Ok, he's sneaky, I like that.
And he reveals he's called Mo because, I shit you not, "every time people give him money, he always wants mo'." And I thought Barry calling himself Duke last review was dumb... Speaking of dumb, I like that they acknowledge right off the bat that the laid back country bumpkin stupidity act is just that, an act. I can roll with that. And the quirky is growing on me, way more than he did as Harry Potter.
Mo then punches out another former FBI agent that works for Evil Inc these days, since he's a jerk. I gotta say, this is one of my favourite character introductions in one of these movies in a long time. A few short minutes, and you know everything you need to know about Mo. Smarter than he seems, sneaky, a smart-ass, and doesn't take any crap. He has totally turned me around on this character.
Back in suburbia, Jason wakes up and refuses breakfast, because the food was moving last night. Yep, I've avoided anything in a fridge with sentient food before too, my namesake. Smart move. But everyone else chows down on The Stuff, despite his protests that it's spoiled, and not right.
Mo heads over to his lab trying to analyse The Stuff, and they wonder how they can possibly not know what it's made of, because they have to disclose it to the FDA. Another person in the room explains it's like how Coke doesn't have to reveal their secret formula. And he does this after turning around, and JUST so happens he has a Coke can in hand with logo prominently displayed. Although I like the subtext of using product placement in a movie all about addictive advertising and foods.
We next jump to the filming of the next Stuff commercial, where Mo just happens to be! Go figure. He's there under the guise of a firm looking for some good PR, and asking the director, Nicole, some questions. He also tosses out another story for why he's called Mo. Geeze, in 20 years, he's going to be telling three different stories of how he got some scars.
Another quick aside; David Rutheford seems like a known quantity. Evil Inc knew who he was to hire him, so isn't it a bad idea for a corporate espionage agent to go around handing out business cards with his name on them? Even if everyone only knows Mo Rutheford, and not "David", he then proceeds to tell everyone he's Mo!
Sure, at least Nicole sends an assistant off to look into him, but they'll either turn up nothing which won't make much sense, or they will, and it will completely undercut any credibility Mo has.
After Jason trashes a supermarket's supply of The Stuff, Mo heads to an FDA official's home to ask around some more. He tries to find out why it was rushed through, what might be in it, but just gets some vague statements that it's just some food, not a full on drug, so didn't need much in the way of approvals.
Vickers gets almost rabid saying how much he loves The Stuff, and hopes no one has been harmed by it, since that would be a shame. He offers up more names of people involved in the panel to approve it, but Mo already knows they're not available. Most of them being dead and all.
The whole time, Vickers' dog is acting weird, and he is acting afraid of his own dog, unable to take his eyes off it, or turn his back on him. Granted it IS a big dog, but that is still some mighty odd behaviour.
We see Vickers about to give the dog a snack, then jump to Mo stopping at a Stuff shop a la Dairy Queen where people are still getting their fix, even late into the night. Then it is back to Vickers' place, where the dog has gone rabid.
The dog corners its master, even unplugs the phone to stop him from calling out! (even if it was already unplugged at the other end, but still an impressive trick), and then...oh ew. It barfs up a pile of stuff into Vickers mouth. Ben must be a bird dog.
Mo continues his quest for the truth, and comes upon an almost empty Virgina town. The guy he's looking for has moved on, but another strange car arrives. Mo investigates, and gets attacked by SNL's Garrett Morris Good thing he takes Garrett out with one punch, because it would be embarassing if Mo got taken down by the guy not good enough to escape SNL for his own proper movie career.
And Mo recognises him immediately as, ahem, Chocolate Chip Charlie. Well, I suppose that's better than calling yourself Black Walnut.
Chocolate Chip Charlie seems to be the guy that used to own the company that now produces The Stuff. But he got forced out shortly after that product came on the market, and now he's on the trail of those responsible just like Mo. Since the town is abandoned, they try to follow the trail by hitting up the local post office, which directs them next to Midland, Georgia, where so many residents seem to have all moved.
They try and offer the postmaster a bite to eat, pump him for more information, but he just acts increasingly weird, and speaking in the royal we sense. He gurgles a little and runs out the back to do gods know what, leaving the pair to discuss just how weird that was.
While the pair discuss whose car to toss the body into if he doesn't come along quietly, we see the postmaster barfing up The Stuff, and the white goop making a break for it out the window.
And I never thought I would bear witness to white glop oozing along the floor, up a wall, and away. The things this site subjects me to.
They follow out the window to see where The Stuff went, and are soon face to face with a small mob of five people chasing after them. They run away, and fortunately they go in the direction where there is a handy escape boat. The mob catches up though, and Mo punches right through the face of one of them.
Mo and Chip make good their escape and head to a nearby diner to regroup. Fortunately they don't have any of The Stuff there so the food is safe to eat. Mo tells Chip he has to head to DC and meet up with Frank Herbert about the crappy Dune movie being made and...no wait, that's the name of an FBI agent. Nevermind.
And surprise! The waitress goes in the back and we see they have a freezer full of The Stuff. Mo heads back to the city, and gets spotted by a street vendor, and they chase him down and try to run him over with a well-marked The Stuff van. It's like if the mafia ran Nabisco.
Mo heads to The Stuff corporate headquarters, and finds an insanely forthcoming CEO, who tells him almost anything he wants. He admits that the original sellers were almost crazed, and addicted, and eager to sell it to the masses. He admits they own a large plant in Midland. And he warns Mo that he can't stop what's coming. And this guy ISN'T on The Stuff, so he claims.
The CEO tries to buy off Mo with a wad of 1000 dollar bills, and a contract to run security. And all Mo asks is if he'll have to eat The Stuff. So, he took the job?
We don't know, they never quite say, but is seems like he did. And the movie jumps straight from his question to the commercial director freaking out after finding out what The Stuff is doing to people. Nice editing there.
They head to Mo's lab, making plans to raid the factory for proof, which I don't know what they'll hope to get other than The Stuff, which they have plenty of! Mo's science partner shows him a story about Jason trashing the supermarket, and the movie decides it is time to connect it's plots.
Jason's grounded in his room, and finally comes downstairs, only to discover that his parents have thrown away all the real food, and replaced it with jars and jars of The Stuff. His mother claims she's dieting, and already lost five pounds. I'm waiting for the little Adipose to come running across the screen any second now.
The family tries to get Jason to eat more Stuff, and they are wonderfully creepy about it. Jason puts forth several arguments about The Stuff being alive, which the father shoots down easily with stuff like yogurt and yeast, which is way more clever and thought out than I would have expected. And the mother just grins and agrees with everything he says in a most energetic manner. This scene is so creepy, and so well played. It's totally over the top, but works perfectly for the subject matter of mind controlled pushers.
Jason tries to make a run for it, but they sic the older brother on him, drag him back inside, and force a bucket of The Stuff into his hands, which he has to finish before he leaves his room.
He takes the bucket into the bathroom, and dumps it down the toilet, but not before it tries crawling out. Once he's flushed his number two away, Jason has the brilliant idea to use shaving cream as fake Stuff, refilling the tub with it. Um, if he's forced to eat the whole thing, that's gonna be unpleasant. He should have just put in a spoonful or two, eaten that in front of them and said, "Done!"
After a few more bites, Jason looks sick and runs off, or maybe it's because he said he was tired and Stuffies don't get tired, and his cover is blown. Dad tries The Fake Stuff, and realises they've been duped.
Fortunately, that is the precise moment Mo arrives so Jason can jump in the car and escape. No stranger danger here, huh? Jason repays his saviour by throwing up the shaving cream in the backseat. See? Told you he overdid his plan.
They meet up with Nicole at the airport and fly off to Midland. Jason naps on the plane while the adults do adult things, like stopping the global conspiracy of killer goop.
It amazes me how easy they get into the storage facility. Granted, The Stuff probably wants to propogate so is more than willing to let people come to it, but it still seems like crappy security.
Meanwhile, some Stuffiteers attack the jet and pump the white stuff into it, just as Jason wakes up to see the flood of goo coming after him. He quickly runs out the back and into the nearby field. You would think they'd notice. And chase him. With their cars and trucks. Through the wide open field.
Jason makes his way through the forest and ends up at the distribution center. He sees a tanker arrive, and climbs inside it, which again seems like a bad idea, should they decide to refill it. And what if there was a few blobs left inside that could pelt him? How can the inside of the tank be so perfectly clean? Probably the same way it can be so well lit, I guess...
While all this is going on, the Mo and Nicole are investigating the plant, but not getting much of anything interesting they didn't already know, so crash at a nearby hotel. Where we get to see ANOTHER Stuff commercial.
*Jaw drops* They did a spoof of the "Where's the beef??" commercials, with the same old woman. I am laughing my head off. Ok, that gag alone makes all the fake commercial diversions worth it. They should have done more of that.
They pass out, and that night, the pillows rip open and attack Mo with their Stuffing. See what I did there? How the crap did they get into the pillows? Wouldn't someone have noticed? Does The Stuff have a smell TO notice?
Nicole has a brilliant idea to get The Stuff off Mo's face. By setting it on fire. As insane as this plan may be, and it is! I approve of any plan involving fire.
Surprisingly enough, it works, and Mo huffs The Stuff off his face. That's when another guy comes rushing in to attack them, since the pillow fight failed. He doesn't do much better, and the matress expresses its displeasure to the minion by errupting into a fountain of Stuff, burying him against the wall.
They set the Stuffgeyser on fire like they did Mo's head, and it drops the guy, but also sets the motel on fire. Oops? The pair escape and drive off back to the factory, watching the place burn in the rearview. And the effects of the burning Stuff thrashing around the room, both the effects of the movement, and the flames, are pretty freakin' good for the 1980s. A really nice scene.
Back at the factory, Jason is still jostling around the empty truck, and I get my fair share of giggles watching him try and stand in a shiny, metal, round tube as it bounces along poorly maintained roads. All while his compatriots are watching the trucks driving off to wherever in the middle of the night.
Unclear on just what their destination is, Mo and Nicole set about following the trucks. They finally stop at what looks like a planet from Doctor Who's early days, where they are picking up their supply of The Stuff.
Mo decides he needs to steal one of the trucks to use as proof against the company, and pulls out a handy yellow boiler suit he swiped earlier, not that we saw it, so he can blend in and go unnoticed. And he better hurry before Jason goes for a swim in milky goodness.
He wanders around the quarry and plants some plastic explosives he also just happened to have. Which, considering who Mo is, I can actually almost buy. And he sneaks right behind a Stuffed cop, so the Stuffies aren't any better guards than we are. Good to know. But he does get noticed by one of the drivers, but that guy gets knocked out by Mo pretty quick.
And of course, this is when The Stuff starts getting pumped into the tank Jason is trapped inside. Naturally, this ends up being the truck Mo steals, but the coincidence isn't THAT terrible, as he hears the kid yelling for help as the goop gets closer. If he had just grabbed a random truck that had Jason inside, that would have been a different matter entirely. Still coincidental, but lower on the scale.
More people notice Mo acting differently than the Stuffy Drones, and he punches his attackers in the face as he gets in the cab of the truck. How come their faces aren't crumbling? One, it's inconsistent with what we've seen, and two, that was AWESOME.
As Mo drives off, he sets off the bombs he planted, and they do some righteous damage to the quarry, raining rocks down everywhere. I do appreciate a good explosion or 12.
In the tank, Jason is talking to The Stuff, since for some reason, it's talking to him telepathically? Where did that come from? And speaking of in the backs of trucks, when Nicole gets back to their pickup to drive off and meet Mo, she's attacked by a Stuffy that was laying in wait. Where did THAT come from?
Anyways, she knocks him down to the ground, just in time for Mo to arrive and drive over the attacker's legs, which makes his head then explode! They're like toothpaste tubes, cool! They remember Jason's inside the tanker, and pull him out, just before The Stuff gets a snack.
A cop sees the truck driving around with the intake hose whipping around behind it, and pulls the Mo Squad over. They figure, rightly, that The Stuff has everyone in the county under its control, and fake being controlled as well, needing to eat The Stuff bubbling out. Since the cop is driven by his hunger to be filled, he is easily swayed to join them, and then gets knocked out by Mo.
Eeek, the truck drives through the night, and Mo threatens us with singing. No! I had quite enough of that out of you in the last movie we reviewed! Get somewhere fast!
Rather than get to a large city like he says he's going to do, Mo stops off at a nearby castle, owned by someone he knows, but doesn't know Mo. I'm hesitant on a castle in Georgia, but can roll with it, as I've seen eccentric people build equally strange things, in similar areas. Not the strangest thing in this movie.
Mo has had his trio stumble upon the local paintball tournament, run by Colonel Spears, an isolationist and survivalist with his own group of soldiers. Colonel Paul Sorvino is a bit of a conspiracy nut that the FBI had Mo track for a time, and that's how he knows about him. Spears is understandably paranoid of the FBI agent who spied on him, but Mo manages to appeal to his patriotic nature to save the country.
Spears is wonderfully nutty, and plays the crazy colonel role perfectly. He is exactly the type of nutter you'd expect him to be, and armed to the teeth to boot. His men bring the truck back to the Stuff plant, and say they found it abandoned, hoping to return it for a reward. The Stuffy at the gate shoots the driver, but his victory is short lived as Spears' troops pile out from...you know, I can't really say. They just kinda appear and shoot the shit out of the AIM wannabe.
The next few minutes are filled with a fun sequence of the armed men crawling all over the plant like it is their own private jungle gym, chasing yellow suited men everywhere. I am amused that they brought the kid with them, and he's unarmed. What are they gonna do, use Jason as cannon fodder?
After encountering no resistence from the Stuffies, the group comes across the bodies of the worker drones, all collapsed in a pile, dead by their own hands. Spears cracks one in the face, and it shatters like clay, The Stuff that was filling their bodies long since departed.
Nicole takes Jason away from the carnage, and stumbles into a room that begins filling up with a lot of The Stuff. They must have had a blast on set just pouring this gunk everywhere.
They try moving from vat to vat to try and stay off the rapidly diminishing floor, but there is so much of The Stuff, even the giant vats start filling up, their hiding places to be disappearing fast.
Jason and Nicole bounce across the room and to the door, but The Stuff is right behind them. It pours through the door like whipped cream is being sprayed at their heels.
Walls then start exploding and spewing The Stuff everywhere, but it can only go so far. Spears announces he owns some radio stations in Atlanta, and they fly back there to get the word out about The Stuff to the masses, which seems like it would only do so much good, considering it's taking people over pretty rapidly. Kinda like telling the arsonist he set his house on fire.
I love all the planes unloading gobs of soldiers, and an armed force rushing a group of cabs and driving into Atlanta. This so would never happen nowadays. And I can't believe it happened then! Everyone seems taken with dull surprise by the men with guns running around and commandeering vehicles, and thankfully people freak out once they hit Atlanta.
And the fun is added to by Spears telling his men to tip the cabbies, with a bonus. At least he's a well-paying crazed nutjob with guns and a personal army.
Inside the radio station, Nicole is typing up her side of the story, which will ruin her career, and she half jokingly says Mo can support her for a bit, since he has to make money via his corporate saboteur job. I love that she's so casually ok with him being a lying, cheating, blackmailing thief.
The movie finally decides to remember Chocolate Chip Charlie was in this, as he storms into the station to find his friend and partner, Mo. Spears comes in and doesn't want to let Charlie on the air, but Mo and Nicole fight for him, since it was his company stolen, and he can add more perspective to things.
Nicole takes Charlie into the recording booth to make his announcements, and once they're inside, he starts convulsing and dislocating his jaw like something out of Sssssss. Gasp of shock, he has been taken over and wants to share the gift of The Stuff.
Jason arrives so he can get trapped in the room too, as Charlie's face splits in two, and white sludge pours out of him. The Stuff must function with a highly developed compression algorithim, as the glop grows and grows, way more than could be contained within poor Charlie.
The Stuff spreads through the room, cutting off escape, and Mo and Spears can only watch through the booth's window. Well, they have guns. Spears wants to shoot the blob, but Mo stops him, since...what is there to shoot at, really?
Instead, Mo breaks the glass, shoots a giant cable of wires in half (Uhh?) then jumps through the open window, gleefully using the ends of the live wire to set The Stuff on fire. Which seems to work pretty well, all told.
They get the pair out amidst all the awesome flamey carnage, and finally start their broadcast, read by Colonel Spears, and this is why they cast Sorvino. Not only can he sell the survivalist nutjob that scares you, but he delivers this speech with such gravitas, such belief, you almost forget how silly this whole idea of killer desserts is.
Next we cut to Nicole narrating like this movie was a documentary of the rise and fall of The Stuff, telling us that the people believed the broadcast, and Stuff was burned everywhere. With many, many shots of containers of The Stuff, and billboards, and everything being set on fire.
As if that wasn't enough, we also get to see their Dairy Queen like locations getting blown up by the people, as well as the factory and storage tanks. The explosions are so big and loud, it actually drowns out the news reports of the carnage and aftermath of The Stuff's reign.
Now THAT is how you end a movie.
Or it should be, damnit. But no, we keep going, as Mo heads back to The Stuff CEO he talked to earlier. He tells Mo that there are other places The Stuff can come up through, they're not done yet, but Mo shrugs it off, saying they'll just find those places as well. And set them on fire! I added that last part.
The man who initially hired Mo to find out the truth of The Stuff also walks in on the meeting, now that they're working together, probably after they've both been Stuff controlled.
Mo gets treated to them revealing their next new product to sweep the market, The Taste...and really? Would the consumer public really be dumb enough to fall for that? And why the Friday the 13th can't they come up with better product names?! They can't even be bothered to change the packaging design much, even using the same colours.
But don't worry, The Taste is mostly dairy products! They're not using enough of The Stuff to give it a chance to take over anyone's minds! REALLY! We mean it this time! *facepalms* We are so doomed.
Jason comes in carrying a box, and Mo pulls a gun on the CEOs of Evil Inc, once they refuse to try The Taste, despite claiming how absolutely safe it is.
Mo holds them at gunpoint as Jason unloads the case of The Stuff in front of them, and they force the pair to eat it. Of course, it only takes a few spoonfuls, and they no longer need to be forced, and they're soon gobbling it down.
They leave the pair to their fate of having The Stuff eat them after they've eaten it, and we cut one last time to somewhere else, with people we don't know, selling cartons of The Stuff like it is an illicit substance. And I guess, now it is, feeding people's addiction to a gloppy, gooey substance that bubbles up from underneath the earth, unable to stop taking it...Oh, I see what they did there!
Visuals: It actually looks pretty decent. Good picture, filmed well, a little grainy, but it should be for its age and source, and care. Colours are good, and the fire pops.
Audio: It's a stereo mix, but sounds good. The only time I lose what's being said, is during the explodey carnage at the end.
Sound Byte: "I kinda like the sight of blood. But this is disgusting." Spears after shooting up some Stuffies.
First Blood: I don't know! When do people die in this movie? When they're Stuffed? Unstuffed? Cracked open?? I'm not even gonna try to figure it out.
Best Corpse: My fave is Charlie's. Amazing effects on his face, and seeing his cracked open head flowing through The Stuff is cool.
Blood Type - C+: There isn't much blood, but they get major points for effects work. The expanding jaws, the exploding heads, the cracked faces. So good.
Sex Appeal: Shirtless Jason?
Movie Review: Hmm. It's actually well made. The story is clear, it's got colourful characters, the acting is servicable, but nothing great. The filming is good, but the editing leaves a lot to be desired. The movie jumps all over the place, and just spins around a lot. A little more time to make a clearer story would have done wonders. The movie has way too many endings, and should have closed up shop after the broadcast and carnage. That was the right spot. Also, I'm surprised the big climactic raid happened two thirds through the movie. That is normally saved for the actual climax, and it was refreshing they broke the rules and tossed it in so early. I appreciate that mixing up of the formula, really. The other problem is the story itself. I get that The Stuff is taking over minds, hollowing out bodies, killing people...but why? What does it want? I can go along with ambiguous, unknown goals, but none of this seems to get The Stuff anywhere, aside from a lot of dead bodies, which doesn't really help it any. Since it isn't perfect, but has some good stuff going here, it gets a three out of five buckets of Stuff.
Entertainment Value: The Stuff is a bit closer to comedy than we usually get, but it is more like There's Nothing Out There, than Freaked. This is a genuine horror idea, with comedic elements and tongue planted firmly in cheek, and it mostly works. If anything, this is social satire as horror, which they almost manage to pull off. It's undermined by the fact that the premise is mind controlling destructive ice cream, but hey. They embrace the ridculousness of that idea rather than trying to take it too seriously. This was a fun fun fun movie, once it was all said and done. Mo is a great character, the effects are really good, lots of fire and explosions...I had a blast watching this, and recommend it to all Triskers. Four out of five, because I can't give no Mo.
Keep watching the supermarkets!