All stills courtesy of DVDBeaver
A genuine curiosity, even for B-movies, The Stuff was one of the first horrors I was ever exposed to when it randomly came up on cable one night when I was a kid. Though it may not be scary (a pretty terrible metric for the quality of a horror film anyhow, since everyone is scared by different things) to anyone but althaiophobics, it definitely had a way of getting under my skin. Its singular style and off-beat premise sucked me in almost immediately. It has a much brighter palette and tone than most horrors, and has a charming slapdash quality about it that makes it feel like it’s always just about to go off the rails. Of course, you’ll realize at some point during the film that it was never on rails to begin with.
The Stuff is the story of a mysterious substance that comes bubbling from the ground in a pretty obvious riff on The Blob. The distinction here, though, is that upon discovery, people seem inexplicably compelled to eat the pasty white sludge before really even questioning what it is or what it’s made of. This inspires a nationwide campaign to sell the deliciously addictive substance to the population at large, using flashy commercials and an extremely catchy jingle, distracting from the fact that people who consume The Stuff end up like zombies and ultimately dead.
Though the film hangs its hat on special effects depicting the oozing, menacing gloop, they’re kind of a mixed bag. Even as a product of its time the masks on the victims of The Stuff seem amateurish, but I’m of the opinion that most of the shots of The Stuff itself, mostly fire extinguisher foam and what appears to be plaster compound or Fluffernutter (in scenes where it’s meant to be eaten) look pretty decent for what they are. I particularly love the rotating room set that’s used where The Stuff appears to scale the walls as there’s no scene in the film where the sludge looks more lifelike and, dare I say, threatening. Again, I doubt this is going to legitimately scare anyone based on the visuals alone because the whole thing is unabashedly goofy, but I think it’s effective enough.
Larry Cohen’s film is a pretty unsubtle treatise on unregulated industry, particularly the food industry. As bodies within the FDA and the creators of the product pile up, Cohen’s saying that the ostensible regulators of our food have been asleep at the wheel and are firmly in the pockets of corporations. It’s something that’s hard to argue with even 30 years later, and if there’s any scary element to The Stuff, it’s this oddly-prescient message. Execution-wise,I think it would’ve probably been a good idea to go one way into comedy or horror rather than trying to walk a tenuous line between the two. Though there are shades of great actors here like a young Danny Aiello, Garrett Morris, and Paul Sorvino, no one’s putting on any great performances because unlike the crreping ooze, much of this movie is pretty thin.
Working off the original print, Arrow’s transfer is beautiful, and much of the feature could be mistaken for something filmed only a few years ago rather than something from 1985. There are a couple of granier segments, like an exterior scene featuring Paul Sorvino late in the film, but if you’ve ever wanted to watch a movie about killer yogurt, this is probably the best way to do so until Activia gets into the production game.
The disc also contains a few extras, including the original (very jarring) trailer, a trailer commentary by Darren Bousman that was originally featured on Trailers From Hell , and a featurette called “Can’t Get Enough Of The Stuff” that features some commentary from Cohen and others about the production. Additionally, the disc’s menu plays the jingle for The Stuff, the world’s worst earworm. I’m ashamed to admit I was caught singing this one under my breath in the elevator at work yesterday.
The Blu-Ray release of The Stuff is about as definitive an edition as anyone would hope for. The quality is great and though there’s a scant few extras here, they’re all pretty worthwhile if you’re a new or old fan of the film. The Stuff has a particular nostalgia for me, warts and all, so I’d watch this again, but I recognize that I might be in the minority there. Still, if you’re curious about this curiosity, are a Larry Cohen completionist, or just want something to show between screenings of Food Inc. and The Blob, this package doesn’t disappoint.
The Stuff was released by Arrow Video on April 19.