Friday, April 6, 2012

REVIEW: The Stuff (1985)

I’ve been sitting at the computer, stumped now, for several minutes, unable to think of ANY coherent way to start this one. What am I supposed to say? What kinds of words could even begin to describe the sheer insanity of this film? It is a nonsensical and blundering piece of hack work with so little logic and thought put into it that it becomes a virtual black hole of anything forgivable. Moldy, stale, rat-bitten 80s cheese has never before been seen before the awe-inspiring ludicrous crap and a half depths of THE STUFF.

Director: Larry Cohen
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Paul Sorvino

"Everyone's gotta eat shaving cream every once in a while."
-Mo

Yeah, The Stuff, real creative name, right?! It’s about evil ice cream and…no, there’s nothing else you need to know. Start the review!

The film wastes no time in setting up its absolutely brilliant plot by starting with some crazy old guy, never identified or seen again in the entire film, walking around in the snow and finding a mysterious bubbly, white substance on the ground. Now, we’re going to play a game, readers…if you find something like this on the ground:


What would you do?

a) say “ew,” and walk back to wherever you came from,

or

b) lick it eagerly and readily, without even smelling it, showing it to anyone else or doing any research?

If you answered “b,” well…you’re probably the writer of the film, because that’s what happens. Seriously, what kind of retarded inbred hick would ever just lick some random crap he found on the ground? Usually that’s the kind of thing that STARTS some mental deficiency. This isn’t exactly Of Mice and Men where you have reasonable characters to balance out the stupidity, either, oh no…because after THAT, we see that the whole world catches onto this phenomenon and makes a new dessert snack out of it called, you guessed it, ‘The Stuff.’

…has everyone lost their minds? IT’S JUST SOME CRAP A CRAZY OLD MAN FOUND ON THE GROUND. HOW DOES THAT EQUAL WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON? Pfft. Next you’re gonna be telling me the rival candy companies are actually going to hire some doofus to investigate The Stuff for them and figure out what it’s made of...

The blank-eyed stare, the slightly parted lips...yup, this guy is our main character, and he looks like he was dropped on his head as a kid. Get used to every god-forsaken horrible thing about him because he gets the most runtime of any character in this thing! Hooray!

Oh, come on! Is it really that big of a deal? Well, I guess it is. The guy they hire, named Mo, is some reject from a Flannery O’Connor story or something, who constantly talks in a fake Southern accent and spouts out stupid lines. Don’t believe me? Well, when one of the hoary old businessmen says “You can’t be as stupid as you look,” Mo responds by saying:

“Believe me: nobody is as stupid as I look.”

What does that even mean?

DON'T QUESTION THIS FACE.

Oh well. We’ve got more important things to focus on! Like…this other storyline about a little boy named Jason who for some unexplained reason catches onto the fact that The Stuff isn’t what it appears to be. He tries to warn his family, but they seem to be possessed by The Stuff, so instead he just runs to the local supermarket and starts smashing every carton of The Stuff he can find. If you can believe it, it actually takes THREE GROWN MEN to finally hold him down and stop him – truly a great security team this grocery store has.

Somehow, I'm not sure this incident is going to be something these guys talk to their wives and friends about later. "Hey, it took me and two other guys to subdue a little kid!" "Did you at least get him before he did anything harmful?" "...well, he wrecked about half the store and put a real scare in a bunch of people first..." "You're a failure, Billy. A failure."

And what is Jason's punishment for this? He gets grounded…yes, really…okay, we’re just going to move onto the next scene, or else I’ll be going all night.

Basically Mo goes to this middle-of-nowhere town where he gets ambushed by a crazy black man:


This guy tells him that he used to be the head of The Stuff company, until he got swindled out of it by the current owners. We never really find out if that’s even true at all, but hey, if you can’t trust the word of a crazy man who attacks you for no reason, who CAN you trust? And why did he even attack him in the first place? Because he thought he was one of the guys who swindled him out of his old position. So, basically, he was just waiting in that one spot in this middle-of-nowhere town for one of the people from that company to come by so he could attack them…Christ, I’m never going to get through this! Nothing makes sense!

After that we get the most subdued apocalyptic breakout in movie history as our two “heroes” get chased down by a bunch of “Stuffies” (that’s literally what they call the people infected by The Stuff’s magical powers):

It's just so strange how little this scene is played up. It doesn't actually feel like it's supposed to be exciting and intense. It's played out like a really minor event.

Alright, so I guess after that they split up for some reason and Mo goes to visit this one guy from the Food and Drug Administration, who doesn’t really give him much useful info at all. Mo leaves, and then the Food and Drug Administration guy gets killed by his dog because they don’t have enough of The Stuff left in the fridge.

No, seriously. That’s what happens. I kid you not. The guy even screams “I’LL BUY MORE!!!” before the dog rips out his throat…am I on Earth? Tell me. Did I just get transported to some bizarre-world other dimension where nothing makes any kind of logical sense?

One thing I didn't mention in the review itself: before the dog kills him, THE DOG CUTS THE PHONE LINE TO PREVENT HIM FROM CALLING FOR HELP. HOLY CRAP. THIS IS INSANITY. I don't know if that's the best or worst thing ever put on film.

After that we go back to Jason again. His family tries to force him to eat The Stuff, as it is obviously possessing them at this point and making them insane and evil. He gets away by substituting shaving cream for The Stuff and eating the shaving cream instead, only his dad figures it out and they all chase him outside, where Mo arrives in his car, having heard about the supermarket incident earlier that day. Jason gets in the car and tells him about what happened. Mo, ever a master of diction, responds with the following verbal poetry:

“Well, everyone’s gotta eat shaving cream once in a while!”

What the?!---no! No!!! No they don’t!! Well, I guess that DOES explain Mo's character a lot more now.

Oh and by the way, that subplot with Jason's family going evil due to The Stuff’s influence? Never brought up again – this was their final scene. Is he going to get any character development that will let us see how he was impacted by the loss of his family? Nope! Oh The Stuff, you wretched excuse for screenwriting…

Then they team up with this chick named Nicole who used to advertise for The Stuff, I guess, but was turned over to Mo's side in an instant by his charm and character…or maybe just because she has the personality of a piece of cardboard and is incapable of making her own decisions. Either way. They go to the plant where The Stuff is created and leave Jason on an airplane. He almost gets killed by The Stuff, so he runs away and…okay, time for another guessing game.

Do you think he…

a) runs into the woods, like a smart person would do, to remain out in the open and able to find help,

or,

b) hides in an enclosed gas tanker in the middle of the enemy base in which any number of unpredictable and likely bad things could happen?

If you answered ‘b’ again, well YOU’D BE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. This kid is a moron! How did he even manage to get dressed in the morning by himself?

You're a stupid little boy!

Never to be outdone, though, Mo and Nicole COMPLETELY IGNORE JASON'S EXISTENCE AND FORGET ABOUT HIM. I’m not even kidding – they don’t ask about him at all or anything. They’re just dandy without him! They don’t even question whether he’s even alive at all. In the previous scene they left him asleep on the airplane and told the pilot to look after him – and now they just don’t even bother asking if he’s alright during the middle of this supposedly really dangerous epidemic?! Shouldn’t they at least be a LITTLE BIT CONCERNED about the life of a YOUNG TRAUMATIZED CHILD?! I seriously don’t understand who wrote this movie. Were they just actively trying to make as little sense as possible? How is it so hard to make just enough sense so the viewer’s head doesn’t explode?!?

But hey, I guess it’s easy to get distracted when something like this happens:

Be honest, didn't you have a night that ended this way in college?
.....
I thought so.

…yeah, I’d describe exactly what it is you’re looking at, but frankly I have no idea myself.

So FINALLY they save Jason and Mo takes them all to go see an old army buddy of his who owns some radio station or something, I guess. The army buddy is played by Paul Sorvino, who had some roles in minor movies like Goodfellas, but also in CLASSICS like Repo the Genetic Opera! Splendid!

Clearly stoned off his ass, but then again how can you blame him?

Sorvino does nothing but flirt with Nicole, presented in such detail that the film practically becomes a romantic comedy for a short period. Because that’s really what I wanted in a movie called The Stuff; a fat balding middle aged man hitting on a woman. Truly they picked the right focus for this picture. Oh and there’s a few minor parts in there about The Stuff coming to life and killing people…but that doesn’t matter too much…

At the radio station, the black guy from earlier comes back; remember him?! He shouts a lot about how he wants to bring down The Stuff company and how they wronged him and blah blah blah. Then they take him in the back to go on the air, but his head explodes in the same way that those who have eaten The Stuff do:

Uh, sorry, I don't think using your 8th grade detention doodles as special effects was the BEST possible idea...

Wait a minute, what? Wasn’t the whole point of his character that he HATED The Stuff? Why would HE consume it at all? The people who made it STOLE HIS CAREER! Why on Earth would he ever eat enough of it to make this happen? And he had already seen the effects of it before when he first came into the movie so it makes even less sense...god, this is too much. This movie can’t even follow its own logic anymore! Ugh.

Okay, so basically the radio broadcast goes on the air. We then flash forward to a later time where the girlfriend character is standing in front of a TV and broadcasting that people just believed them all the sudden about The Stuff and stopped eating it, burning all of it in the streets like some kind of Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 shit or something. So it was that easy to convince everyone to just stop and go back to normal? What about the kid’s family, who were so far gone that they were ready to kill their own child? What about all the people who were going crazy and exploding and attacking people? Never brought up at all, never resolved in any capacity. Everything is just peachy now!

Oh, and it isn’t over yet, either! We have another scene where Mo and Jason going to the office of the people who made The Stuff. Only two of them are there, even though earlier in the movie there was a whole board of them. They force the executives to eat the rest of The Stuff they’ve managed to salvage from the mass-burnings of it in the streets, and that’s it. Now everything is cool.

Except for, you know, how did they save that much of The Stuff without it going crazy and rising up to kill them again?

Oh, right, THIS MOVIE IS HORRIBLE. Certain movies get a lot of their garbage excused just for being “campy,” but The Stuff is inexcusably heinous in almost every aspect. Yes, it was trying to be funny, and I’d be lying if I said the absurdity of it all wasn’t entertaining in some ways, but it’s entertaining in spite of itself, not because of any actual jokes or good, sensible humor, like Ghostbusters or Killer Klowns from Outer Space used. The Stuff is just crap. The characters are annoying when they’re not ungodly stupid, the story is full of gaping plot holes and inconsistencies and there are a million things that are never resolved or explained at all. It’s all just too much. While you’re trying to wrap your brain around one ridiculous plot-hole, about a dozen more jump to take its place. There’s no sense, no logic and no brains to any of this.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check myself into a mental institution. I don’t feel quite right in the head anymore after this…

All images copyright of their original owners.