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October 23rd, 2011


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09:30 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: The Stuff
Night. Rural Georgia. An old miner is out walking when he notices a viscous, white fluid bubbling up out of the ground. He bends down and scoops some up with his hand. Looks harmless, feels silky and smooth, doesn't have an odor... What's the next logical step? Why, to eat it, of course!

So begins 1985's The Stuff, a film which proudly and cheerfully (and far too often) proclaims that it's a Larry Cohen production. Chances are you don't recognize Larry Cohen's name. He's an incredibly prolific writer/director whose name has emblazoned all sorts of memorable films (Q: The Winged Serpent, Black Caesar, the Maniac Cop franchise and Phone Booth, to name a few), but nothing actually good.

The Stuff is, for better or worse, a pretty typical Cohen film. After the miner tastes the goop and finds it delicious, the story skips a few months ahead. A new snack food, Stuff, is sweeping the nation. It looks like runny marshmallow cream, but it's low in calories and nutritional information. The dessert industry hires ex-FBI agent and all-around slimeball, David "Mo" Rutherford to figure out where it comes from, what's in it, and why the FDA allows it to be sold without proper labelling. Rutherford smarms his way through the investigation, picking up some allies on the way: Nicole (the marketing executive responsible for putting Stuff on the tables of America), Charlie W. "Chocolate Chip Charlie" Hobbs (a former cookie tycoon who's still miffed about being unseated by the popularity of ice cream), and Jason, a kid who runs away from home after seeing Stuff moving around of its own accord inside the fridge.

The Stuff is a parasite, and the nation is indeed in dire straits when Jason finally crosses Mo's path. Jason's family -- like most of the other families in the U.S. -- subsists exclusively on a diet of Stuff. In general life is still business-as-usual, but the Stuff addicts (stuffies) become agitated and violent when their Stuff supply is threatened. They've been posessed, and it's not pretty when the Stuff leaves its host (or when it goes back in, for that matter).

That this horror film is also a comedy almost goes without saying. Certainly you could handle this material seriously, but the subject matter lends itself to well to satire. To that end, we're treated to several advertising parodies and a pretty harsh sendup of modern consumerism. Ultimately, I think it succeeds, but on a small scale. The Stuff was intended to be silly, not to inspire introspection.

The cast is fairly impressive -- Michael Moriarty plays Mo, and we get Danny Aiello as an FDA administrator, Paul Sorvino as a bloodthirsty, commie-hating colonel, and Abe Vigoda as a random old guy in a commercial. The production value is good for the paltry $1.7 million budget, but perhaps gallons and gallons of goo aren't as expensive as one would think. Some of the special effects are quite good, and this was pre-CGI, which I love. I appreciate well-done practical effects, and I like to marvel at the level of detail and work necessary to acheive them.

Anyway, here's the trailer. It's not a great movie by any means, but if we wanted art, we wouldn't watch horror movies. It's supposed to be fun, and that's where it succeeds.

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31 Days of Halloween: The Stuff - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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