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DIRECTOR: Larry Cohen RELEASE DATE: June 14, 1985 RATING (US): R
CAST: Michael Moriarty, Danny Aiello, Garrett Morris et al.
// review by Beverley

Enough is never enough.

B-movie horror certainly has no shame when it comes to selecting bizarre and unexpected villains, but a movie monster inspired by a tub of yogurt certainly takes the cake.

The Stuff begins with a couple of rednecks who find white gunk spewing out of the ground. Of course, the natural reaction to finding this mysterious viscous substance is to eat it. It turns out, "The Stuff" tastes incredible and perfectly meets human dietary needs. Soon enough, "The Stuff" is being marketed across the country as the ultimate snack and dessert. There you have it, kids: if you want to be a food product tycoon all you have to do is taste random substances you find on the ground! As America becomes more and more addicted to this mind-controlling, lethal substance, a private investigator named Mo Rutherford and some friends he makes along the way try to discover exactly what The Stuff is.

This movie can get pretty disgusting, but because they use time-lapse claymation reminiscent of "The Thing", the gory bits are more comedic than frightening. The special effects are also pretty amusing in that The Stuff is always changing consistency. One minute it is as thick as Play Dough; and the next it is more like a milkshake. Really, it wouldn't be a B-movie without the terrible special effects, and it does add to the retro charm.

Speaking of retro charm, this movie has it in spades thanks to the advertisements for The Stuff spread throughout. The graphic design, costumes and music used to brand the stuff is packed with 80's nostalgia. If you've ever watched vintage TV station announcements or the music video for Justice's DVNO, you'll understand the buzz this gives me. If all there was to this movie was advertising nostalgia I would watch it and love it. There's something about taking a decade and playing with the aesthetic of that time that I love.

I really liked the anti-corporate "the modern diet is killing us and we don't even know where our food comes from" message, even though at times the movie clubbed you over the head with it by explicitly mentioning Coca Cola and McDonalds. I feel like this problem has gotten a lot worse since 1985, but as a society we are also more aware of it. Certainly it was an interesting approach to a theme that definitely needed attention.

I also feel like for a movie from 1985, it had fairly diverse main characters. The central characters were a white man (Mo), a white boy (Jason), a white woman (Nicole), and a black man (Charlie). Of course, Mo was always portrayed as being in charge and very comfortable and competent. Jason's story focused on the difficulties of the disempowerment children face in the home, and how when the power family members have can be abused. Rather than portraying Jason as a passive victim, however, Jason actively resisted the abuse and control he was being subjected to and escaped with Mo's help. Nicole and Charlie both began as successful business people, but eventually fall into old stereotypes. Charlie is Moe's loyal sidekick, but because of The Stuff he turns on Moe and attacks Nicole. He is introduced as the black friend who plays support and has typical black mannerisms, but in the end he is not as capable as the white male protagonist and attacks the white woman. Nicole begins as a career woman, gaining the respect of an 80s female audience, but gradually becomes the main character's love interest, a sexual object to other white men, and a caretaker for Jason. So, even though the film had some representation of minority groups it still reinforced harmful stereotypes.

I enjoyed this movie a lot. It was fun not just as a corny horror story, but also in terms of its aesthetic and as an object of cultural analysis. If there's one thing I can say about this movie, it's that it is sometimes unintentionally multi-layered. I recommend this movie for a fun night with a friend, it will certainly give you something to talk about!


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