The Stuff. Film Review

Director: Larry Cohen
Screenplay: Larry Cohen:
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 87 Mins
Release Date: 10/03/14
Reviewed by Guy Adams

Larry Cohen, king of the unlikely movie. From the monstrous killer baby in 1974’s IT’S ALIVE to the ancient Mexican serpent god Quetzalcoatl taking roost atop New York’s Chrysler Building in Q, he is not a filmmaker who ever worried about whether his audience would follow him on his flights of fancies. In THE STUFF, he weaves a tale about sentient, killer yoghurt from the earth’s core that possess those who dine on it. A film that sounds ludicrous on every level.

Cohen’s skill always lies in the fact that he manages to pull these narratives off. In fact, he pulls them off in a manner that plays straight rather than descending into farce as anyone reading the synopsis might suspect. Quite how he does so I’ve never been able to pinpoint. There are lots of criticisms you can level at his films, they often seem in danger of falling apart in front of your very eyes, they always flirt with awkward, amateurish moments. A scene in THE STUFF where our heroes attempt to escape a rampaging horde of possessed rednecks offers a case in point, rubber-faced Michael Moriarty has a fistfight completely out of sight of the camera thanks to stumbling off his mark and becoming obscured by a billboard while Marcovicci and Bloom attempt to get into a rowing boat, an act they only just manage with the visible assistance of their ‘attackers’ who even go so far as to help push them off while still giving vague suggestions that they were just terribly unlucky in their attempts to tear them limb from limb.

But to write Cohen off for these occasional moments is to do him a great disservice. Yes, he stumbles once in a while, but he is never less than audacious in his ideas and determined in his approach. Perhaps it’s that sheer drive that carries us through. It’s impossible to not to get caught up in his clever, absurd stories and you finish one of his films with the warm glow that results from having spent time with a wirer and director who is truly innovative.

Of course, THE STUFF is a satire. Inspired, as Cohen makes clear in the excellent supplementary documentary by the advertising of cigarettes and the US Government’s endorsement of a lethal product, even going so far as to hand them out to troops fighting abroad. It’s about marketing, corruption and the naiveté of the consumer who will shove any old nonsense down their throat if it’s in nice enough packaging and promoted to them in a sufficiently bombastic and insidious manner.

Witty, unconventional and never less than memorable, THE STUFF is welcome on blu-ray. Arrow’s presentation is as exemplary as always. The HD transfer hits the right balance, there’s some natural grain but the colours are sharp and the origin mono audio clear. As well as the hour long documentary, featuring contributions from producer, Paul Kurta, actress Andrea Marcovicci, Steve Neil (who handled the plentiful mechanical makeup effects) and Kim Newman, there is also an introduction from director, and fan of the movie, Darren Bousman and the original trailer. One of their usual extensive and attractive booklets rounds out the double format package.

Like the fictional dessert that lies at its heart, it’s different, addictive and this reviewer found ‘enough was never enough’.