Blu-ray Review: Larry Cohen’s THE STUFF

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SHOCK reviews the wild Larry Cohen satire THE STUFF.

There’s a moment in the supplemental documentary on the back end of Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of THE STUFF where writer/director Larry Cohen remarks that his filmmaking style is akin to that of a jazz musician, that some directors are symphony conductors, but that he prefers things to be fluid, to go on tangents and follow different rhythms organically.

No where is that artfully undisciplined approach more alive and maniacal than in his still outrageous 1985 sci-fi satire THE STUFF, a movie that blends INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS identity paranoia with a corporate conspiracy thriller and smooshes them into a spastic, cerebral and charmingly goofy Cohen joint that’s as prophetic as it is riotously entertaining.

For many of us who caught THE STUFF on video or cable in the 80s and were mesmerized, rest assured the picture is just as deranged and wonderful as you recall. It stars frequent Cohen collaborator Michael Moriarty (Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, ISLAND OF THE ALIVE) as industrial spy David “Mo” Rutherford (“you know why people call me Mo? ‘Cause every time they give me money, I always want ‘mo!”) who takes the case to investigate the company behind global desert sensation The Stuff, a kind of yogurt that, as we learn in the opening frames, has bubbled forth from the earth. It’s delicious and totally addictive. It’s also a ravenous parasite that controls its host’s minds before bubbling out of their bodies and attacking any enemy who threatens its planet-conquering quest.

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Cross-cutting against Mo’s search for the truth, is the story of suburban kid Jason (Scott Bloom) whose family is in the thralls of The Stuff addiction. Except Jason doesn’t trust the treat as he first-hand witnessed it crawling about his refrigerator late at night. Unable to convince anyone that the monstrous slop is alive, including his now totally evil parents, Jason flees, hooking up with Mo and a spunky broadcaster (Andrea Marcovicci from Oliver Stone’s THE HAND) who had once endorsed the desert. They align themselves with a blustery, horny Colonel (Paul Sorvino, who is hilarious here as usual) to put an end to the mass-marketed fake-food’s reign of terror.

THE STUFF is a big, brainy, berserk and beautiful mess, jamming a half dozen genres into an anti-genre genre picture that has so many threads, subplots and oddball characters that you might lose track of them all whilst watching. On top of the meandering plights of Moriarty, Marcovicci, Bloom and Sorvino, there’s also witty and weird sidebars with Saturday Night Live vet Garrett Morris, playing cookie-king Chocolate Chip Charlie,  one of the brave souls who rail against The Stuff and yet eventually, in one of the picture’s goofiest and greatest FX sequences, falls prey to its power. You also get MOONSTRUCK actor Danny Aiello, who shows up as a suit whose dog is possessed by the desert. Not to mention the cameos from thesps like Rutanya Alda (AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION), Brooke Adams (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ’78) and even Sorvino’s daughter, future Oscar winner Mira Sorvino. It’s all completely insane and so much damned fun.

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Arrow’s Blu-ray looks amazing, a 2K scan from the original negative,  but their supplements are surprisingly light. The 52 minute, aforementioned doc CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE STUFF is the main attraction, where Cohen, producer Paul Kurta, FX creator Steve Neil, Marcovicci and author and critic Kim Newman reflect on the making of the movie and Cohen’s mercurial personality. Marcovicci offers many great anecdotes about the working relationship between Cohen and Moriarty and how difficult it was to act with the latter as he would constantly deviate from the script and improvise, to the constant delight of his enabling director, leaving the actress totally bewildered. Funny stuff.

Features also include a trailer and a Trailers From Hell spot with SAW II-IV director Darren Lynn Bousman as well as an illustrated booklet by Joel Harley.

If you’re new to THE STUFF, don’t go in expecting a serious, scary riff on THE BLOB, lest you set yourself up for disappointment.  Rather go for the screaming, sloppy, gooey jazz sax solo….