Director Larry Cohen is known for making movies featuring some strange monsters. He made a film about an ancient winged creature terrorizing New York City, and three films about monster infants…but are you ready for a movie about killer cake frosting? Tell the Blob to step aside! Well, I guess it can’t really “step,” it doesn’t actually have legs. Never mind. Here comes 1985’s The Stuff.
It seems that the whole country is going nuts for a tasty new desert, known simply as The Stuff. Nobody seems to know what it’s made of. It’s not really ice cream, not quite yogurt, but dang it’s tasty. Of course, competitors want to come up with their own version of the product, so they enlist the help of a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur, David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty). As he investigates he starts to see that some folks who have consumed large quantities of the addictive goo are turning into zombie-like creatures.
Speaking of turning into zombies, that’s just what happens to the family of a youngster named Jason (Scott Bloom). He first starts to get suspicious when he goes downstairs for a late-night snack and sees some of the Stuff crawling around in the fridge on its own. Soon his parents are trying to force him to eat some but he escapes and teams up with Mo to get to the bottom of things. This leads them to the factory where they find the white sludge being harvested from a big hole in the ground….not to mention of bunch of zombie factory workers.
The Stuff is clearly going for a horror comedy vibe, but it doesn’t quite succeed in either category. The early parts of the film go for more of a sly wink as Cohen tries to satirize ideas like corporate greed, consumerism, and our obsession with all things junk food. The earlier moments of the film actually work quite well. However, by the time we reach the third act, the film has descended into a much broader comedic approach. The sequence involving Paul Sorvino as the leader of a band of guerilla fighters out to storm the factory is just too goofy for its own good.
While we’re on the subject of things that are goofy, let’s talk about Michael Moriarty’s approach to his role. It’s just plain weird to see an actor who I usually associate with Law & Order essentially channeling Jerry Reed in the Smokey in the Bandit films with a bizarre country bumpkin schtick. It’s not an appealing performance and is comedically off-kilter. A far better comedic performance comes from former SNLer Garrett Morris as a former ice cream company mogul known as Chocolate Chip Charlie. Sadly, Morris enters the story for a brief moment early on and doesn’t return until the film is reaching it’s climax. He does get a wonderfully weird moment when he returns, though.
As for the horror aspect of things, there are a few standout scenes, but the film does not maintain that energy throughout. The best moment comes in a scene where a bed bursts open, spraying white Hostess Twinkie filling against a wall. This causes some poor schmuck to flop all over the walls and ceiling in a scene reminiscent of a sequence from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Just substitute blood with shaving cream. There are a few other freaky makeup effects that are admittedly a bit cheap but still kind of fun. None of it is terribly scary or shocking, though. After all, we’re talking about a monster that looks like a giant glob of toothpaste. Four out of five dentists agree…not that scary.
I certainly was entertained by The Stuff, but I think it would’ve succeeded better had the filmmakers fully committed to this either being a comedy or a horror film. The film dances between the two which ends up making The Stuff less of a tasty treat and more half-baked.