Cult fans have been clamouring for a decent upgraded release of this 80’s gem and Arrow Films continue their latest spate of quality recent releases to deliver the goods. Larry Cohen’s satirical horror comedy The Stuff is now on Blu-ray in the UK, and it’s never looked so good. In contrast to the previous DVD release this marks a drastic improvement, and if you already have this great movie, well everyone knows you just can’t get enough of The Stuff, so why not treat yourself, again?
The Stuff is a film which often gets compared to The Blob, and apart from the fact it features a gloppy mess of matter which poses a threat to humanity, this is where I believe the similarity ends. If you consider The Blob was far from original in its day, Hammer’s X The Unknown (1956) also featured a psychopathic matter which hunts people 2 years before The Blob (1958) was released, then it strikes me as being of no importance anyway. What is important is that Larry Cohen takes this concept, threatening alien matter, and then injects into that something new and wonderful to bring about a film that can certainly stand on its own two feet. Despite the commonality with The Blob and X The Unknown Cohen has taken a genius turn by instead of having humans hunted down by an ever-growing alien mass, it eats people from the inside out, and controls their minds, hunts them subtly and without posing an obvious threat; thus showing the stupidity of people in general to mindlessly consume if the advertising campaign is glossy enough, and how much the population put themselves at risk without giving it a second thought.
The Stuff focuses on the discovery of a strange and apparently edible matter which is discovered and then marketed to an oblivious public through a very successful advertising campaign- boasting memorable tag lines such as ‘one lick is never enough of The Stuff’. It looks like foam and comes packaged in brightly coloured serving cups which look reminiscent to ice cream containers. Everyone seems enamoured with The Stuff, and there is a reason behind that because one lick really is never enough, anyone who gets even a sniff of it becomes instantly hooked and can’t stop eating it. Little do they know it is actually an alien parasite which then controls them from the inside out. But not everyone is so taken in and a young boy Jason starts to suspect there is more to The Stuff than people realise, challenging his family, who are being controlled and act like crack addicts when it comes to shovelling the stuff down their throats, he finds himself in a whole load of trouble when they attempt to convert him to their way of thinking. Then we have Mo Rutherford, who is brought in as an Industrial spy by the competition to discover just what is in The Stuff and gets more than he bargained for. As Mo teams up with Nicole who was responsible for running The Stuff PR campaign, and a small time business owner Chocolate Chip Charlie who is being bankrupted by The Stuff, the team battle it out against the big corporation who run things and find themselves in grave danger as they get closer to the truth; with Mo posing the question to those involved ‘are you eating it? Or is it eating you?’.
I am a sucker for satire and The Stuff is one film that really does it for me. Twin that with a wonderful 80’s air, cheesy faux advertising campaign, shiny pink neon, models wearing legwarmers, or fur coats and bikinis while an 80’s power ballad style song pumps out in the background, it is a film that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The film manages to encompass that 80’s wild orgy of consumerism and MTV type advertising campaigns down to a tee. It also comes loaded up with a sinister undertone which contrasts with the gleeful Stuff promotion theme perfectly, and there are some great set pieces which support this as Mo digs into the truth. It is not surprising that this film has achieved a cult status in recent years, and it has been a title I have always championed as being a stand out piece of good old 80’s comedy horror. Bret Culpepper’s practical FX are extremely well done for the time; some stand out moments I cannot mention for fear of adding unnecessary spoilers, but the fake heads with Stuff exploding out of their mouths is wonderfully executed for a film of its age. Culpepper also worked on the classic Reanimator which was released the same year.
A large portion of my love for The Stuff comes Michael Moriarty’s performance as Mo Rutherford- ‘Do you want to know why they call me Mo? Cause whatever they give me I always ask for Mo…’ Moriarty plays the part with an understated and wonderfully subtle flavour of the tongue and cheek and makes for an interesting character, in a movie packed with interesting characters. Mo’s gift is he acts completely dumb, and his Southern drawl supports this notion to those around him, yet he’s always well ahead of the game and there’s no pulling the wool over his eyes; this performance is partway responsible for giving the film its sharp edge that makes it such an interesting watch. This was the second of 5 features that Moriarty did for Cohen; Moriarty appearing in Q The Winged Serpent 1982 before this. Andrea Marcovicci as PR lady Nicole makes for a capable female lead, conveying a strong moral conscience, although she does get outshined by Moriarty in the scenes they have together. While supporting roles from Garett Morris as Chocolate Chip Charlie and Paul Sorvino as the brilliant anti-communist military man are fantastic. Scott Bloom playing Jason is the youngest cast member manages to hold his own and shows solid talent for someone so young. There is also a small role for Danny Aiello as Vickers, which while limited to one scene plays out as one of the most sinister set pieces in the feature.
The Stuff may at first glance appear totally nonsensical and as such is really a product of its time, but then the 80’s was nonsensical, period. Scratch beneath the surface and it represents a stomach churning concept, with a plot that is stuffed full of witty satire, which also digs at white collar crime and the danger posed by large corporations, how money corrupts and governments are happy to blindly go along for a price. It is yet another of those films, and I seem to be reviewing a lot of these of late, which still rings true with a modern audience as people are only too happy to continue shovelling food and medicines into their mouths without a stopping to give a second thought to what is in them. In the collectors book which accompanies this release Joel Harley cites the recent UK Tesco Horsemeat in the burgers scandal as a case in point, and there is no wonder things like these continue to happen when according to a survey published by the BBC last year, one third of British primary aged schoolchildren think cheese comes from a plant. You would think in the computer, information overloaded society within which we exist today people would have got a bit wiser but it would seem this is sadly not the case.
Arrow have done a fantastic job remastering this from an original 35mm negative using a 2k scan from the print, the Blu ray is presented in 1080p high definition, and the DVD comes in standard. The Stuff is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio with the picture showing a great depth and texture. There is a strong depth of colour that does not become over saturated. Colours appear naturalistic on skin tones ( a few moments of pinky lips but I think this is reflecting off the light in the film, rather than the restoration process) but the richness apparent here also enhances the bright tones and palette associated with the film. Dirt and scratches were removed from the print and damage repaired however there is no evidence of unnecessary sharpening or DNR process. The texture is intact which upholds the 80’s feel of the piece, and the level of detail is brilliant with no noticeable loss; you can even see things like fingerprints on doors and windows. One surprising thing is how the FX hold up under the all seeing eye of digital upgrade; you really get a sense of the art involved in producing them as they appear here in all their retro glory. There is some slight shadowing and halo on a handful of moments (this happens maybe twice for all of a few seconds). It is not noticeable unless you are really scrutinizing the print, and therefore does not detract from the enjoyment of the film. There are tiny incidences of dust on the print; however this is a small compromise when you consider the level of texture and detail retained in the restoration process. Comparing this with the DVD copy I have this latest release represents a vast improvement in terms of quality, the Arrow blu- ray edition looking vibrant in contrast to the lacklustre DVD print released prior to this on a different label.
In terms of sound this comes with original 1.0 Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray) which is perfectly adequate, the levels are well mixed and there is a decent depth to the sound quality especially apparent in the scenes where The Stuff promo songs pump out. Dialogue is clear, and the sound effects are presented at their appropriate levels without overpowering the feature. This also comes with the benefit of optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing.
The release comes with the usual Arrow standard quality extras. The included feature Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature Feature comes in the form of an interesting documentary which provides some excellent insights surrounding the film, its themes, and the production; including input from director Larry Cohen, producer Paul Kurta, Andrea Marcovicci, Steve Neill and Kim Newman. I have been a fan of The Stuff for many years but have to admit to not knowing a lot about the film in terms of production, this documentary presented a great opportunity to rectify this and I found it particularly informative. Adding to this director and Darren Bousman provide an introduction and trailer commentary and we have a collector’s booklet with an exclusive essay from Joel Harley. This combo comes with the usual Arrow reversible artwork (by Gary Pullin) upholding Arrow as a label who put a lot of attention to detail in their packaging and presentation. My only regret is the aforementioned DVD release came with a director’s commentary and it would have been nice to have seen something similar included here.
The bottom line is this is an essential release for cult horror fans, those who already love The Stuff, and those who haven’t seen it alike. It represents a fresh upgrade in terms of quality and comes with some valuable extras. Witty, nonsensical, fun and fabulously 80’s Larry Cohen’s The Stuff is an 80’s gem and it is great to see it getting the quality release it deserves.
Stills (for reference only)