5 out of 5
Directed by: Larry Cohen
The absolute jankiest of the janky; the King of B-Movies, Larry Cohen, offering up one of his masterpieces.
Let’s just start, the film says: we’re closing up for the night at the railroad, and one of the works discovers some white goop, bubbling out of the ground. Naturally, he decides to taste it. It’s delicious! A coworker comes over – hey, check this out – and coworker takes a nosh as well. Dee-lightful!
A Larry Cohen flick has no need for any setup prior to this. We can smash-cut through the next few scenes with similar bravado: ex-FBI, industrial saboteur Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty, to the delight of all Cohen fans) is hired by a whole bunch of old, corporate white dudes to figure out the secret of this new, calorie free and healthy Stuff that’s hit the market – clearly our white goop from the opening. Rutherford slinks around the crew and blackmails his way into a higher paycheck, then punches someone out because he’s a badass. Elsewhere, youngster Jason (Scott Bloom) has woken up in the middle of the night for a late snack, and discovers the carton of Stuff in the fridge tipped over… its contents crawling across the shelf.
This is all you will really need to know going forward: people love The Stuff, which is inherently evil; Mo can punch people out with little effort. The movie is both one of the most linear of Cohen’s – each scene has a clear throughline to the next one – and also one of the most enjoyably sloppy, for after its relatively slick first fifteen or so minutes, those “throughlines” are achieved by (seemingly) dubbing in lines of explanatory dialogue so that we can excise any possible downtime and just get on a-goin’ to the next ridiculous moment. The low-budget flag waves proudly: The Stuff is some type of parasitic goop, and we get some good – though super fleeting – shots of various mulpy liquids blooping around on their own, and then plenty of blue-screened moments with people reacting stitched into scenes so they can react to the goop.
The thing is, all of the stuff that makes this jank, due to Cohen’s exuberance behind the lens and workmanlike scripting, means The Stuff never experiences the Larco tendency to dip into unentertaining stretches or indulgences – it’s all just forward momentum. Production fiddling that demanded a tighter runtime may have actually improved on this, as Moriarty’s ridiculousness – and Garrett Morris’ scene-chewing, showing up as a karate-chopping business magnate – and the hackneyed effects, all synergize into a 90-minute stream of B-movie delightfulness: every line explains something or is a stupid wisecrack; every goofy camera zoom punctuates; every scene simply has merit within the silly context of the flick.
And that last bit is probably what sells it: while there’s commentary on consumerism here, The Stuff never wants to be an actual horror movie, or sci-movie, or anything except for entertainment. Like the mass-produced pap it’s parodying, Cohen cherry-picked all of the prime aspects of his various genre works and mashed them together to make an all-time great.