For all of Halloween-themed October, ComicsVerse is creating magic. By magic, we mean analyses of Halloween films, shows, music, and anything else we can find. If you want to keep posted on the newest and greatest content in this particular series, you can check it out here. Stay tuned for more ComicsVerse series coming your way, Spoopy Ghostoween and beyond! Now, let’s talk about THE STUFF!

Welcome back to THE UNSEEN HORROR. The last few entries proved that horror can come in all shapes and sizes. However, there is one movie that stands alone in that category.

A film that took on the commercialism of the ’80s with a tale of the most deadly of substances — killer ice cream. Grab your spoons and stock up the fridge, as we take a bite out of the ’80s horror comedy THE STUFF.

The Plot

A white, yogurt-like substances bubbles to the earth, and the discoverer finds that it is edible. The substance tastes (to quote Bart Simpson) “sweet, and refreshingly addictive.” The Stuff is marketed like ice cream and becomes a worldwide craze. The ailing ice cream industry hires David Rutherford, a former FBI agent, to discover the secret of the Stuff.

However, Rutherford discovers a greater horror lurking in the frozen treat. The Stuff is actually a living bacterial parasite; it gradually affects the brains of those who eat it, before taking them over and hollowing them out from the inside. Rutherford finds allies in a marketing executive, a boy who lost his family to the Stuff, and a right-wing militia. Together, they must destroy the source of the Stuff and wake up humanity.

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The Writing/Effects

Writer-director Larry Cohen wrote THE STUFF in response to consumerism and greed, as well as American’s need for junk food. He mentioned in interviews how he saw so many food products being recalled and thought a horror film about a dangerous junk food would be a great idea. The film accomplishes that perfectly. THE STUFF created cheery and believable ads selling people the dangerous desert.

The movie plays as a satire, much like John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE. It’s impossible not to shake your head watching people swarming stores for Stuff, or how families stop eating anything else. The movie gets a sharp edge because of that, making it more than a simple horror comedy.

Cohen experienced problems with studio heads as a result though; they wanted a straight horror film, while Cohen delivered a horror comedy. Critics wrote positively of the film, though, but distribution problems kept it from being a hit. YouTuber Goodbad Flicks describes in detail what happened in his review.

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It’s a shame because the film works well as a horror comedy. The satire is strong, but the crew clearly understood that the Stuff needed to be scary, too. The effects team used various tricks (perspective, rotating rooms, miniatures) to convey the danger. They performed just as well with the “Stuffies” (people under control of the Stuff). Impressive makeup provided great scares, especially as the Stuff exited the victims.


The Performances

A film works in no small part because of its cast, and THE STUFF has a great one. Michael Moriarty gives a charming, yet bad-ass performance as Rutherford, shifting between a simplistic front and a well-trained agent underneath. Comedian Garret Morris appears as “Chocolate-Chip Charlie” (a play on FAMOUS AMOS), and while he has little screentime, he too endears himself to the audience.

Scott Bloom debuts as the young boy Jason and shows remarkable ease with the effects and the horror of the Stuff. The most surprising cast member is Paul Sorvino as the head of the militia. He embodies a paranoid military nut perfectly but still makes him a likable character. He also provides my personal favorite line of the film with Rutherford:

“Colonel, I think you’re moving in on my lady.”

“That’s all right, son. You’ll probably be a casualty.”

The most important performances come from the corporate heads behind the Stuff. The actors give off just the right amount of corporate sleaze, especially at the end. Rutherford finds the ice cream, and Stuff companies are now making a diluted version of the Stuff that won’t kill, but will still be addictive. The absolute ease the company heads explain with shows how greedy and soulless they. It makes their comeuppance (gotta watch the movie) even more satisfying.

THE STUFF: Final Thoughts

THE STUFF is a movie I feel sad to review here. This film deserved to be a horror classic but failed because of outside problems. It became a cult hit though, proving its worth.

Horror fans should check this out for a unique mix of horror, satire, and a premise that seems impossible but actually works. The film shows how dangerous commercialism can be, and as the picture above shows, reminds us always to read the labels on what we buy.

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