Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Warm Bodies has us thinking about other horror-comedies.
The Stuff (1985)
As a writer and writer-director, Larry Cohen has often had trouble bridging the distance between brilliant concepts and not-so-masterful execution—though movies like Q: The Winged Serpent and the It’s Alive trilogy are about as close to true B-movie paradise as modern cinema gets—and that was never more the case than with his 1985 horror/satire, The Stuff. Made in the heart of the Reagan ’80s, when the capitalist machine was running full steam, The Stuff offers a wicked little metaphor: a white, burbling, delicious goo—like Cool Whip or marshmallow cream, only substantial enough to eat at every meal—that people can’t stop buying, but ultimately consumes the consumer. It’s conformity by the spoonful and the public laps it right up, even as they pay an awful price for their gluttony. Cohen only follows through halfway, but an idea this good carries the film far enough.
It helps to have an actor as comically deranged as Michael Moriarty front and center. As “The Stuff” moves quickly from crude bubbling up from the ground to a nationwide sensation, former FBI agent Moriarty is hired by a rival ice-cream company to infiltrate the manufacturers and expose the substance’s dark secrets. Having worked with Moriarty previously on Q (and several times after this one) Cohen provides dialogue that fits his spaced-out delivery perfectly (“Everybody has to eat shaving cream once in a while”), and some of the mock-commercials and news reports surrounding this sensation suggest the vicious satire that might have been. But once Paul Sorvino comes aboard as the leader of a right-wing militia group bent on destroying Stuff headquarters, the films starts to lose the plot. Still, The Stuff remains a fascinating document of its time and a good lesson in half-realized potential.
Availability: Currently streaming on Netflix, and available for DVD and digital purchase.