Director/Screenplay – Larry Cohen, Producer – Paul Kurta, Photography – Paul Glickman, Music – Anthony Guefen, Stuff Advertising Jingles – Richard Seaman, Visual Effects – David Allen, Jim Danforth Effects Associates, Jim Doyle Theatrical Engines, Dreamquest Images, Paul Gentry, John Lambert & David Stipes, Makeup Effects – Ed French, Mike Maddi, Steve Neill & Rick Stratton, Art Direction – Marlene Marta & George Stoll. Production Company – Larco/New World Pictures.
Michael Moriarty (David ‘Moe’ Rutherford), Andrea Marcovicci (Nicole Kendall), Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Spears), Scott Bloom (Jason), Garrett Morris (Chocolate Chip Charlie W. Hobbs), Patrick O’Neal (Fletcher), Danny Aiello (Vickers)
Industrial espionage expert Moe Rutherford is hired by rival ice-cream companies to find out what the latest top-selling fast food dessert on the market known as The Stuff is. The Stuff has passed through FDA tests unchallenged but Moe soon finds that those involved have mysteriously vanished. As Moe investigates, he discovers that The Stuff is sentient and alive and takes over the bodies of those who eat it.
Larry Cohen, one-man auteur of such films as It’s Alive (1974) and sequels, God Told Me To/Demon (1976) and Q – The Winged Serpent (1982), was one of the most creative talents operating in the low budget field during the 1970s and 80s. Indeed, the low-budget field is one that Larry Cohen seems to prefer operating in, having resisted all offers to go up-market. The Stuff, one of the less popular works among Larry Cohen’s legion of admirers, is his take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – that is Invasion of the Body Snatchers as filtered through a satire on the fast-food franchise merchandising. The result is a small scale but consistently excellent film.
In The Stuff, Larry Cohen conjures a sense of creepy paranoia, especially during the scenes where Scott Bloom’s family start smiling pleasantly at him like a perfect American tv nuclear family while insisting that he eat The Stuff. There are some unique effects with the Stuff crawling out of windows; being vomited up by people and dogs; of Michael Moriarty and Andrew Marcovicci hopping between metal tubs floating in an entire roomful of Stuff; and a remarkable scene where Moriarty and Marcovicci go to sleep in a hotel room where the pillow and then the entire mattress comes alive, blasting forth Stuff.
As with all of Larry Cohen’s films, there is an eccentric sense of humour at play – Cohen, for example, has his seventh cavalry played by a right-wing militia group, and there is the wonderfully amusing image of them in camouflage gear and armed with machine-guns travelling through the streets in a cordon of taxis. The parodies of tv commercials are sharp and wittily on the ball.
One of the great joys of several of Larry Cohen’s films was the presence of Michael Moriarty. Here Moriarty plays to the gallery with a lazy Texan accent that contains a deceptively clever brilliance.
There is, as has been accused by some critics, a certain hurriedness and unfinishedness to some of the scenes as though Larry Cohen were operating on a budget that had run out. However, this is a case that has been overstated and The Stuff is by no means a jumbled effort at all.
Larry Cohen’s other genre films are:– the killer mutant baby film It’s Alive (1974), the bizarre alien messiah film God Told Me To/Demon (1976), It Lives Again/It’s Alive (1978), the werewolf comedy Full Moon High (1982), the monster movie Q – The Winged Serpent (1982), It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987), the witch comedy Wicked Stepmother (1989) and the mad scientist film The Ambulance (1990). Cohen’s other genre scripts include all of the episodes of the alien invasion tv series The Invaders (1967-8), the psycho-thriller Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969) and the psycho artist film Scream, Baby, Scream (1970). These days Cohen has gone into seeming retirement as a director – which is a great loss to the world of genre cinema at the very least – and his only work consists of screenplays for the Maniac Cop series beginning with Maniac Cop (1988), various Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct tv movies, the original story for Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) remake, the stalker film The Ex (1996), Uncle Sam (1997) about a patriotically minded undead Gulf War veteran, the hilarious psycho sperm donor film Misbegotten (1997), and occasional A-budget cinematic releases like Guilty as Sin (1993), Phone Booth (2002), Cellular (2004), Captivity (2007), the remake of It’s Alive (2008) and Messages Deleted (2009).