Film Reviews

The Stuff: When Junk Food Goes Bad

The Stuff is a gross-out science-fiction satire about consumerism and commercialized junk food. This is a 1980’s film that I first heard about from a Halloween-themed marathon list years ago on YouTube and I remember a small video clip of the film with one of the character’s heads expanding with The Stuff oozing out. It was years that I have seen this film. I watched it from Tubi recently to see the film again.

The film is a campy science fiction horror about goo seeping from the Earth being harvested for public consumption by a large food company. The product is called The Stuff. It’s a very vague name. It’s a white yogurt/whipped cream-like goo that moves around on its own in a bowl. It’s a sweet and addictive food thing that turns people into zombified drones hooked on consuming The Stuff. The Stuff is alive but not in the same way yogurt is with cultures and probiotics. It has consciousness and is slowly controlling the public through hive mind control. It starts with a factory worker discovering a weird substance on the ground. He eats it and was shocked that it wasn’t snow but something enjoyable. This was the origins of the discovery of the product only known as The Stuff.

Two female models holding the containers of The Stuff in fur coats smiling.
Screen shot from the film The Stuff (1985). Two models holding a container of The Stuff in front of a neon sign of the product’s name.

The film is an ensemble cast of various characters. It stars Michael Moriarty as an ex-FBI agent turned industrial saboteur, David “Mo” Rutherford, investigating the new product The Stuff for a rival company to get insider information. They want to copy the recipe; but, they can’t figure out what it is. Therefore, he goes to a small town trying to find the guy who found The Stuff. He finds that the company he is investigating is not cooperative and something weird about the popular product on the shelf. He finds people with elongated jaws with dead horror stares lying on the floor. He discovers that no one knows what’s in The Stuff, no even the employees who work for the manufacturing company. He bumps into a radio personality Chocolate Chip Charlie who finds his business stiffened from him by his other business associates and pushed out of his life because they became infatuated with The Stuff. The movie also follows the kid whose family enjoys eating The Stuff. They are supposed to be the typical American family. The family ends up bullying the kid into eating The Stuff. But he ends up throwing it into the toilet in which The Stuff tries to swim out towards the boy. The boy uses shaving cream to trick his family into thinking that he ate his weird dessert. He escapes the house and jumps into Mo’s car shouting that he saw it move too. Then the film turns into a campy road trip movie to investigate the product then warn the public about the findings.

The film is campy and, it has some dumb things I will not understand beyond it being a part of the times. For example, why is the only female professional turned into the damsel-in-distress and, why is there a child just following along with the military convention because he didn’t eat The Stuff? Why was the military so easy to find without going to an army base? This was very common to see in the 1970s and 1980s PG-rated movies that had plot holes no one was supposed to notice.

The two lead actors in the film are funny with the quips and retorts they do. Chocolate Chip Charlie is Garrett Morris’ loud character that might have been featured on Saturday Night Live 1970s. While Michael Moriarty’s character is like a sneaky cowboy investigator. The kid is a wise-cracking one-liner character who gets into trouble like a kid in a really bad and dangerous situation. The characters do interact well in this horror mystery. The plot and pacing of the film have a compelling build-up of suspicious and odd behaviours that pay off.

The film also shows people on the street, at their desks just everywhere with these containers that are iconic to the film. The containers look like they are a combination of an ice cream container and a mixed fruit yogurt container with bold horizontal strips to create the product design. The ice cream flavour Neapolitan (vanilla, strawberry and chocolate) and the mixed fruit yogurt flavour (blueberry, strawberry, peach) just without vanilla or peach. There’s no description on the container of contents, origin, nutritional facts (which did exist back then) or contact information unless you count the copyright line. The product is not only vague with only a common useless claim about no artificial flavours above the name but the weight of the product inside. The logo is a little flashy but plain because that font choice would have been common in the era this film was made, around the 1970s to early 1980s. The advertisements and branding of the fictional product have commercials that are in the style of food commercials that are flashy and memorable but don’t say anything about the product. For instance, Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” commercial which was originally about the think square cut of their beef patties and the happy dancing teens to a repetitive jingle like in many soft drink and candy commercials that always tried to appeal to teens. So that would have been The Stuff’s public persona why people would know about the product before getting hooked.

The special effects in this film are possibly the reason why some people would remember this film. A movie clip of Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garrett Morris’ character) with his head expand to nightmarish sizes because of The Stuff. The film has some impressive special effects. The special effects team built a prop of the actor’s head to expand and filled it with soft foam to seep out of the head in the scene. Another effect impressive to watch would have been The Stuff attacking Mo and his female associate through the mattress while they were talking about The Stuff. The whole film is filled with practical effects to show that the white ooze was alive, aware and after them. The special effects are mostly practical effects of shaving cream, yogurt, glue being microwaved, or filmed in reverse poured or sprayed to show movement.

The film was made before computer graphics being used over these expensive and difficult shots. There were computer graphics with the mock commercial of The Stuff being shown on the TV. The pink lasers with the 3D rendered cup of The Stuff for consumers with dancers and, the motion graphic logo was computer rendered. Also, anywhere fire and electricity were used computer graphics were there.

The themes of capitalism, materialism, the “army can fix everything” theme and commercialism are in this film. The film is a cult classic. The film is heavily satirical about junk foods. Larry Cohen, the screenplay writer and director of this film, was inspired to write this film after seeing various goods and materials being recalled because it was hazardous to people’s health according to the Wikipedia article about his reason why he wrote the screenplay. This film deals with a lot of themes about food contamination, large corporations purposely selling inadequate products just thrown on the marketplace for consumers to deal with, and heavily marketed products that don’t tell you anything about what the product is.

This is why I do recommend watching this film but not while eating. But they are some scenes that can be disturbing to people who don’t like body horror and people watching people play around with gross food then seeing them eat it.

Trailer for The Stuff (1985)

Genre: Science Fiction/Horror/Satire
Year: 1985
Duration: 87 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Three out of five stars

All screenshots are from the film
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