Construction worker Harry finds a strange gooey substance bubbling out of the ground of the petroleum refinery site where he's working. For some inexplicable reason, he tastes it and discovers that it's delicious.

In no time at all, the substance has been packaged, sold and is adored by the American public. The nation goes nuts for the white, yoghurt-like formula - even with its generic name, The Stuff. Catchy jingles and a colourful TV ad campaign have certainly helped drilling the product into the general public's collective psyche.

Enter a team of shady business suits who, despite their best efforts, have been unable to either acquire rights to The Stuff - or learn of its ingredients. Hence, they hire an "industrial spy" - former FBI agent Mo (Michael Moriarty). As disagreeable and smarmy a human being as David "Mo" Rutherford is (he reckons he got his nickname because no matter how much money he's offered, he always asks for mo'), he soon proves his mettle by knowing a disconcerting amount of detail about these people who he's never met before ... and is swiftly despatched to learn the origins of The Stuff.

Meanwhile, young lad Jason (Scott Bloom) has started to notice that his perfectly chiselled, all-American family have become obsessed with the product. "It moves around all by itself" he tries to warn them, to no avail.

Once Mo hooks up with Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), The Stuff's advertising campaign leader, he begins to worm his way into its tight-knit group of owners in a bid to steal its ingredients ... only to team up with the junior cynic Jason and discover the substance to be far more sinister than even he first imagined.

But how do you convince a nation of brainwashed consumers that their new favourite commodity is killing them...?

Typical of a film that's been written and directed by Larry Cohen; this 1985 effort not only acts as a witty, fast-paced moulding of exploitation genres (black comedy, action and horror) but also takes the time to provide social commentary and biting satire in its pithy screenplay. In this case, Cohen concerns himself with consumerism, the fast food phenomenon and in particular the general public's acceptance of being spoon-fed lifestyle choices by relentless media campaigns.

That Cohen manages to tackle such subject matter without ever being heavy-handed or preachy, and that he never compromises the pace of this unflagging drama, is testament to his skills in exploitation filmmaking. But then, anyone who's seen any of his other works as director - IT'S ALIVE, GOD TOLD ME TO, Q THE WINGED SERPENT etc - will know how adept he is at such stunts.

Insanely prolific as a screenwriter over the last five decades, Cohen's talent with the pen is undisputed. And yet, there are portions of THE STUFF that, much like GOD TOLD ME TO, do admittedly become overpopulated with ideas and a desire to cross genres with wild abandon. The effect can at times be messy and needlessly confusing.

But the film always gathers back its focus quickly and, anchored by Moriarty's sleazy performance, reaches the end of its 87-minute running time with a sense of being very tightly sewn together. This is a good thing.

Special effects are crude but enjoyably old-school once The Stuff begins to reveal its true capabilities (clear nods to THE BLOB at these junctures), once again demonstrating that absolutely anything involving foam latex is infinitely preferable to CGI.

If the denouement isn't wholly satisfying and the whole film feels oddly small-scale despite the widespread nature of its titular threat, THE STUFF still stands as a film that has improved with age ... and is possibly more relevant now than it ever was.

Arrow Films Video are releasing THE STUFF in a 2-disc, dual format blu-ray and DVD combo pack. We were sent the blu-ray disc for review purposes.

Presented as an MPEG4-AVC file with a healthy average bit rate, THE STUFF looks really nice in 1080p high definition. The original 35mm camera negative was utilised here and scanned under the supervision of James White in 2k. The original 1.85:1 aspect ratio has been adhered to, and is enhanced here for 16x9 televisions. Colours are bold and deep, flesh-tones are natural and detail is vastly improved over previous presentations of the film. There's a keen sense of depth amid the strong blacks and a welcome absence of compression. A fine layer of grain and total lack of DNR evidence retains an authentic filmic look throughout, while some exterior scenes are outlandishly crisp and clear. This really is a sterling effort all round.

English 2.0 PCM audio is clean, clear and consistent for the duration of playback. Optional subtitles are provided in English for the Hard-of-Hearing, and are an easily readable well-written proposition at all times.

The disc's animated main menu page has fun with a loud, fast-paced montage of scenes that accentuate both the film's hideous 80s trappings and its enjoyably ridiculous action sequences.

From there, a pop-up scene-selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.

Bonus features begin with an expertly produced documentary entitled "Can't Get Enough of The Stuff". This runs for a highly polished 52 minutes offering a fine balance of clips from the main feature alongside excellent, insightful contributions from Cohen (the idea for the film occurred to him while taking a shower!), producer Paul Kurta, critic Kim Newman, FX man Steve Neill and more. The film's genesis, satire, budget and legacy are all discussed at length in what is one of the best featurettes I've seen in some time.

Darren Bousman, director of several SAW sequels and the MOTHER'S DAY remake, is on hand next to provide an audio commentary track accompaniment to THE STUFF's original trailer. Taken from the "Trailers from Hell" compilation, this begins with an onscreen introduction from Bousman where he likens Cohen's film to CITIZEN KANE and claims "it changed my life".

For those wishing to view the 95-second trailer without Bousman speaking over it, it is thankfully also included in its original state. You know the one: "If you see it in stores, call the police. If you have it in your homes - don't touch it! Get out!". To see it again is a lovely burst of VHS-era nostalgia.

Also included as part of this impressive set is a strikingly coloured 24-page collectors' booklet. This certainly grabs the attention with its bright purple page design. In it Joel Harley provides an excellent essay on the film that contextualises THE STUFF in relation to bloodsucking and zombies in horror cinema, as well as making valid comparisons between Cohen's film and STREET TRASH. He even points out the films influence as seen in a couple of episodes of TV's "Futurama"! We also get a nice poster gallery in the booklet, as well as the now-customary notes on the film's new transfer.

THE STUFF is great entertainment, with a surprisingly prescient undercurrent which adds gravitas to proceedings. It's also one of those rare films that plays better now than it did upon its mid-80s release. And it looks mighty fine on Arrow's blu-ray.


By Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review