Stuff, The

Remember The Blob ?  How it would seep through any crack or crevice and envelope its victims, dissolving them into a mess of goo that would add to its ever-growing mass?  Remember how difficult it was to defeat?  Can you imagine how much more difficult it would be if it tasted delicious?

These are the questions writer/director Larry Cohen asks in The Stuff.  As with Q: the Winged Serpent, Cohen knows the exact amount of ridiculous to put in any situation, such as in what is perhaps one of the greatest opening scenes in cinema history:  A random miner walks off-site to have a smoke when he notices a white goo oozing out from mother Earth herself.  Our intrepid nitwit reaches down and touches it with his bare hand.  Brings it close to his nose and gives it a sniff.  AND THEN HE EATS IT!  It bubbled out of the ground and it was all he could do to stop from diving mouth-first on the ecological eruption.

His fellow miners join him,  asking the crucial question: “What the hell is it?”  Well, Miner No. 1 certainly doesn't have an answer.  What he does have, is a plan!  Thus the mass-marketing campaign of The Stuff™ begins.

As the tagline “Are you eating it or is it eating you?” suggests, the main theme here is consumerism.  Cohen demonstrates how easily it would be for a motivated corporation to get their product approved by the government, and then easier still to convince the American populace to buy it.  Granted, The Stuff™ Corporation has the edge in that their product forms a biological addiction within its customers that will eventually destroy their organs and leave them a hollow husk of a human being.  Fortunately there's nothing like that in the real world on the market today.

What?

After The Stuff™ has extracted all the nutrients and proteins from “The Stuffies’” ™ bodies, the white goo exits the nearest convenient orifice, and goes on an 80s-effects-fueled rampage.  The F/X run the gamut of miniatures, stop motion, reverse photography, upside down photography and puppetry.  Though, it should be pointed out that Garrett Morris is not a sophisticated Muppet but an actual person.

Morris plays “Chocolate Chip" Charlie, the founder of a rival dessert franchise who teams up with “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), corporate espionage expert.  Never one to put less than 100% into a film, Moriarty is sporting a southern accent with a moderate degree of success and total silliness. More often than not, however, Mo has to rescue Jason (Scott Bloom), our "plucky" young hero who knew that The Stuff was evil long before everyone else.

I hate this child.  He just personifies annoyingness.  Normally, one has to suspend disbelief that a group of actors that don't resemble each other are blood relations. Here we're trying to figure out why the rest of the family can act and this kid can’t.  There’s a truly wonderful moment when the family who, up to this point, had merely been awful to him, overtly turn against him as The Stuff™ has taken over their brains.  When the father actually shouts “GET HIM!” ... I get goosebumps.

There are a slew of random cameos, the most notable being Paul Sorvino in one of his funniest performances as the great Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears, a survivalist, retired, racist military commander that saves the day.

Overall, The Stuff is a great send-up of 80s consumerist culture in a similar vein, but with less effect, as George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.  It lacks subtlety, but these are still important concerns:  why do we as a culture accept things so easily?  Why don’t we question those in power?  And where can I get more Stuff™?

Seriously, I’m jonesing pretty bad here.

Q: The Winged Serpent

There’s so much in this movie that I don’t know quite where to start.  Let’s start with the basics: worshipers of the ancient, Aztec god Quetzalcoatl , have been performing sacrifices and as a result have brought “Q” back to life.  Q is a 40-foot-long winged serpent that has set up shop in the Chrysler building and uses the New York skyline as her own buffet.  The NYPD had their hands full between investigating the ritual murders before heads, arms, and blood start raining from the sky.

Starring as our stalwart police detectives are none other than David “Kwai Chang Caine” Carradine and Richard “Shaft” Roundtree.  What’s more, they are playing pre-Giuliani New York police detectives, so not only are they jaded, not only are they underpaid and grouchy, but they (and the city as a whole) look completely rumpled and dirty.

Part of what makes this film-and the majority of director Larry Cohen’s pictures-so fascinating, is how Cohen presents ludicrous events and how something very closely resembling the real world would react to them.  There are no secret agents, clandestine government agencies, covert religious sects or chosen saviors in the film.  There is only an over-worked and incredulous police force.  There is a gigantic flying lizard literally picking people off of rooftops and all Carradine can do is research the ritual killings, interview history professors, and put together a theory that just happens to be correct, no matter how insane it appears.  When Carradine and company finally do track down Q, the assault on the bird feels more like a police raid than a climactic battle between man and the wrath of nature.  But, that is exactly what makes the film so interesting.  Well, that and Michael Moriarty.

Older readers will remember Moriarty as the original ADA on Law & Order back before Sam Waterson (my favorite of Jim Henson’s Muppets) took over.  Q began a long working relationship between he and Cohen which included The Stuff and Cohen’s episode of the Showtime's horror anthology series Masters of Horror: “Pick Me Up.” Moriarty plays Jimmy Quinn, the greatest asshole ever.  Mere words cannot do justice to hope thoroughly and exquisitely annoying Jimmy Quinn is.  You have to imagine the dread combination of Veruca Salt , Walter PeckEllis Carver, Carter Burke, Biff Tannen, and Chet Donnelly… exposed to gamma rays.  Quinn is a former addict/full-time loser who happens upon Q’s nest and uses the information to extort money from the city of New York.  Along the way, he will push every single button in your soul until you wish you were the man with knife at his throat.  I honestly do not know why Moriarty was not nominated for such a performance.

If that is not enough, be sure to keep an eye out for some of the greatest reaction shots from the cheapest New York local actors.  It’s a wonderful combination of bad acting and imitation Ray Harryhausen special effects.  And, remember, body parts falling from the sky!