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The Stuff (1986)
Director: Larry Cohen

review by Tony Lee

Any Larry Cohen film is worth seeing. He has a knack for using off-the-wall ideas in clever and imaginative ways - not unlike Cronenberg - but with keenly satirical humour, so that Cohen's films are always more amusing than disturbing.
   This SF horror comedy features Michael Moriarty (who was in Cohen's classic cult monster movie, Q - The Winged Serpent), playing a former FBI agent turned industrial spy, hired by a group of ice-cream merchants to investigate the formula of an addictive new dessert product, which threatens to undermine their share of the lucrative market. What Moriarty discovers in his search for the Stuff's secret ingredients is a conspiracy to distribute, not a biological or manmade drug, but a living organism from beneath the earth - one that controls your mind and then eats your body. Here, it's consumers that are being consumed...
   As writer and director, Cohen eschews the big-time for a guerrilla filmmaking approach to his work. No A-list stars, no proper shooting script, no storyboards, and no major f/x house. Instead of these procedures, Cohen does on-set rewrites with inspiring confidence, and makes audacious use of convenient locations and unscheduled happy accidents - if it snows on the day of filming exteriors, he will simply take sensible advantage of it! Casting actors, like Moriarty, with a zest for improvised scenes and ad-libbing is another part of Cohen's practical low-budget style, and there's a raw pragmatism to Cohen's genre movies that many a studio production doesn't have, because they're so tightly controlled and over-prepared.
   The Stuff isn't Cohen's best feature, but it's a functional satire about US food industries, commercial espionage, the power of marketing, and a very good spoof of familiar SF themes from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Quatermass 2, and, of course, The Blob. It benefits from an unusual supporting cast, including Paul Sorvino as the bigoted leader of a private militia, and the underused Andrea Marcovicci (from Martin Ritt's The Front, Oliver Stone's The Hand, and Alexis Kanner's Kings And Desperate Men) as media campaign boss for the Stuff product. There's also Garrett Morris as kung fu cookie king, 'Chocolate-chip Charlie', and you can even see poor Danny Aiello get eaten by his own dog!
previously published online, VideoVista #29
The Stuff
Buy stuff at:
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