The Stuff

The Stuff is another one of those movies which was just out of my reach in childhood. I was born in 1983, so many of the classic VHS titles of the 80s were familiar to me, but I couldn’t get near them until the DVD boom or today’s streaming. Thanks to a bunch of older friends and relatives, and older siblings of my friends, and thanks to be frequent jaunts into the video stores in my town, there was always a list of titles floating around my head as movies I absolutely had to see at all costs. In many cases these were movies which those acquaintances spoke of in hushed tones – everything from Basic Instinct to Evil Dead.  In mot cases it was the VHS artwork which caught my eye and solidified the movie’s position in my hallowed list. The Stuff had a great cover – some dude’s melting face, writhing in agony and despair as some sort of white gunk spilled from his empty eye sockets and mouth. Surely it was the greatest film of all time?

The Stuff  isn’t the greatest film ever made, but it is one of Larry Cohen’s best. Before I knew who he was, and before I’d seen The Stuff I was already familiar with his work. Q The Winged Serpent was a personal favourite of my youth and Return To Salem’s Lot was a curious sequel. Once I became more savvy towards film it became obvious that Cohen was somewhat of a political filmmaker – his often not too subtle satire veiled under the shlock of the time and other B Movie delights. The Stuff is no different, a clear attack on big business, advertising, consumerism, and the herd mentality of created needs and addiction. Surprisingly, it’s not the goriest film in the world – The Stuff (is it wrong that it looks delicious and I want to try it?) does frequently spurt from people but more often than not you simply see it slushing and slithering around like a gelatinous mass or worm, as it does a Body Snatchers number on whoever tastes it. Interestingly, Cohen would go on to write the story for Abel Ferrara’s 90s Body Snatchers movie.

So if it’s not overly gory, and if it has all this overt political stuff in its plot, why should the less discerning Horror viewer want to watch? Well, because Michael Moriarty. Here he is at his most smug, smarmy best – all Wall Street suits and ties, a walking ballbag of quips and testosterone who doesn’t appear to have thrown a punch in his life yet is just as efficient in a fight to the death as James Bond. His character is hired by a bunch of unsavoury Ice Cream moguls, seriously, to investigate the makers of The Stuff and find out what it is to either shut it down or share a slice of the pie. As he investigates he learns a lot more and finds his dubious allegiances tested. Along the way he meets a kid escaping from his Stuff-obsessed family, a hot executive, an old friend/rival, and a gun totin ex-military maniac. It’s like The A-Team, but weird. It’s also quite funny, and all the more amusing in retrospect thanks to the effects and how advertising works today.

As much as 80s Satires go, The Stuff is right up there with the most outlandish but effective. Cohen always makes an interesting movie and Moriarty always does whatever the hell he wants. Don’t go in, like 8 year old me did, expecting a bloody, scary, melt-fest. Go in expecting a few chuckles and some charming nostalgia and weirdness, and it gets the job done.

2019 – In Memoriam: March-April

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King Kong Bundy (November 7, 1955 – March 4, 2019)

We start early with Wrestlers this year as another notorious ‘big man’ of the squared circle departed. Bundy was a formidable figure but never quite achieved the stardom or acclaim that many of his peers did – he didn’t pick up a single championship in WWE but was nevertheless famous for headlining Wrestlemania 2 and being part of The Million Dollar Corporation.

Keith Flint (17 September 1969 – 4 March 2019)

A surprise blow to the musical world this year as former frontman and Firestarter of The Prodigy passed away. The Prodigy has always been one of a small number of dance based groups I could both tolerate and admire, ripping up much of the sentimental and watered down junk which passed for music in the charts. Flint’s look and voice and approach was a large part of their appeal.

Luke Perry (October 11, 1966 – March 4, 2019)

Although I was never a fan of Beverly Hills 90210, there was simply no getting away from it in the early 90s. I probably watched a couple of seasons of it, but I was always a Party Of Five guy. Perry was one of the major stars of the show and used it as a launchpad to a respected voice acting career and appearances in movies including Buffy and The Fifth Element. Later in his career he appeared in the hit shows Riverdale and Jeremiah. 

Wally Yamaguchi (May 5, 1958 – March 9, 2019)

A lifelong Wrestling fan, Yamaguchi had worked in Japan and beyond by writing and recruiting talent, though it wasn’t until 1998 that he appeared briefly, but notably in WWE as the manager of Kai En Tai. His various promos and antics helped them become one of my favourite groups of the time and were peak non-PC WWE.

Larry DiTillio (February 15, 1948 – March 16, 2019)

You won’t know the name, but for people of a certain age he was likely a source of entertainment and inspiration. He become one of the lead writers on He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe as well as She-Ra, creating most of the character names and writing the Secret Of The Sword animated feature. He was also a writer on any number of shows in the 80s and 90s – Babylon 5, Beast Wars, Centurions, Real Ghostbusters, and Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. 

Scott Walker (January 9, 1943 – March 22, 2019)

While Walker at this point in my life doesn’t mean much to me in a detailed way, for a long time he has been on my list of musicians I need to get around to hearing. Beyond a few songs I’ve liked, I haven’t heard much. Starting out as a standard enough pop singer, he eventually became increasingly avant garde, leading him to be an influence on a wide range of artists who would come in his wake.

Larry Cohen (July 15, 1936 – March 23, 2019)

A name that may not be familiar to those outside of the horror world, Larry Cohen was one of the most fearless and popular men in B-movies, making some of the most successful breakout hits. A writer, director, producer, Cohen’s best work saw him in satirical mode – using B-movie tropes and scenarios to talk about something more relevant. He is known for films such as Phone Booth, The Stuff, Q, and the It’s Alive series.

Joseph Pilato (March 16, 1949 – March 24, 2019)

Definitely a name that few outside the horror community will recognise, Pilato has nevertheless appeared in some of the most revered films of all time. I’ve also maintained that his outrageous performance as Captain Rhodes deserved an Oscar nomination, which surely would have opened him up to more roles. He will be remembered for Day Of The Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, and Pulp Fiction.

Bronco McLoughlin (10 August 1938 – 26 March 2019)

An Irish stuntman and hall of famer, he was involved in some of the most impressive stunt set pieces in the last fifty years as well as outright acting, including as the famous Channard Cenobite in Hellraiser 2. His work has helped many TV shows and movies become successful, including Father Ted, Vikings, Star Wars, Superman, Temple Of Doom, Total Recall, and A View To A Kill.

Shane Rimmer (28 May 1929 – 29 March 2019)

Another name most people won’t be familiar with, Rimmer worked as a writer and actor since 1957, most famously as the voice of Scott Tracy in Thunderbirds. He has also worked in multiple James Bond movies, Rollerball, The Land That Time Forgot, Star Wars, Gandhi, Superman I-III, Coronation Street, and Batman Begins. 

Bibi Andersson (11 November 1935 – 14 April 2019)

One of the most famous and successful actors to come from Sweden, Andersson is best known for her work with Ingmar Bergman as well as branching out to Hollywood and wider Europe. She will be remembered for Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, Persona, and Babette’s Feast. 

Jessie Lawrence Ferguson (June 8, 1941 – April 26, 2019)

Ferguson acted for a little over 10 years, yet always managed to make an impact when given a substantial role. He will be remembered for notable appearances in Prince Of Darkness, Darkman, and Boyz In The Hood.

John Singleton (January 6, 1968 – April 28, 2019) 

Speaking of Boyz In The Hood, director John Singleton became the youngest person (24) to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar, as well as the first African American. While he never quite matched that critical acclaim again, he nevertheless worked on well received movies, shows, and music videos including Rosewood, Remember The Time, Shaft, and Empire. 

John Llewellyn Moxey (26 February 1925 – 29 April 2019)

A director known most for his work in horror, Moxey had a more extensive career in TV directing, and will be remembered for works such as City Of The Dead, Mission Impossible, Kung Fu, Magnum PI, and Murder She Wrote. 

Peter Mayhew (May 19, 1944 – April 30, 2019) 

When you’re 7ft 3 inches, chances are you’re going to get typecast – in the movies and in life. Mayhew made it work for him, becoming one of the most loved characters in the most loved movie franchise of all time – his Chewbacca appearing in every film from the first up to and including The Force Awakens. 

Feel free to share your thoughts and memories on the people above in the comments!

Q – The Winged Serpent

*Originally written in 2003

When I was younger, because of my interest in dinosaurs I would always watch any film with a dinosaur in it. I saw a few of the Godzillas, and watched all the Sinbad and Harryhausen movies. This is one I was always fond of, mainly because it had what I thought was a cool name, and there were always a few scenes that stayed with me. I have still only seen it a few times, it’s rarely shown, and I haven’t seen it on DVD anywhere. I did catch it again recently though and can say now that the effects have aged badly, and it is obviously dated. It has a typical storyline, if a little madcap, but it’s still interesting and good to watch if you get the chance. Some good acting, some cheesy stuff, some laughs, and a good one to show the kids if they have an interest in such things as it is not as scary as Jurassic Park, but still has its moments.

In New York, Police have been receiving reports of a giant flying dinosaur which they of course think is a hoax. Soon however a number of civilians are eaten, snatched off rooftops while sunbathing. This moment I am always reminded of when I watch ‘Marge in Chains’ – the Simpsons episode where Marge is arrested for shoplifting. There is a scene in which Otto is on a rooftop, and the camera swoops down on him from directly above, very similar to what happens in Q. Anyway, Michael Moriarty plays a thief who has just robbed a jewelry store and is hiding in the Chrysler building. There he finds what appears to be a nest, with eggs and parts of human corpses. David Carradine plays the lead cop who soon realises the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl is the beast attacking. Soon Moriarty and Carradine are squaring off, Moriarty the only one who knows where the creature is, and wants to make sure if he makes a deal he will get something in return.

A seemingly silly idea for a film, but no less silly than Godzilla, King Kong, and many other monster movies. It is the same idea, updated for the eighties. Cohen allows some ominous camera-work over the city, meaning we never know when Q is going to attack, or from where, and the relationship between Carradine and Moriarty is interesting. Cohen always seems to choose strange and innovative topics for his film-making, ensuring he has gained a small cult status in the horror community. He has done better films, but this is still good. A strange mix of genres which does not always work, but is worth seeing anyway.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Q The Winged Serpent!