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.

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!