There are times that a truly campy horror flick can be a lot of fun. I kept seeing The Stuff (1985) being suggested on Netflix Instant Play, and the movie poster looked so hilariously silly I simply had to watch it. Even though it's a total camp fest that is difficult to take seriously, it plays on a fear and paranoia that seems more applicable to today than the mid-80's.
A strange but tasty yogurt-like goo begins erupting from the earth and is discovered by a couple of miners. They taste it and decide to market it since it tastes so good. The American public literally eats up the new dessert sensation called "The Stuff," but unfortunately it takes over the brains of those who eat it, turning them into brainwashed mind-slaves with no will to do anything but eat more of the bizarre substance by any means. A former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur David "Mo" Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) is hired by the leaders of the suffering ice cream industry to find out what The Stuff actually is and destroy it. Meanwhile a young boy named Jason (Scott Bloom) discovers that The Stuff is alive and sees how it affects his family. He's arrested for vandalizing a supermarket in trying to smash displays of The Stuff. This attracts the attention of Rutherford, who comes to Jason's aid. They are joined by advertising executive Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci) who is responsible for The Stuff's market success. Together they try to uncover the secret of The Stuff.
The Stuff was just as silly as can be hoped for when it comes to old campy horror movies. It's kind of an amalgamation of other, better movies. It's kind of The Blob meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a bit of Soylent Green stirred in since some of the story revolves around Mo trying to find the secret of The Stuff. At its most basic level, the story isn't bad. Like many horror stories it's got some jump scares and some eerie foreboding moments. But if you put very much thought into it you might accidentally realize how little sense it makes on the whole. If the audience is left thinking, "wait, what happened?" Then it didn't tell the story well enough to make sense.
I'm not sure if this was supposed to be comical or not. The Stuff certainly pokes fun at marketing and fads in popular culture, but parts of the story and the acting are just so bad and silly, that I wasn't sure if it was in fact intending to be funny. Some of The Stuff's mind zombie people are incredibly fragile and their heads would explode when punched. This looked so absurdly fake that I laughed every time it happened. People are not made of rubber and Styrofoam. Was this supposed to make me laugh? I'm honestly not sure, but it did!
A lot of the visual effects have not aged well; there was a lot of blue screen used when I'm not really sure it was necessary. Substance props for The Stuff included lots of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, yogurt, and, for a few scenes, fire-extinguisher foam. There is a scene where Mo and Nicole are attacked in a hotel room by The Stuff, the scene required a room that could turn upside down allowing The Stuff to appear to be moving up and down the wall. It's actually a pretty good scene! Worth mentioning is that this is the exact same prop room used in the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie that came out the same year with an ill-fated teenage Johnny Depp in his big screen debut.
The early 1980's was marked by a severe global economic recession, and there was resentment towards wealthy big companies that were making a profit at the expense of others, even if it wasn't actually the case. Not much has changed, huh? The Stuff focuses a lot on corrupt corporations who are trying to make money off people regardless of how their business practices affect their customers. That is still going to resonate with viewers today. But currently food is a big issue; we're more concerned about what's in it, where it came from, and what chemicals like preservatives and artificial flavoring, are doing to our bodies. A movie about a food craze that literally eats away at people's bodies and food distributors going to great lengths to obfuscate what food is made out of and what it's doing to our health sounds much more applicable to modern culture than it was to 1980's culture. With current food trends leading to widespread obesity, cancer, heart disease, and other issues, I'm surprised a movie similar to The Stuff hasn't come out recently. A horror movie playing on cultural paranoia about our food seems like an untapped potential that the film industry isn't taking advantage of.
The Stuff is a very silly movie with an illogical story that doesn't manage to wrap itself up with much of a conclusion. There are moments when the movie actually comes alive thanks to some of the actors incongruous ingenuity and the director's willingness to simply have fun with the material. It's got some nice touches, but overall isn't that great. It's a perfect dumb movie to watch with some friends for the sole purpose of making fun of it. Even without comments from the peanut gallery, it's still so silly that it earns a few laughs on its own, intentional or not. Thematically, it missed its mark by a couple of decades. Modern audiences might find more in this movie now than they did in the 80's. This is rated R, but was made before the PG-13 rating was created; I would give it a PG-13. Heads might explode, but it looks so awful and fake that R seems too strong. I think the TV movie Sharknado was gorier than this. I enjoyed it for what it was, and I'd be willing to watch it a second time.