The F*cking Black Sheep: The Stuff (1985)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!



Before we get going, we must start with a heartfelt RIP to Larry Cohen, a filmmaker who definitely marched to the beat of his own drum over his eclectic 50-year career. The man will be missed, but his movies will forever live on as his legacy. Rest in Peace King Cohen!

Speaking of King Cohen's filmography, what’s the first title or two that instantly leaps to mind when you hear the name Larry Cohen? It has to be either IT’S ALIVE or maybe Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, right? Hell, maybe it’s a Blaxploitation flick or two. If that’s the case, then damn near the rest of Cohen’s directorial canon can be considered a F*cking Black Sheep. Remember, he only produced/directed 20 films, but wrote nearly fourfold that amount. It's easy for his scripts for the MANIAC COP series, BEST SELLER, PHONE BOOTH and myriad others to overshadow the movies he actually helmed as well. Anyway, if I were to personally single out a movie that fits the bill as both a cast-aside runt as well as a movie that perfectly personifies the kind of outright absurdist fun Cohen was capable of, then no doubt, THE STUFF is where it’s at. Damn I love this unabashed 80s gross-out B-movie trashcan!

Truly, if ever there was a perfect flick to clock as a double-bill with Chuck Russell’s goopy creature-feature THE BLOB, or even a satirical horror comedy of consumerism to pair with John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, again, THE STUFF is the go-to dish. Written and directed by Cohen, one of the best things about THE STUFF is how quickly it jumps right into its own story. The very first shot is of a miner discovering a viscid milky substance bubbling up from beneath the ground. The silly bastard feels the need to taste it, forcing his partner to do the same, and no sooner than a minute later, the American marketplace has been flooded with perfectly packages tubs of “The Stuff,” a low calorie, great-tasting cross between yogurt and ice-cream that citizens simply cannot get enough of. The irresistible product comes equipped with hilarious 80s jingles, with the marketing campaign led by a woman named Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci). Problem is, the FDA never quite approved of the product, and a “benign” bacteria is found inside The Stuff at a molecular level. The bacteria isn’t benign at all, but rather a toxic substance that turns all those who eat The Stuff into mindless zombie-like consumers who will stop at nothing – including murder – to obtain more of their insatiable fix.

Enter the badass Michael Moriarty doing his best foghorn-leghorn voice, or better yet, his best Jon Voight CONRACK impersonation. We kid, but Moriarty actually gives a very serious and solid performance as Mo Rutherford, a former FBI agent and self-proclaimed “industrial saboteur” who catches wind and begins investigating the negative affects The Stuff is having in a small town. Mo runs into Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garret Morris), a junk-food magnate who helps Mo investigate. Meanwhile, a local kid named Jason (Scott Bloom) seems to be the only person around who actually hates The Stuff and has the will power to resist it, even when his own mother, father, and brother lap the shite up like water. Once Mo and Jason hook up, they use Nicole to help launch an information campaign to the public in order to destroy and rid The Stuff for good. Also in the mix is the ultra-jingoistic Paul Sorvino as an army general they trio go to in the end in order to destroy a quarry full of The Stuff by blowing up the area and burying the thick white goop back underground where it belongs.

The scathing commentary on mindless American consumerism is among the strengths of the movie, but it’s not where the bulk of the actual fun lies. Here’s what Cohen said about the premise:

My main inspiration was the consumerism and corporate greed found in our country and the damaging products that were being sold. I was constantly reading in the newspapers about various goods and materials being recalled because they were harming people. For example, you had foods being pulled off the market because they were hazardous to people's health."

While the satire certainly sells, the fun of the movie it’s all about the cheesy, unashamedly low-tech VFX and wildly over-the-top death sequences. Word is Cohen was so upset by the chintzy look of the FX, that he only paid the company, Effects Associated, half of what was agreed on upfront (Cohen paid just $8,000 or so for the FX, and it shows), resulting in a class-action lawsuit against him. And yet, oddly, the tenor of the film is matched by its silly FX work. One of the standout stints in this regard is the gnarly motel room scene, in which The Stuff attacks Mo’s face, attaching itself like a giant Play-Doh face-hugger. In order for The Stuff to properly leak out of the pillows and climb up the walls, a room that could be flipped upside was needed. Get this, Cohen used the same room Wes Craven did to suck Johnny Depp through a gory waterbed in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, just one year earlier. That’s a piece of kickass horror trivia right there. So too are the hard to spot cameos of a young Mira Sorvino as a factory worker, Patrick Dempsey as a black-market street punk, and my favorite, Eric Bogosian as mop-boy in a supermarket???

As for the Stuff itself, much of it was achieved using foam made from blended fish bones. Cohen reportedly said the substance reeked so badly that the actors covered in it would rush to the river to wash themselves off after he called cut. Fire extinguishing foam was also used in certain scenes, as well as animation and superimposition in the lake of Stuff found in the quarry. Without a doubt, the lake is the worst and most outmoded piece of VFX in the film. Fortunately, by the time we see it, we’re already in the bag for the movie as a whole, particularly for just how unapologetically ludicrous it is. The lake just adds one more chuckle. So too does the near-finale when Mo and Jason infiltrate the head of The Stuff company, and physically force-feed them as much Stuff as humanly possible – especially after the unveil their new product plan for The Taste, a similar substance with only 12% of The Stuff inside, just enough to crave but not enough o be driven mad. The grand takeaway being: “Are you eating the Stuff, or is The Stuff eating you?!”

Before we get out of here, let’s recount a of death scene in THE STUFF that is too good to omit. Yup, poor Chocolate f*cking Chip! Our man Garret Morris, who had nothing flattering to say about Cohen after filming, has his faced crushed, melted, popped and exploded all in one scene as The Stuff bubbles up through his innards and erupts from his wide-open maw. Look at this poor bastard. Garret Morris? Shite, dude looks like Ken Foree shoved a zombie-finger-suppository up his ass! Shite’s freaky and funny in equal measure, which is something you could say about most of Larry Cohen’s filmography. I know I sure as hell am going to miss the kinds of movies Cohen has purveyed in the past. THE STUFF is one of Cohen’s most fun films of all, and it’s the playful sense of humor he ought to be just as remembered for as the outlandish horror. One more time y'all, a big Rest in Power for King Cohen!



Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

5379 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.