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Stuff, The

Arrow Video // R // April 19, 2016 // Region 0
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 14, 2016 | E-mail the Author
"My fellow Americans, this is Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears. I have never mislead you, and I will never mislead you. Tonight, America is in grave danger. We are under alien attack by a substance which represents itself as a popular dessert known as The Stuff. If The Stuff is in your house, do not eat it. Repeat, I mark you, do not eat it. If you are a merchant and have it on your shelves, do not sell it. If you happen to have a distributorship and distribute the material, close your doors...make no more sales."

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On the outer edge of a frostbitten mining operation, a little patch of ground festers like a boil. Some sort of creamy goop is bubbling towards the surface, so, naturally, one of the workers dips his fingers in and gives it a taste. Mmmm, it's good! He figures there might even be enough of this stuff under the ground to make a few bucks. This'd be an awfully short review if he were wrong, so flash forward a few months, and The Stuff is everywhere. So long, Chocolate Chip Charlie! Fare thee well, Baskin-Robbins! What's not to like? The Stuff is all natural, it's low on calories, and it doesn't even have to be refrigerated. ...and, boy, is it tasty! Enough is never enough.

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The titans of the ice cream industry are in a panic. The most brilliant chemists on their payroll can't make heads or tails of The Stuff. The FDA is keeping their lips sealed. Their marketshare is circling the bottom of the toilet bowl, and desperate times call for...well, for Mo (Michael Moriarty). If you're wondering how a guy by the name of David Rutherford wound up being nicknamed "Mo", don't sweat it: he'll tell you. Over and over and over again. He may seem like some double-digit IQ blockhead who stepped on a rake and only just now stumbled out of his family's farm in Palatka, but that's part of his schtick. No one takes Mo seriously at first glance, letting down their guard long enough for him to strike. This disgraced FBI agent is now a seasoned corporate saboteur, and if anyone can unearth the secrets of The Stuff, it's him. It doesn't hurt that Mo isn't in this alone. He's soon joined by the Madison Ave. wunderkind (Andrea Marcovicci) who put The Stuff on the map, a terrified kid (Scott Bloom) waging a one-boy-war against The Stuff after seeing it lurch out of its container in the fridge, and a dethroned cookie mogul (Garrett Morris) whose unjustly stolen empire formed the foundation of The Stuff's nationwide rollout. The more they investigate, the deeper the rabbit hole goes. The answer starts to become disturbingly clear: are you eating The Stuff, or is The Stuff eating you?

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Look, this is a flick about a nefarious hive-mind custard spewing up from the ground and taking people over, body and soul. If you're expecting something grueling and unnervingly intense that will forever redefine the face of horror, you're shopping on the wrong aisle. The Stuff is exactly the movie Larry Cohen set out to make: a satirical skewering of consumer culture in the same vein as Romero's Dawn of the Dead and an indictment of anything-for-a-buck corporate machinations. It's a comedy: just one with a bunch of gruesome visual effects work and a refusal to mug for laughs. What's not to like? You've got Michael Moriarty endearingly rambling on endlessly in a slow S'uthern drawwwwl. He fights, he fucks, and he even slaps on a Devo suit and plants plastic explosives. Saturday Night Live's Garrett Morris unleashes his kung-fu fury as the once and future Chocolate Chip Charlie. A kid armed with a garden rake lays waste to an entire supermarket. His family, hopelessly under The Stuff's thrall, won't stop talking as if they're being filmed for a TV spot. Danny Aiello cowers at the sight of a surprisingly playful -- no, wait, I mean menacing...horrifying! -- zombie dog. Paul Sorvino shows up out of friggin' nowhere as a racist, misogynistic general/militia leader/whatever with the media presence and firepower to combat The Stuff head-on. It's a buddy comedy! (Golly, and I do wish that Mo and Charlie had more scenes together.) Romance! Action! Suspense! The Stuff has it all.

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I've owned The Stuff on just about every available home video format over the years, and I adore it just as much now as I did when I first stumbled upon it on VHS a lifetime ago. It's ridiculous, obviously, but that's by design and in the best possible way. Its parade of oddball characters and off-kilter dialogue are irresistable. The effects work is ambitious and remarkably effective, to the point that I frequently found myself wondering "wait, how did they do that?!" I'm surprised how well so much of it holds up to the scrutiny of high definition, even. Other times...well, not so much:

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So, yeah, The Stuff is an acquired taste. It's kind of all over the place, characters are introduced and dispensed with willy-nilly, and allegiances change at the drop of a hat to keep the story chugging along. This isn't the sort of thing where I can explore the nuances of the film and turn you over to its side. You're in or you're out. Me, though...? I can't get enough of The Stuff. Highly Recommended.

I've devoured more than enough Arrow Video releases to have stormed into The Stuff with dizzyingly high expectations, but this...?

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Even when you pop that open to full-size, it looks like something that ought to be hanging on my wall. (...because, yeah, I am the type of guy to have a poster of a middle-aged schlub with cigarette-stained teeth vomiting a subterranean-spawned dessert.) If I hadn't snapped it myself, I would never have guessed that's a screenshot. Just about from its first frame to the last, The Stuff routinely hits those same kinds of marks. I'm awestruck by just how crisp and immaculately detailed this recent 2K scan is. The image is exceptionally fine-grained, and the skillful AVC encode shoulders that filmic texture beautifully. There's essentially nothing in the way of wear or speckling, with just a few flecks baked into some of the optical effects. Whew, and the bright, candy-colored palette in the promos for everybody's favorite all-natural treat remains a knockout after three full decades:

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Admittedly, the photography struggles somewhat under limited light, and smoke tends to make things look rather hazy, but that's just the nature of the beast. This is in every conceivable way an extraordinary presentation, and I cannot wait to see what Arrow delivers with the other New World titles on the horizon.

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The Stuff oozes onto a dual-layer Blu-ray disc at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

The Stuff's 24-bit, monaural PCM soundtrack is exactly what I waltzed in hoping to hear. Every element in the fray is wonderfully clean, clear, and pristine, aside from some inessential voiceover work that gets drowned out in the chaotic final moments. Don't expect much in the way of explosions until the third act rolls around, but one things start going boom, they're reasonably throaty and full-bodied. I mean, we are talking about a thirty-year-old mono track at the end of the day, but I find myself with practically nothing to grouse or groan about here. Its less-than-spectacular moments -- such as how distant and reverb-y some of Michael Moriarty's dialogue is in the FDA meet-and-greet, even though Danny Aiello is standing right next to him and sounds perfect -- clearly dates back to the original production. An expectedly stellar effort from Arrow.

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The only other audio option is a set of English (SDH) subtitles.

No matter how many extras they give me, I always want mo'. This special edition of The Stuff loses out on Larry Cohen's audio commentary from the Anchor Bay DVD release, and apparently Cohen didn't feel like sitting down to record another one. A nearly feature-length documentary goes a long way towards making up for that, though. In case you've imported it already, the extras are the same as when Arrow first issued The Stuff on Blu-ray in the UK a couple years back.
  • Can't Get Enough of The Stuff (52 min.; HD): Director/writer/producer Larry Cohen is joined in this nearly hour-long retrospective by producer Paul Kurta, effects artist Steve Neill, actress Andrea Marcovicci, and film historian Kim Newman. In a lot of ways, this is as much a documentary about Cohen in general as it is about The Stuff, delving into the recurring themes throughout his body of work, his knack for casting and high concepts, the fierce loyalty he inspires in his casts and crews, and especially his not-entirely-conventional directorial style. (Cohen compares himself to both an improvisational jazz musician and to Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty.) I'd rattle off the highlights, but "Can't Get Enough of The Stuff" is essentially nothing but: drawing more inspiration from cigarettes than his grocer's freezer, details about the many different substances used to bring The Stuff to life, the film's best reviews in print never actually being delivered, clever promotional tie-ins that the straightlaced distributor wouldn't sign off on, and how pretty much every word out of Michael Moriarty's mouth was improvised, to name just a few. I particularly appreciate all the details about The Stuff's extensive effects work, complete with a Nightmare on Elm St.-style rotating room. Absolutely worth a look.
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  • Trailer: A standard definition trailer for The Stuff is served up twice: once in its original form and a second time with commentary by Darren Bousman. The trailer only clocks in at a minute and a half in length, so Bousman doesn't have time to say all that much. It is great to hear what a direct influence The Stuff had on one of his early short films, though!

The reversible cover for The Stuff has the British VHS art on one side (at least, I haven't seen that on a one-sheet) and a similar, newly-painted version on the other. Its nicely designed booklet features a essay on cinematic, culinary nightmares by HorrorTalk's Joel Harley, and it's memorable enough to also make the cut in Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion. Look for a review of that on DVD Talk any day now. You'll have to get enough of The Stuff on Blu-ray, as there's no combo pack this time around.

The Final Word
It doesn't matter if this is your first taste or if you're already hooked on The Stuff. Larry Cohen's goopy satire of '80s consumerism remains addictively fun even after ringing in its thirtieth anniversary, I can't fathom this longtime favorite ever looking or sounding better than it does on this Blu-ray release, and if you just can't get enough of The Stuff...well, you have an hour-long retrospective to look forward to here too. Highly Recommended.
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