It seems Arrow Video can never get enough of Larry Cohen's THE STUFF as they port over their British Blu-ray to a region free American edition this April.
A new all-natural sweet treat known as "The Stuff" has managed to get passed through the FDA and sweep the country seemingly overnight, with the mysterious company buying out the "Chocolate Chip Charlie" empire and on their way to driving out other ice cream and frozen yogurt companies out of business. Unable to analyze the ingredients, rival executive Evans (Alexander Scourby, THE BIG HEAT) hires disgraced FBI agent turned industrial spy David "Mo" Rutherford (Michael Moriarty, BLOOD LINK) to carry out his own investigation and sabotage of the company. When looking into the FDA, he discovers that everyone who approved it have resigned and taken long vacations with the exception of Vickers (Danny Aiello, MOONSTRUCK) who seems to have been bought off with a lifetime supply of "The Stuff" and is unnaturally afraid of his own dog. Discovering that the project was tested in Stader, Virginia, Mo travels there and discovers it to be a ghost town. He runs into "Chocolate Chip Charlie" (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE's Garrett Morris) who is also carrying out his own investigation after his own family voted him off the board and sold his company, and they discover that most of the residents have taken jobs at "The Stuff" headquarters in Midland, Georgia and those who remain have been taken over by the blob-like substance ("Are you eating it or is it eating you?")
Suburban teenager Jason (Scott Bloom, SMOKIN' ACES) has also discovered the "toxic" qualities of "The Stuff" which has taken over his family (DINER's Colette Blonigan, ARACHNOPHOBIA's Robert Frank Telfer, and real-life brother Brian Bloom from ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA). After hearing about Jason's widely-reported freak out in a grocery store in which he attempted to destroy all of their stock of "The Stuff", Mo goes to visit him and only just rescues him from his addicted family. Together with Nicole (Andrea Marcovici, THE HAND), the Madison Avenue advertising executive who spearheaded the ad campaign for "The Stuff" –– they head to Midland, Georgia to investigate the plant with the help of right-wing militia leader Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears (Paul Sorvino, CRUISING) and his army.
Blessed with poster art that was simultaneously silly and unsettling, New World's THE STUFF turned out not to be a cheesy Troma-esque schlockfest but a delightfully funny and satirical horror film along the lines of director Larry Cohen's Q: THE WINGED SERPENT. It is somewhat difficult to tell how much of the disjointed pace can be blamed on New World cuts or Cohen's rough-and-ready approach, but the film moves along fast enough to forgive the various contrivances that place Mo in the right spot at the right time. THE STUFF skewers health food crazes ("The Stuff" technically is all-natural), big business, the military, and advertising, with The Stuff's spokespersons including Laurene Landon (MANIAC COP 2), Tony winner Tammy Grimes (CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC), Abe Vigoda (BARNEY MILLER), and even Clara "Where's the Beef" Peller (as well as a surprise appearance by SHOCK WAVES' Brooke Adams for the patient). The cinematography of Paul Glickman (DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN) is deliberately bright and artificial to match the TV commercials, although it has the effect of exposing the rough edges of the visual effects work of stop-motion artist David Allen (PUPPETMASTER) and matte artist Jim Danforth (PRINCE OF DARKNESS). The effects of Steve Neill (FRIGHT NIGHT), Rick Stratton (SPELLBINDER), and Ed French (BLOOD RAGE) are both gruesome and amusing (Sorvino's military man says of one corpse hemorrhaging The Stuff "I kinda like the sight of blood, but this is disgusting"). Moriarty is at his eccentric sing-song best with throwaway lines like "Everybody has to eat shaving cream once in a while" while the charming Marcovici tries to keep up with him (perhaps even managing to disarm him temporarily with a comment about the disguise he dons to infiltrate The Stuff mining plant), and Bloom's performance can be forgiven taking his age into account in addition to having to riff off of Moriarty. The supporting cast includes turns from Patrick O'Neal (SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT) as the treat's insidious distributor who is aware of the effect it has on consumers although he does not eat it himself, Harry Bellaver (GOD TOLD ME TO) as the miner who first discovers "The Stuff", a small turn by ROBOCOP's Adrianne Sachs, and Cohen's assistant director Harvey Waldman (who would direct second unit on IT'S ALIVE III). The film also features uncredited early appearances from Sorvino's daughter Mira (MIMIC), Eric Bogosian (whose first lead would be in Cohen's SPECIAL EFFECTS).
Released theatrically and then on video by New World Pictures (who imposed some cuts that result in some abrupt edits), THE STUFF came out on DVD in 2000 during Anchor Bay's heyday with an anamorphic widescreen transfer that was attractive for the time and an audio commentary by Cohen in which he discussed New World's interference, working with Moriarty, details about the shoot and challenges that arose while shooting scenes for later effects (with some good detail about how said effects were then achieved), that Peller was well-paid for a single line, and the fact that Brian Bloom was originally cast as Jason who then suggested his younger brother would be better for the part. Arrow Video released this Blu-ray/DVD combo in the UK in 2014 (when the New World/Lakeshore titles were still in Image Entertainment's stranglehold stateside), which sports a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 encode of a new HD master that was brighter and sharper, including more peripheral information and detail (exposing the rough edges of the effects even more so than the older DVD master while enhancing our appreciation of Cohen's privileging engaging characters and action over slick visuals and effects). Arrow Video has apparently now licensed the Lakeshore titles stateside as well (hopefully they'll replace Image's barebones VAMP Blu-ray with an American equivalent of their stacked UK edition), and have ported over their Region B disc to an all region domestic edition with the same transfer and extras.
Although Arrow was not able to carry over the engaging Cohen commentary, they did produce the retrospective "Can't Get Enough of The Stuff" (52:10) that combined interviews with Cohen, Marcovici, effects artist Neill, producer Paul Kurta who started working with Cohen on Q, and critic Kim Newman. Cohen's commentary on commercialism and government regulation was inspired by the fact that the early form of Coca Cola was highly addictive because it contained a small amount of cocaine, and the government providing free cigarettes to servicemen to get them addicted when the came home. Not wanting to make a preachy film, he decided to make a film about killer ice cream, but would find that the backers and distributors did not think it was horrific enough. Cohen discusses his working relationship with Moriarty and the importance of giving actors the feeling of creative input so that they become invested in their roles while Marcovici recalls the difficulty of working with Moriarty who did not stick to the script and even incorporated lines that Cohen would throw at him off-camera. She also discusses the rigors of interacting with the effects (the firefighters foam used for some incarnations of The Stuff was made from ground-up fish bone and had a terrible smell that had the performers diving into the river after shooting the climactic scene) and the pleasures of working with the other actors including Sorvino (she does confuse Bloom with his brother when she recalls seeing him later on a soap opera). Kurka recalls Cohen's speed – sending him to grab locations when inspired and changing the script to fit them – as well as his familiarity with the sixties and seventies character actors who would populate his output. Darren Bousman from "Trailers from Hell" provides commentary over the film's theatrical trailer (1:48) about how he first came across the film and his continuing affection for it. The theatrical trailer (1:35) is also offered in its original form. Not included for review are the reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin and a collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joel Harley, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials. (Eric Cotenas)
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