B-movie shams frequently present a finite line between cult wizardry and superfluous trash. Commonly, that line can be so blurred that the difference between good and bad is lost in the film’s lunacy. The Cold War camp of fifties sci-fi-cum-fantasy horror such as Douglas’s Them! (1954) or Yeaworth’s The Blob (1958) carry a capsuled charm and irresistible charisma. They were cheap yet undeniably rich in imagination and have remained so throughout the 20th century. So where did their counterparts of the late seventies and eighties go wrong? One strong contender for the most charmless B-movie pap goes to Larry Cohen’s The Stuff (1985).
Released seven years after George A. Romero’s classic caricature of commercial consumerism, Dawn of the Dead (1978), Cohen opts to refashion this motif, replacing the capitalist zombies with irresistible killer goo. And as droll as it paints itself to be, its trumped sell-by-date indicates The Stuff can only be bought as nothing more than a sour-tasting yawn. Following a former-FBI agent turned industrial saboteur, a young suburban tween and and advertising exec, the trio sought to infiltrate the distribution of the yoghurt-like gunk before it enslaves the world. Along their journey they encounter roguish, maligning characters such as junk food mogul, ‘Chocolate Chip Charlie’ and Col. Malcolm Grommett Spears; a pinko-hating racist.
Boundless scenes of ‘the Stuff’ bubbling and moving in a very non-threatening manner take up the bulk of the narrative. A manageable handful of deaths occur, either from ‘Stuff addiction’ or from being pointlessly shot, and only one memorable animatronic body mutation is recorded. Ultimately, a substantial lack of substance that even the likes of R.L. Stine would deem scare-less. While not dismissing the film’s evident merits – the hokey stabs at political satire, the endearingly poor acting, the endless superimposed images and sketchy animations to curb costs, the entire script – its cult stature seems somewhat undeserved. Whereas its genre’s doppelgängers such as Carpenter’s They Live (1988), Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987), Muro’s Street Trash (1987) sustain an invincible magnetism, Cohen’s The Stuff has lost almost all of its allure.