Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Most Influential Part 3: The Stuff

Last October, during my failed 31 Days of Horror project, I had a couple of posts under the heading of Most Influential. These movies were not ranked, and I did not mean to give these movies 'classic' status, I merely meant to catalogue a few of the movies that influenced me personally. And by influenced, I actually mean influenced the way I live. The examples I gave before had to do with bathrooms and closed shower curtains(The Shining), and garbage disposals(the Blob). Click on the titles of the movies if you want to go back and read what I wrote about them at the time. My post today continues that thread. Consider this another of the missing days from that Halloween exercise.

Now, it's time for a slightly embarrassing revelation. This is something that a few people know about, and my family and friends have probably figured out by now. I have such a distaste for creamy foods(yogurt, pudding, cream-of-anything soup, mayonnaise, most salad dressings...) that it borders on phobia. This is something that's bothered me for awhile, because I could never pinpoint the source of this aversion. Aside from the obvious distasteful bodily fluids comparison. And then, about 10 years ago, I stumbled upon The Stuff, and everything was answered.

The movie, in a nutshell, is about a new dessert product called The Stuff that becomes a national sensation. Facing declining sales, several Ice Cream moguls hire a corporate saboteur to find out the secret of The Stuff. The saboteur, along with a marketing executive, discovers that the delicious treat is actually a sentient organism harvested from below ground that controls and eventually devours the consumer from within.

Michael Moriarty plays David 'Mo' Rutherford, the saboteur, and his role in this film is only one step below his Q: The Winged Serpent role in terms of originality. His 'Mo' Rutherford has a lazy drawl and goofy grin, coming across at times like a morally corrupt Matlock. He plays this completely straight and deadpan, which, as much as I like the film itself, is the highpoint of this one. Moriarty is a criminally underrated actor, altering speech patterns and body language between roles to a degree the Orlando Blooms of the world haven't yet imagined attaining. Every time I watch this film I wonder why he hasn't gotten more work. Of course, he's no model, and the interviews I've seen with him would suggest to me that he's fairly hard-headed and maybe not the easiest to work with, so that might explain things a bit. He may not be the world's greatest actor, and he certainly can overdo it, but he's always entertaining and I always enjoy his performances.

Moriarty's deadpan is required for a film this scattered and cluttered. Larry Cohen as a filmmaker is notoriously slapdash, which I do not mean as an insult. In fact the charm in most of his movies comes from how much he tries to cram onto the screen. In The Stuff, alongside that main story, we have SNL's Garrett Morris as 'Chocolate Chip' Charlie who lost his business to 'Stuffie' family members, Danny Aiello as an ex-FDA employee at the mercy of his Stuff addicted dog, a young boy escaping his addicted family, and Paul Sorvino as a right wing militia leader who leads an attack on a Stuff factory and darkens the movie considerably with random racist outbursts. The downside to all of this is that the movie does seem a little hit and miss at times, veering wildly between story lines, with an ending that feels woefully rushed. The overall tone, however, remains consistent throughout the many stories, and as I mentioned Moriarty does a fairly good job of anchoring things. The best way to experience this one is to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Don't look too closely, and you'll find a movie that at the very least tries to engage you a bit more than the average b-grade horror film.

I have to admit I never saw this one as a child, but it had this strange, influential presence in my pre-adolescence years. I knew of the film from the many previews that adorned the opening of several New World Video movies back in the 80s, and an Amazing Stories episode that I was told referenced the film. Eventually the movie achieved this mythic status, becoming more horrifying in my mind than it actually turned out to be. See, this was back before I could stomach horror movies, and I was completely unaware that the movie was supposed to be funny. All I knew was that the trailer gave me the heebie jeebies, and I haven't been comfortable with yogurt since.

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