Chronicles of Ryebone

The Stuff

Starting a story can be difficult, I understand. It's an important part of the story structure, and when done properly or even differently, can draw you in, turn you away, or set the tone for what is to come. Years ago I had a thought that I should put together a web site that featured the opening credits of various movies. There must be a neat history lesson to learn here, but what I saw in many modern films is the complete lack of opening credits. Oftentimes, you don't even get the title of the movie until the very end, which can help immerse you into the film from the beginning then slap your face at the end to wake you up from the alternate reality you've just sat through to remind you that it's been a movie the entire time. A final blow to follow up on perhaps a revelatory ending. Or maybe the title comes up slowly, to ease you back into the real world.

When you put a movie on, before the beginning of the story, you get all the logos of the various studios involved in the creation of the film. This has become an art form upon itself, as more movies have taken it upon themselves to modify the logo a bit to suit the film's tone. The logos are typically animated, and run for ten to fifteen seconds. On some productions, you'll sit there for an entire minute before the movie starts, which is either frustrating, or a helpful aide to ease you into the experience.

The Stuff does it a bit differently. As it casts aside any association with production studios, the first frame jumps into the setup of the story, producing a jarring effect that doesn't really let up for the rest of the story. I guess, you could say, it helps set the tone for the rest of the movie, as it does away with any pretense that this is a legitimate film. Or maybe the copy of the movie we were watching had that element cut out - which is highly unlikely as it's never happened before. The scene is pretty simple and plays out the brief description of the film I read beforehand: a miner discovers a white ooze coming out of the ground, tastes it to find that it's delicious, then immediately declares that he can make a fortune selling it. Then we get a bit of overlay credits, including the title of the film, which affirms to me that we didn't just start the movie ten minutes in.

We're quickly introduced to Mo, a corporate saboteur who takes a contract from the ice cream industry to look into how the white ooze is made, as it is now packaged and sold as The Stuff. Mo is played by Michael Moriarty with an absolute genius performance, nearly breaking the fourth wall in scenes so ridiculous that they must have gone through many takes to get. He works with what he gets though, with some truly ridiculous dialogue, but is also given an opportunity to improvise in many of the scenes. So much of his dialogue is delivered through a half smile, that it's either a perfectly content, smug, confident character or it's just that laughable. Either way, it's an absolute treat to watch.

A young boy sees The Stuff moving on its own inside his family's refrigerator and freaks out - of course, but takes it to a whole new level by going on a rampage in the grocery store. The kid really plays it up, and tries to evade his family who are now under the control of the white ooze. It doesn't take long before he teams up with Mo (and is quickly abandoned without much thought) to discover the source of The Stuff and what it's doing to the populace of the country. They're joined by the woman who spearheaded the advertising campaign to make The Stuff as popular as it is, although at one point she mentions that it practically sells itself. The crew is also joined for a bit by "Chocolate Chip Charlie," who if I can recall was a CEO of a cookie company who has been kicked aside. So he fights back with his fists, which leads us into some nice comedic, gruesome fights.

The film moves along at a good pace, typically getting right into the substance of each scene. I think the movie achieves more than it's B-Movie goals, providing us with cult movie fuel by embracing the absurd and running with it. Larry Cohen, the director, was aiming to put a bit of commentary in on consumerism in the 80's, with an exaggerated parallel to the cigarette and alcohol industry: it may be bad for us, but we can't stop ourselves from consuming more and the overbearing advertising serves as a reminder and push to use/drink/ eat more. Just as in Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD, victims of The Stuff become zombies, their minds controlled and bent on spreading the ooze to more carriers. Messages of corporate greed, control and corruption are hammered home, especially after the day has been saved. The film has been described as a bit of a time capsule for the decade, so it's a fascinating way to look back at the years where I was just a child, oblivious to it all but still very much part of it.

"Enough is never enough"

Tags: Movies, B-Movie, MovieReviews, 80's

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