MARCH 10, 2008
“Everybody has to eat shaving cream once in a while...”
Every now and then I come across a movie that features a performance that really makes me wonder why it hasn’t been ripped off in scores of other films. Such is the case with Michael Moriarty in Larry Cohen’s The Stuff. He’s sort of like a cross between Fletch and a southern businessman, and almost everything he says is hilarious. He’s completely laid back and dry, and it’s definitely a highlight of his career (sadly, the next year he was in Troll, and didn’t get anywhere near as many moments to shine as he does here). It’s seriously worth your time to watch the film just for his scenes.
Luckily, the rest of the movie ain’t too shabby either, however I should note that it’s a bit oddly paced – the stuff is discovered in the film’s very first shot, and our requisite young hero discovers that the stuff is “bad” less than 3 minutes later, but then it’s sort of drawn out for a while. Granted, there isn’t a hell of a lot of story here, and Cohen luckily doesn’t try to explain where it came from or any possibly crippling thing like that, but it still could have used maybe a tiny bit of restructuring.
Otherwise it’s a blast. Moriarty is hilarious, Garrett Morris shows up as a chocolate chip cookie magnate, and Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino (between this and Repo, this guy needs to make more genre films!) turn in rare non-mobster roles. The whole movie (particularly the radio station scenes) has an improvisational feel which isn’t exactly what you expect in what is essentially a monster movie. There is a wealth of great moments throughout the film; my favorite has to be the stock boy at the grocery store who dives over a pile of The Stuff in order to save it from the hero, who is destroying it all. I also like the rather odd notion that the kid hero just teams up with this total stranger (Moriarty) without any question.
Also the music during the scene where they see The Stuff “swamp” sounds exactly like the Super Mario Bros “dungeon” music (Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn, dundundundun dun DUN DUN). And the effects are pretty good for the time – it’s mostly stop motion stuff (by the late, great Dave Allen) matted with live action footage. For a low budget, it’s impressive, though naysayers will probably balk at the poor compositing (which Cohen acknowledges on the commentary).
Speaking of the commentary, Cohen’s an interesting guy, but the track has a lot of gaps; it’s almost like he’s afraid to talk over the dialogue at times. I wish Moriarty or someone had joined him, as the film is ripe for some good natured ribbing that would likely occur with a couple participants. It also seems to have been recorded over a few sessions, that or Cohen is senile; he constantly refers to “a picture I did called Q: The Winged Serpent” as if he hadn’t mentioned it a dozen times already. Sadly, it’s the only extra of note.
Your enjoyment of the film will likely depend on how much you like Moriarty, since he carries the film, and if you don’t enjoy his style of humor he will probably just annoy the shit out of you. Your loss.
What say you?
*No, that’s not him – but the film does have a Depp connection: the room where the Stuff attacks our heroes is the same room where Tina was killed in Nightmare on Elm St.