By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Ice cream can kill
An old man comes upon some white stuff bubbling up from the ground and when he tries it he becomes addicted to its delicious taste. Soon everybody in the small town he is in becomes hooked to it as well. Some businessmen, who would never touch the stuff themselves, decide to market it as the next new variation of ice cream and call it The Stuff. It becomes a national craze, but when 11-year-old Jason (Scott Bloom) finds it crawling around in his refrigerator late one night he becomes convinced that there is something wrong with it, but he can’t get his family to stop eating it. Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) begins to get his suspicions as well when he is hired by a competing company to find out what the secret ingredients are only to come at a dead-end with people he talks to. When everyone starts to display odd zombie-like behavior the two join forces to shut down the company that produces.
It is really hard to figure out what genre to put this thing into. Most movie sites list it under the horror category, but there really isn’t anything that scary in it. I might actually put it as sci-fi, but it is a bit vapid at that level. If anything I would say the true category would be as a parody of all those old sci-fi movies from the 50’s as well as a satire on mass consumerism.
The film does feature some goofy commercials advertising the product that is spread throughout the story and features famous B-celebrities as the spokes people. My favorite was the one with Abe Vigoda and Clara Peller. Peller was famous for doing a Wendy’s commercial in the 80’s where she asked “Where’s the beef?” and in the ad here she asks “Where’s The Stuff?”
The special effects are hit and miss. The best ones feature the white liquid that looks like a cross between marshmallow topping, shaving cream and the white foamy stuff that comes out of a fire extinguisher. The best moment is when it starts to spew out of a pillow in a hotel room with such force that it completely covers a man with it and sticks him onto the ceiling. I also liked the part where actor Garret Morris has his mouth opened to an extreme size before he spits it out and then has his head explode.
Moriarty with his unique acting style scores again as a sort of anti-hero. His presence gives the movie an interesting edge. His bowl haircut, Cheshire grin and beady eyes make him almost look like some loner psycho killer from the sticks and allow for one funny exchange between him and actor Alexander Scourby’s character:
Scourby: You’re not as dumb as you look.
Moriarty: Nobody could be as dumb as I look.
As much as I love Andrea Marcovicci who is a truly beautiful woman to look at as well as a great actress I felt her character was not needed. She plays a woman who also teams up with Mo and Jason in their crusade to stop the Stuff. The romantic interplay between Mo and her character didn’t work and takes away from the quirkiness and edge that the Mo character had at the beginning. Having the heroes exclusively been between a kid and a middle-aged man would have been much more of a fun novelty.
The film does not have the schlocky, low budget production values that are a characteristic of most Larry Cohen movies. The lighting, variety of locales and reproduction of an Ice Cream factory are actually quite impressive. This is also one of the few films where you get to see the inside of a liquid storage truck. However, it lacks any type of interesting twist or payoff. There is never any explanation about what this white stuff is, or how it got there. There is also hundreds of potentially interesting scenarios and story threads that it could have taken, but doesn’t. In the end I felt this thing was just tapping the surface and the final result is rather empty and forgettable.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: June 14, 1985
Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes
Director: Larry Cohen
Studio: New World Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming