"Father, forgive me, as my cinephile companions may have told you- I have commited a grievous sin unto the God of Cinema."
'And what is this sin, my son?'
"I like....no, I'm addicted to...The Stuff"
'The killer yogurt movie starring Michael Moriarity and directed by Larry Cohen?'
"Yes, that's the one!"
'My dear boy, loving "The Stuff" is not a sin, though it might be considered slightly de riguer by most snooty cinephiles. There are actually quite a few pleasures to be had watching that movie, or any film directed or written by Larry Cohen!'
And so, this is the beginning of my imaginary confession at the Church of Cinematic Pleasures. Critics and fans alike can be ostracized by their adherence to genre films and filmmakers. These films can be dismissed prefunctorily because of how they are percieved. Simply put, a movie about killer yogurt is just plain stupid, isn't it (and so is a movie about Abraham Lincoln-Vampire Hunter, but more on that in a future post)?
Well, you're wrong. "The Stuff" is one of the smartest, silliest, and just plain goofy conceits ever put on film; and it could only come from the mind of that great horror movie satirist Larry Cohen.
Larry Cohen began his career in the late 50's as a writer/creator for TV. He wrote scripts for "The Defenders" and created the TV series "Branded", "The Invaders". "Blue Light" and "Coronet Blue". He has written over 90 TV/movie scripts for such diverse projects as the "Maniac Cop" series, "NYPD Blue", and several "Columbo" episodes.
Cohen has written scripts for other directors, including "Phone Booth" (originally supposed to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock!), "Cellular", the aforementioned "Maniac Cop" series, and many others. My two personal favorite of his stat-scripts are "Uncle Sam"- (which I'll be watching on July 4th, along with the musical "1776- but I digress!) and "Best Seller". But none of these films are as batshit entertaining as those he writes and directs himself.
We'll continue with the Cohen Confessional- the priest is now talking to me- the penitent confessor....
'You see, my son, most people would camplain that Michael Moriarity overacts as Mo Rutherford, the industrial spy that's hired by the ice cream companies to stop "The Stuff" at any cost. I mean, just listen to that fake southern accent and his over-the-rop mannerisms. But there's method to the madness here....'
"And what's the reason, Father?"
'The director, Larry Cohen, deliberately wants to take away all realism, so that the audience actually sees how subversive his viewpoint is...
'And Cohen's script is incredibly subversive. Look at the plot. An industrial spy is hired by a competitor to find out what a product has been passed through the FDA without testing Unbeknownst to anyone, the stuff is an alien life form, tha when ingested, takes over the consumer and turns them into a Stuffie! (Sounds like Zoloft or any other depression drug on the market today...). The government is helpless (or at least oblivious to this invasion)...and who does the protagonist turn to for help??? The leader of a right-wing militia to broadcast the truth!! And when the crisis is past, "The Stuff" is sold on the black market to addicts. In one fell swoop, Cohen attacks the war on drugs, advertising agencies, industrial greed, and even has the gall to suggest that our government is a willing participant in this invasion, and that the right wing nuts are right!! How fucking cool is that!!'
"Father, you said fuck."
'Oh, I guess I did.....I'll say 3 Hail Scorsese's later.'
The faux stupidity of the conceit is the raison d'etre. Behind the insanity of a movie about killer yogurt, Cohen fashions a political attack like no other in recent memory. And you're laughing so hard at the movie that most viewers don't realize how savage the movie's message is.
And "The Stuff" isn't the only Cohen movie that's subversive. "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting", a spec script written in 1969 for director Mark Robson, is a direct support of abortion rights. "Bone"- Larry's first script he both wrote and directed, is a very pointed look at race relations. The "It's Alive" trilogy is a commentary on both parenting disabled children and societal acceptance of them. "A Return to Salem's Lot", was the first vampire film to mention AIDS. "Original Gangstas", filmed in 1996 in Gary IN, used several gang members, both as actors and crewmembers, giving several of them impetus to change their lives. Cohen doesn't just advocate, his films actually can change people for the better.
'Much more can be written about the legacy of Larry Cohen....his use of humor, his scattershot approach to directing, his use of his actor's natural talents and abilities, but alas my son, the confessional 's queue is backed up past the parking lot.'
"Well, Thank you Father. I feel much better now:
'And my son...'
'Don't forget your penance....You are to say 3 Hail Scorsese's, 2 Ave Antonioni's, and 1 Our Frankenheimer.'
"But I thought you said that liking Larry Cohen films wasn't a sin!!"
'I confessed to MY priest that I watched "God Told Me To." That's the penance I got from confessing, so it only seems fair to pass it on to you!"
Our father who art, I mean aren't, I mean are not ... I mean, hell, I stopped being a Catholic long ago.
However, I must confess, with an ardent argument such as the one from above, with a preist that is into Cohen films, and for that matter has his underling sinners pay penance for their (film) sins by hailing Scorsese, who am I to dissude anyone from seeing the cinematic parody, The Stuff?
Killer yogurt, for me, its hard to swallow. I hate yogurt anyway; just another way to pack on pounds I do not need. As for parody, love the concept. Use it myself often. Teach it every year at the high school. Think yogurt could be a clever and fascinating way to use parody? Not in my wildest dreams.
Yes, the acting is way over the top in the film. The parody, like so many Cohen films is not well hidden and slaps you in the face as often as the Three Stooges slap each other, but for those of you that enjoy film at its silliest but still contains the impact of a message, I suppose The Stuff really does deliver.
I doubt I will ever watch it again, but hey, I say I will never eat yogurt again, and then someone comes up with a new mixture and I find myself experimenting. There are, I am certain, worst ways to spend 90 minutes than watching this yogurt film.