VHS REWIND PART 1: “THE STUFF”
A MAGNETIC (S)TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
In the beginning…
As I sit and write this article for my pals at Internet Picnic, I’m surrounded by upwards of 1,000 VHS tapes. We call this room “The Vault,” and every tape is a rare jewel excavated from dusty Mom & Pop video stores that littered the South from North Carolina to Texas, each one now long extinct.
I started my collection in my mid-twenties while living in Baltimore. A good friend of mine turned me onto a VHS tape I hadn’t seen since the days of riding my bike to the local video store and renting age-inappropriate movies from the friendly but apathetic teen behind the counter.
I watched that tape ten times and then I showed it to my childhood friend, Brockton McKinney, another ten times. I instantly started looking for more B-movie gold. Each time I plucked another nugget from some dingy archive, the floodgates of ’80s nostalgia would open and a deluge of fond Saturday nights with my pals, a VCR, and a pizza, would wash over my crappy adult brain and for that hour and a half I would forget all of the bills I couldn’t afford to pay.
VHS has become so much more than an out-of-date format to me. It is a key to a simpler time, an era when folks making low-budget films in Hollywood (or perhaps even their own backyards) were able to acquire national distribution, and then that film could share shelf space with its big budget peers in the local rental shop.
For this series I’ve curated some of our favorite tapes and some that are just plain weird. I hope you’ll find as much enjoyment out of them as I do!
The Stuff (1985)
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Paul Sorveno, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Scott & Brian Bloom
Remember that tape my pal in Balty lent me that set off my video addiction? Well, this is the one. I could write pages and pages about this movie, from it’s smart and cynical commentary on ’80s consumerism to its comedic value brought to us so generously by Garrett Morris and Michael Moriarty, and even Paul Sorvino (who hams it up as far right warmongering mercenary). It’s decently paced and well filmed and, though it gets muddy in some spots, the plot is sharp. This is not your typical B-movie. It’s obvious that Cohen is a vet of the low-budget freakfest. He is after all the writer/director behind Its Alive, Q The Winged Serpent, and a bevy of other mid-grade titles. It’s actually kind of hard to pinpoint where this movie lands on the quality spectrum, but one thing I can tell you is that it is full of campy goodness. Of all the Cohen/Moriarty team ups (and there are about four), this one’s my favorite. Cohen let’s Moriarty off the rails just enough to make the movie interestingly weird.
The story goes like this: Miners find white ooze bubbling forth from under the earth’s crust. What’s the first thing you do? You eat it, dumbass. You eat it, and you LOVE it! In fact, you can’t stop eating it. Soon this new taste sensation is sweeping the nation, but something sinister is happening, and people are becoming strangely addicted to this seemingly harmless, non-staining super snack. Some people even go missing. The snacking industry needs a hero to break The Stuff’s mysterious popularity wide open. Enter, Mo Rutherford, a corporate spy who is hired by an international snack foods syndicate to break the case. Our intrepid hero, Mo is soon embroiled in a nation wide conspiracy involving The Stuff. After running into chocolate chip cookie mogul Chocolate Chip Charlie (the aforementioned Garrett Morris), Mo ends up at a Stuff photo shoot (naturally). After some gross sexy banter with the Stuff advertising executive, Nicole, Mo convinces her that she’s a terrible person and they need to do whatever it takes to stop this killer confectionary from taking over the world. They then go pick up a kid whose family has gotten totally strung out on the Stuff and as a result, have become total assholes. (Side note: the kid has a total freak out at the local grocery store and goes completely mental on a Stuff display before being tackled by lowly supermarket stock boys.) Soon, Mo, Nicole and the kid are on the run from Stuffy spies. There’s only one place to turn: Right Wing Extremists. Will they re-find Chocolate Chip Charlie? Will they be able to stop The Stuff before it’s too late? Is this World War 3? All of these questions are answered when enough is never enough — of The Stuff!
- Michael Moriarty’s stellar performance as a southern (?) corporate spy is AMAZING. During his introduction he makes the rounds in a room full of his corporate peers shaking hands, and announces aloud that each one has a sweaty palm — and how, thankfully, he loves a sweaty palm. It’s awesomely weird.
- There are a plethora of side characters that make this flick extra fun. My favorite is “Strohs Man” played by James Dixon (a staple in Cohen films). See if you can spot him.
- Danny Aiello makes you pronounce the word soft drink in a whole different way. “Would you like a nice, soft, drink?”
- Garrett Morris’s death scene is awesome.
- This is an all around well-made cheese fest!
Thanks for letting me share a tiny glimpse into my forgotten format obsession. I’ll be back soon to blow the dust off of another magnetic gem and pop it in the VCR! Until then, I’m Bo Fader, hitting eject!