Confession time: Your Aunt John has a major thing for the genius that is director LARRY COHEN. Sure, from a technical perspective his movies aren’t necessarily the prettiest to look at (IT’S ALIVE), and yeah, his special effects are typically more, ummm, “special” than effective, but sweet baby Jesus, that man is not only an astute observer of popular culture, but also a brilliant satirist to boot!
Case in point, 1985’s THE STUFF.
Like most readers in my age demographic, I originally caught this gem on basic cable the same year a TCBY yogurt set up camp in a neighboring town’s strip mall and became THE frozen desert palace du jour (coincidence or conspiracy?).
On the surface, THE STUFF centers on an over-marketed frozen dessert (Is it ice cream? Is it frozen yogurt? Is it, gasp, tofutti?) that becomes a must-have for mindless American consumers along the lines of Swatch Watches and Coca-Cola clothing. Enter MICHAEL MORIARTY (in one of the worst hair-pieces ever!) as David ‘Mo’ Rutherford, an industrial saboteur with a silly Southern drawl hired to find out the secret ingredient of the titular “Stuff” by some rival company. He quickly recruits the brainy and beautiful marketing wunderkind behind the successful Stuff advertising campaign (ANDREA MARCOVICCI), a little boy with hypnotically blue eyes (JASON BLOOM), and a deposed cookie entrepreneur (GARRETT MORRIS as “Chocolate Chip Charlie”) to ascertain the specifics of said recipe.
If you try to watch THE STUFF as a head-on horror flick, the cheesy zombie-inducing effects caused by mass “Stuff” consumption will surely disappoint you. It’s straight up ridiculous, and the shoestring effects budget really doesn’t help matters. However, if you focus solely on “The Stuff” advertisements sprinkled throughout the movie, you will see the aforementioned COHEN genius. He lampoons advertisers over reliance on supposedly sexy models, “urban” dance troupes, Broadway actresses, and ‘80s octogenarian ad queen CLARA PELLER.
Did you catch kinder-heartthrob ABE VIGODA in the above ad? Like I said, COHEN is a genius! Repeat viewings of THE STUFF was enough to keep my family away from TCBY and on the Carvel path. Long live COOKIE PUSS and his (her?) non-zombifying side effects!