Halloween Highway: The Stuff

In 2008 the Avenue hosted a week of horror movies called Halloween Highway. As of this year, Halloween Highway will be back around 31 October. This year it’s a double offering, the recent Dutch horror film Sint and today it’s cult classic The Stuff.

Why Larry Cohen, the director of a.o. The Stuff hasn’t been in the Avenue’s spotlight is even for us a guess. Even at DV, where the Avenue was hosted from 2004 to 2011, Cohen never got the mention he deserved. This is something we’ll soon change and one of Larry Cohen’s movies will be allowed into the Kurtodrome Vault but one thing is sure: it won’t be The Stuff.

I didn’t like The Stuff when I first watched it. Oddly enough, I remembered it more fondly than I usually do for unpleasing movies. Maybe that’s why, when I was recently given a chance to buy The Stuff for a bargain, I whopped out my wallet.

The Stuff is a yoghurt-like substance that’s absolutely yummy and quite healthy too… apart from the fact it eats you up from the inside. Well, we can’t have it all, eh? A former FBI officer (hey, didn’t we tackle that cliché yesterday in Sint?) finds a couple of like-minded souls and tries to get the world to understand eating the Stuff is not good for you.

That is the short summary. There are a couple of things I’ve always found strange about the film: how, supposing The Stuff is so lethal, does it keep harmless enough to get in the shops? Why does an avid opposer of the product eat it (or else, how could he be eaten up)?
Those are just two examples of a plot that doesn’t always make sense and then we’re  glossing over the special effects that don’t always deliver. As Larry Cohen mentions in the dvd commentary, the film was made on a tiny budget and the time of digital effects wasn’t yet upon us. And it’s true: those cruder effects sometimes do look more realistic than sophistically made digital effects. That is why the unconvincing effects don’t bother me. Cohen also mentions they used lots of things for The Stuff and this is something I also noticed the first time I watched the film: the product doesn’t always move in the same manner.

Nitpicking aside, the tiny budget and occasionally apparent lack of convincing effects actually works in the favour of Cohen, the maverick director of “guerilla cinema” – something that’ll be the main focus in the upcoming Vault entry and therefore we won’t spend too much time on it now. The dvd commentary reveals that because of the shoestring budget Cohen sometimes had to improvise and that storyboards were hardly ever made. The film continued itself once a location was discovered, much like The Stuff seemed to find its own ways.

The commercials for this delicious product are a clear satire on our consumer behaviour and that’s something Cohen evidently wanted to show. The producers didn’t allow the director to put some fake commercials up before the credits of the film and I have to agree with Cohen that this was a bad decision. Nevertheless, you can’t deny the tongue-in-cheek mockery of 80s culture. Maybe that is what helps The Stuff sell itself these days. Then again, it’s The Stuff. Of course it’ll manage to be sold.

The Region 2 dvd is as basic as it gets: there are not even subtitles, but there is a short text on Cohen’s career, a trailer and there’s a director’s commentary that is somewhat entertaining. It’s mainly useful if you haven’ t seen the film in 10 years and want to hear some details while rediscovering the film. That’s the way I watched it and though I liked the film better than the first time I’d watched it I don’t think it’s essential horror – or even essential Cohen.

6.5/10

That’s it for 2011’s Halloween Highway. The next regular update of Avenue Kurtodrome will be on 5 November.

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