The Stuff is a 1985 horror comedy by writer/director Larry Cohen about a sweet edible substance that tastes better than ice cream but is actually a predatory living organism that turns everyone who eats it into a zombie.
The Stuff makes its first appearance in the film when workers in a rock quarry notice something that looks like whipped cream bubbling up from the ground. When they take a taste of it, they are instantly hooked.
Sometime later, The Stuff has gone mainstream and is being sold in the frozen section of major supermarkets everywhere, seriously threatening the ice-cream industry’s bottom line.
David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) is a former FBI agent who is hired by bigwigs in the ice-cream industry to figure out what The Stuff actually is—and it’s far more dangerous than he’d ever imagined.
Here are 24 interesting trivia items about this often overlooked mid-80s horror comedy.
What is The ‘Stuff’?
1. The ‘Stuff’ in the title refers to a marshmallow creme-like substance that starts suddenly appearing everywhere. When people realize it tastes delicious and is calorie-free, they become addicted to it, and companies start marketing it to be sold in stores.
2. The problem is that The Stuff is alive. It is not a dessert treat at all. It is a parasitical organism, a monster akin to the Blob that came from beneath the Earth’s crust and is possibly conscious and malevolent. Once someone starts eating The Stuff, it spreads to the brain and turns the addict into a zombie.
3. People who become zombies as a result of consuming The Stuff are known as Stuffies. They bleed white.
4. The Stuff finally eats its host from the inside-out and leaves empty shells where humans used to be.
5. In the scene set in a motel room where The Stuff suddenly starts oozing from a bed and pillows and winds up attacking the man in the room, The Stuff also oozes up and down the wall and ceiling. This is because this scene was shot in a room engineered so that it can actually turn upside down.
6. Director Larry Cohen says that in some of the scenes where The Stuff chases characters in the film, he used a foamy substance made of pureed fish bones. He says that it smelled so bad, the actors would run to a river to wash the stink off themselves immediately after filming.
7. Production also used Häagen-Däzs ice cream and yogurt in other scenes to represent The Stuff.
8. In one scene where a giant wave of The Stuff crashes through a wall, the production crew used fire-extinguishing foam to “portray” The Stuff.
9. Although it seems as if the good guys have won at the end of the movie and every last trace of The Stuff has been eradicated, the final scenes show people smuggling containers of it away. In a scene after the credits roll, a lady in the bathroom caresses a tub of The Stuff.
10. Ads for the film made it seem as if The Stuff was a real dessert product available in any supermarket.
11. The Stuff creates such an intensely addictive euphoria, people have speculated that it was supposed to symbolize cocaine.
12. A foolproof way of killing The Stuff is to set it on fire.
Director Larry Cohen
13. Larry Cohen is a well-known exploitation director famous for films such as It’s Alive, Q, and God Told Me To. The film’s script was based on an original story by Cohen, who said: “My main inspiration was the consumerism and corporate greed found in our country and the damaging products that were being sold. I was constantly reading in the newspapers about various goods and materials being recalled because they were harming people. For example, you had foods being pulled off the market because they were hazardous to people’s health….That’s when I started thinking that The Stuff could be an imaginary product—in this case an ice cream dessert—that is being consumed by millions and is doing irreparable damage to humanity. Everybody is gobbling down this yummy food, so how can it possibly be wrong for us?”
14. The Stuff was a flop, for which Cohen blames New World Pictures Company, who marketed it more as a pure horror film than a dark comedy: “New World wanted a straight-up horror film, and, in retrospect, The Stuff had more comedic aspects to it than the executives were perhaps expecting. They thought they were going to get a flat-out horror movie with a lot of gore and scares, and we made a film that was more satirical and had a lot of humor and commentary in it. We played the characters for laughs in many cases, and that greatly diluted the horror element.…I think New World were disappointed that The Stuff wasn’t more horrific and nasty more of a balls-out monster movie. I knew before the film even hit theaters The Stuff would appeal to a different audience than the one we were trying to get.”
15. Cohen also apparently felt as if the film’s fate had been cursed from the get-go: “The day The Stuff opened in New York a hurricane hit and the newspapers were not delivered. Of course, we had received all these great reviews, but it didn’t matter because nobody ever got to read a single word of them.”
“Chocolate Chip Charlie” Hobbs (Garrett Morris)
16. Comedian Garrett Morris, who was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, portrays “Chocolate Chip Charlie” Hobbs, a cookie entrepreneur who becomes interested in the financial potential of The Stuff, only to become a zombie after sampling it.
17. The character was inspired by “Famous Amos” of chocolate-chip-cookie fame.
18. Larry Cohen had originally intended on casting Arsenio Hall as Charlie, but the studio preferred Morris, who at the time was more of an established star.
19. In the scene where David “Mo” Rutherford tells Charlie to call FBI agent Frank Herbert, it’s a sly nod to Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series of sci-fi books.
20. In an interview with the AV Club, Garrett Morris was asked about Larry Cohen’s reputation as a “character,” to which he responded, “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
Random Stuff about The Stuff
21. Clara Peller, a little old lady who gained fame with 1984’s “Where’s the Beef?” commercials for Wendy’s, has a cameo in a commercial where she says, “Where’s the Stuff?”
22. Actor Eric Bogosian has an uncredited cameo as a grocery clerk.
23. The character of the Colonel (Paul Sorvino) is intended to be a little bit of a bigot who has a problem with black people, but not because they’re black—it’s because he suspects they’re all “liberal communists.”
24. The film’s tagline was “ARE YOU EATING IT…OR IS IT EATING YOU?”