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Feature


Are you eating it ...or is it eating you?
 
The Stuff is the new dessert taking supermarket shelves by storm. It’s delicious, low in calories and – better still – doesn’t stain the family carpet... What’s not to like?! Well, for a start it has a life of its own, and we’re not talking friendly live bacteria…
 
Young Jason seems to be the only one who doesn’t love The Stuff – in fact he won’t go anywhere near it, after having seen the pudding crawling around the fridge one night. What’s more, everyone who eats The Stuff has started acting really weird... Now, teaming up with wise-cracking industrial saboteur “Mo”, Jason must put a stop to The Stuff and the organisation behind it or face a gooey, gloopy demise.
 
Coming courtesy of horror auteur Larry Cohen (director of the It’s Alive series and scribe behind the Maniac Cop trilogy), The Stuff is a titillating treat for the taste-buds which blends elements of films such as Street Trash with the straight-up B-movie flavour of The Blob. So grab a spoon and dig on into The Stuff – the taste that delivers… much more than you bargained for!


Video


The majority of Arrow's recent Blu-ray releases have featured third-party transfers, so I was really looking forward to seeing their in-house effort for The Stuff. Don't get me wrong, none of the third-party transfers have really disappointed (save for perhaps The People Under the Stairs, but hey that's Universal for you), but titles like Time Bandits and Cinema Paradiso prove that things generally look their best when Arrow takes matters into its own hands. As with the rest of their recent titles this restoration was overseen by James White at Deluxe Digital Cinema. The original 35mm elements were scanned at 2K, after which colour grading was performed and dirt and scratch clean-up tools were carefully applied.

The results of such meticulous work are plainly evident in the accompanying screen shots below. The 1.85:1 (1080/24p AVC) image delivers an incredibly filmic experience that belies the feature's age and budget. I've only seen the film once before, as a standard-definition Netflix stream, and the Blu-ray destroys it in every area. Detail is much better all round, as are things like colour density and stability. The Stuff's palette is actually quite reserved, so it's not accurate to say that it 'pops' off of the screen, but the various hues look very natural. Contrast is nicely balanced and shadow detail remains good, even in some of the murkier scenes (where black is more of a dark brown). It’s true that there are a number of film artefacts to be seen throughout, but they are generally unobtrusive (save for a couple of larger flecks here and there). Of course compression is up to the company's usual high standards.

If pressed for negatives I’d have to say that some scenes, particularly the darker ones, do look much noisier than the majority of the film, but of course this is down to the original photography. That and some of the more noticeable film artefacts are really the only nitpicks I can find... This is another great transfer from Arrow, and while the The Stuff isn't the most attractive picture ever committed to film it looks better than ever here. My video score might seem a little high in comparison to some of Arrow’s higher-profile releases, but I honestly believe that the work they’ve done to bring this film up to snuff warrants it. We’re not talking about a film that’s going to shift millions of units here, which makes the care that’s gone into this restoration all the more impressive. In truth if we awarded half marks this would probably be a 7.5, but we don’t, and I can’t bring myself to go with the higher score due to the frequency of the film artefacts (this is why I hate numerical review scores!).

Audio


The accompanying booklet mentions that care was taken to ensure that the film’s original soundtrack remained unaffected by digital processing. Curiously my receiver identified the LPCM 1.0 track as a 7.1 multi-channel affair, but rest assured that this is definitely a mono experience. All sound emanates from the centre speaker for an authentic listening experience. Of course The Stuff’s sound design is severely limited by its very nature, with its less than optimal fidelity and narrow dynamic range, especially during one scene towards the end when the overall quality takes a noticeable turn for the worse. The lack of directionality and the absence of any real bass are also felt throughout, but of course I’m probably not telling you anything you couldn’t deduce from the specs, such is the nature of monaural audio.

As for the positives, well the dialogue is generally clear, save for one or two moments where effects appear to intentionally overwhelm it, and Anthony Guefen’s score sounds especially good. Richard Seamen’s jingles for ‘The Stuff’ TV commercials will also stick with you long after the closing credits (especially if you leave the Blu-ray menu on a loop!). All things considered this is a solid presentation of a limited sound mix.
 

Extras


Although Arrow's release of The Stuff includes almost an hour's worth of bonus content, it's positively bare-bones by their own high standards. I've heard anecdotal evidence that they tried to licence the commentary found on the older DVD releases, but were unable to do so. It's a pity, as it would have been a real boost to the overall package. Ah well, it wasn't to be, so here's a list of what is included.

  • Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature Feature
  • Trailer Commentary
  • Original Trailer
  • Reversible Sleeve with Original and Newly Commissioned Artwork by Gary Pullin
  • Collector’s Booklet Featuring New Writing on the Film by Joel Harley, Illustrated with Original Stills and Promotional Materials

'Can't Get Enough of the Stuff' is an entertaining fifty-something minute documentary featuring interviews with Larry Cohen, producer Paul Kurta, actress Andrea Marcovicci, Steve Neill (mechanical makeup effects) and film critic Kim Newman. Although much of the discussion centres on The Stuff, it also touches on Cohen's other films (such as It's Alive and Q). As the only supplement with any real substance doc had a lot to do, but it doesn't disappoint.

Darren Bousman's trailer commentary is simply a minute-and-a-half of him enthusing about the film and others like it. I'm afraid it doesn't really bring a whole lot to the table. The original trailer is also included without commentary, and is further proof of the fantastic restoration job Arrow did on the main feature. Of course the company's customary reversible artwork and booklet are also included, the latter of which is well worth a read.

Overall


In the documentary, Larry Cohen himself mentions that the studio didn’t quite know what to make of The Stuff. They were expecting a straight-ahead horror picture, but the film is more of a dark satirical comedy that takes a broad swipe at consumer culture. Now I like a good genre crossover as much as the next man, but aforementioned satirical elements aside, The Stuff didn’t really do it for me. The script is a bit of a mess; acting is subpar; effects are weak; and the editing choppy at best. It’s not a bad film, but neither is it a particularly good one.

While the Blu-ray isn’t quite the home run that some of Arrow’s past titles have been, largely because of the relatively limited number of bonus features, it’s still a very solid release and one that no self-respecting fan of The Stuff should be without. The video transfer and encode are up to the usual high standards, and while the mono audio is limited compared to a modern sound mix, I’d rather that than some godawful pseudo-surround. Check it out.

Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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