Modern Pulp Jun 14 2020
YOU ARE WHAT YOU'RE EATEN BY
Obscure ’80s horror flick turns the idea of consumerism on its head.


Above you see a poster for Larry Cohen's The Stuff, an interesting piece of modern pulp cinema that premiered in the U.S. today in 1985. It's obviously a horror movie, and though it fails to be scary it succeeds as a wickedly clever anti-consumerist metaphor. Its underlying critique is that Americans will buy anything that's marketed with snazzy visuals and a good jingle, even things that are bad or even deadly for them. The Stuff takes that idea and runs with it, showing a nation addicted to a dessert that's actually a dangerous unknown organism. People eat it and it hollows them out physically and takes over their minds. While some victims succumb by snarfing the Stuff, others fall prey by being attacked by those infected. In this way entire towns are replaced, then the monsters move on to bodysnatch even more people.

Along the way Cohen's film takes swipes at regulatory capture by featuring FDA officials who approve the Stuff, at militias by casting a paramilitary group as the heroes, then exposing them as racist clowns, and at corporate greed by having the whole fiasco engineered by a shady cabal of one percenters. Yes, quite a lot of thought went into this baby. What didn't go into it was sufficient budget. And despite Cohen and company's obvious deeper intent, it's pretty safe to say most filmgoers didn't absorb the subtext. That fact can be confirmed by taking a glance at any of the numerous dayglow health killers on supermarket shelves today. So technically The Stuff flops both as a fright flick and a consumer warning. But it offers food for thought that remains relevant today, thirty-five years later, and it's certainly a movie unlike any other.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 13
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
August 12
1943—Philadelphia Experiment Allegedly Takes Place
The U.S. government is believed by some to have attempted to create a cloak of invisibility around the Navy ship USS Eldridge. The top secret event is known as the Philadelphia Experiment and, according to believers, ultimately leads to the accidental teleportation of an entire vessel.
1953—Soviets Detonate Deliverable Nuke
The Soviet Union detonates a nuclear weapon codenamed Reaktivnyi Dvigatel Stalina, aka Stalin's Jet Engine. In the U.S. the bomb is codenamed Joe 4. It is a small yield fission bomb rather than a multi-stage fusion weapon, but it makes up for its relative weakness by being fully deployable, meaning it can be dropped from a bomber.
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