For the past year and and a half I, Adam Cook have devoted much time and effort into “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review!” My goal was to showcase movies that viewers may have forgotten about or attempt to showcase movies that people may think are bad, but are actually decent. I continue to thank you the readers for your continued support of the page. As this blog has progressed over time, it has helped me network with various individuals in the film industry. I happened to come across one that I’ve spent a good amount of time with. For the first time in “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” I wanted to showcase an up and coming filmmaker.
Josh Stark is a filmmaker, writer, podcaster, content creator and above all, a horror movie fan. His love of horror gave him the concept of creating a movie that brings horror fans together. With that concept he created a new documentary entitled For The Love Of Horror, which will be arriving soon to Amazon, Amazon Prime, YouTube and for release on Blu Ray next year. The documentary features actors, actresses and filmmakers from the popular genre as well as some regular fans telling their stories of how they got into horror movies and what kind of impact it has had on them personally.
I had the chance to sit down with Josh. We talked about the new movie along with other projects he has coming up and how he got into the world of horror. Below is my exclusive interview with Josh Stark.
Congratulations on the documentary! How was the experience making this documentary in comparison with your previous films?
Thank you, Adam. The experience that I have had working on this documentary series has been nothing short of fantastic. All the support that I have gotten since it was announced and everyone involved. It’s really been a humbling experience.
What was the most memorable part of making this film?
Meeting all the actors, directors; sfx artists. I have meet some awesome people that have worked on the original Halloween , the newer Halloween and everything in between.
What do you hope fans take away from seeing this film?
The documentary series will be in seasons and is going to be an ongoing show. Mainly what I am looking to do is shine a light on the horror community and give them a voice. A lot of people who don’t really watch horror movies judge people who love the horror genre and I want to show everyone that we are just like them except we love creepy shit.
Let’s go back in time. What got you into film making? What were your earliest memories?
When I was a kid I would sneak in my dads bedroom where he had a huge VHS collection. And the top shelf is where he had the hardcore horror at. And one day I got a movie from the top shelf. That movie was Evil Dead 2 and the events I witnessed that day changed my life forever and made me want to become a filmmaker.
Do you remember the first horror movie you watched? Did you become an instant horror fan immediately?
Dracula 1934. That was the first horror movie I’ve ever watched. That’s when I fell in love with film, but it wasn’t till Evil Dead 2 that I fell in love with horror.
What are your favorite horror movies?
Phantasam is my favorite horror movie. I also love Fright Night as well as Pumpkinhead.
In addition to your films, you’ve also written for various publications. How did you get involved with writing? Did you write reviews? Columns?
I wrote reviews as well as columns. I have always loved writing. I would write from a very young age and make sequels to every movie I watched. Something very cool happened when I was 15 I wrote my first script called swine and it actually got noticed by a representative of Fangoria and they wanted to interview me for there magazine. I never followed through with it, but it was very cool.
You’ve started a new network called Braindead Network. Where did the concept come from? What kind of features can horror fans look for when visiting?
Braindead Network is a podcast network where horror podcast can come and be apart of a company where they get certain perks as well as get promotions and things of that nature. Also Braindead is making a switch to YouTube as well so I can’t wait. Braindead Network started off as a podcast me and my wife made to talk about horror movies and then when we started getting attention people wanted to join. And then it became a network. We also liked the movie Braindead (Laughs).
You’ve also been involved with podcasting. What was the first podcast you worked on? Can you talk more about your newest podcast, B-Movie Drive In?
Black Sunday Podcast was my very first podcast. Then the name changed to Braindead Podcast. And now it’s called B Movie Drive-In. And it is ran by Me and my two awesome co-host Zach and Andy. I couldn’t do it without them.
What was the best advice you’ve received?
Growing up I never had much advice except give up and I will never make it. So believe it or not my best advice was all the negative stuff because now I have to prove them wrong.
What are your plans going forward?
I want to take over. I really just want people to see my work. I have a great imagination. My podcast is starting to gain traction and I am working on a lot of projects.
Where can people find you to keep up on what you’re working on?
Writers: Roy Frumkes, Rocco Simonelli & Alan Ormsby
Starring: Tom Berenger, Ernie Hudson, Diane Verona, Marc Anthony, William Forsythe, Luis Guzman, Raymond Cruz
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Tom Berenger is an underappreciated actor in this reviewer’s opinion. Throughout his career he has played a diverse range of characters. Everyone will remember him as the sociopath sergeant in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam drama “Platoon,” which earned him an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor. Others may remember him as Cleveland Indians catcher Jake Taylor in the baseball comedy “Major League.” Most recently he appeared in Christopher Nolan’s surreal blockbuster “Inception” as the adviser to Cillian Murphy’s character. He’s also appeared in movies that would launch into franchises such as “Sniper” and this movie that is about to be talked about, “The Substitute!”
In “The Substitute,” Berenger plays Jonathan Shale, a mercenary for hire. After a botched mission in Cuba, he returns home to Miami and to his fiance Jane Hetzko (Diane Verona) who is a history teacher at Columbus High School. During a walk on the beach Jane is attacked by someone which results in a broken knee. Jane believes he is connected to a street gang called the “Kings of Destruction” or KOD whose leader is Juan Lakas (Marc Anthony) a student in her class. Unbeknownst to Jane, Shale decides to go undercover as her substitute teacher to investigate Lacas. Using forged credentials, Shale heads to the school where he introduced himself to the principal, Claude Rolle (Ernie Hudson). From there he acts like a normal history teacher and a quick disciplinarian over the out of control classroom. As he digs deeper into the school he believes that the school is being used as a front for transporting drugs. He enlists his team which consists of Joey Six (Raymond Cruz), William Forsythe (Hollan), Rem (Luis Guzman) and Wellman (Richard Brooks) to track Lakas and his crew to find out where the drugs are going to and the players involved.
Directed by Robert Mandel whose biggest directorial effort before this was the 1992 college drama “School Ties,” “The Subsitiute” is an action crime drama with some heart. It can be over dramatic at times, but there’s just the right amount of action to keep it from being boring. It’s a movie that is relatable what is going on in our school system. We have so many failing public schools that are run down and taken over by gangs. The kids that are in school have no interest in learning and don’t seem to care about their futures. The movie does a good job depicting the entitled misfits and those that actually want to learn.
Berenger commands the film throughout the run time. He knows the risks he is getting involved in when he goes undercover at the school. It could affect his career as well as his relationship with Jane if she were to find out. His first day on the job is awkward but once he gets the feel for the classroom is when his military expertise kicks.in. He takes no crap from the kids and gets their attention. As he spends time with his students and shares his experiences with them, the students develop a sense of respect for him. In turn, Shale becomes emotionally attached to them and feels a sense of duty to help get them in a positive mindset about their future.
Ernie Hudson is great as the supporting character Rolle. He is the big cheese in the school and feels a little intimidated by Shale’s presence. He tries to fire him at first after an altercation with a couple students, but Shale is one step ahead of him when he tells him the teacher’s union rules. Rolle is used to the incivility of the school and when Shale brings order he is flabbergasted. The more Shale does for the students and the school, the more threatened Rolle feels when it comes to being in power. It’s a Chess match between the two individuals. There’s also a side to Rolle that is revealed in the movie which makes him a more loathsome character.
I was surprisingly impressed by Marc Anthony’s performance as Juan Lakas. This movie was before he became an international singing sensation. Lakas is a kid who is not to be taken lightly and as leader of the KOD, he gives fair warning to those who think they can size him up. After getting humiliated by Shale, he tries to take him out and realizes very quickly that he has met his match.
Perhaps learning from “School Ties” Mandel makes sure in this film not to go too deep into the social matters of the film. He reminds the audience that this is an action film first and foremost. There are plenty of fights, gun battles, explosions and a Rio Bravo like climax that keeps you engaged. The were very few flaws I could find in this movie. The only disappointment about the movie was the abrupt ending. For those that have been following my reviews, you know I’m not a fan of abrupt endings. I felt they could’ve developed some end results of the movie such as an investigation into the school or a further review about the public-school system, gangs in schools or what happens to Shale after his work is completed.
The movie did fairly well at the box office to spawn several sequels (Berenger not being involved in any of them). It’s a cult film that has a much longer lasting impact than it should. As I’ve said, “The Substitute” is a generational movie. It gives you an inside window of one of the biggest educational issues facing the United States. The movie will give you a new outlook on things and perhaps make you feel appreciated for where you have come from and teaches you not to take things for granted.
The movie was shot during the summer months and kids enrolled in summer classes were extras in the film. Free Papa John’s pizza was served to anyone who would stay after school.
Tom Berenger’s character explains to the class he is teaching about his services and experiences in Vietnam. Berenger played a Sgt. (Barnes) in the Vietnam movie Platoon 10 years earlier.
Doesn’t Constitute A Direct Threat
My Students Are Trying To Kill Me
Jon Janus Promotion
That Cereal Really Does Work
You’ll Go Drop A Grenade On Him
It’s Going To Get A Lot More Quiet In Here
What’s The KOD?
What’s Your Background?
Not Doing Their Homework
I’m The Warrior Chief
Corporal Punishment Is Not Allowed
Make Me Write I’m Sorry 10 Times On The Board
No Talking In The Library
Kind Of Hard When Your Whole Life Is A Covert Operation
Writers: Norm MacDonald, Frank Sebastiano & Fred Wolf
Starring: Norm MacDonald, Jack Warden, Artie Lange, Traylor Howard, Chevy Chase, Christopher McDonald
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Hello, readers! I’m back after a short break from writing the ‘Larry Cohen Tribute Special’ for the month of May. I want to thank all of you who took the time to read and comment on each of the movies I showcased. I put a lot of work into it and I hope you enjoyed reading them. It’s a great send off to a great filmmaker. Now that the special has concluded, I will be resuming doing reviews of more ‘Guilty Pleasure’ movies. I have a huge lineup of movies I plan on reviewing in the mere future including the ‘50th Review’ which should be coming up this summer (I will keep you posted on that detail).
For now, I wanted to kick off the post tribute special review with a little comedy. A comedy starring one of the more underrated comedians of the 90s. A man who got fired from Saturday Night Live because one of the executives at NBC claimed he was “not funny.” (on the contraire). I’m talking about Norm MacDonald. If you’re not familiar with Norm MacDonald, his comedy is brutally outspoken opinions that is delivered in a sarcastic monotone delivery. He was known on Saturday Night Live as the ‘Weekend Update’ anchor, who would start the beginning of the skit with, “Here’s the fake news!” (sound familiar?) MacDonald was known on Weekend Update for his constant bashing of Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson. After being dismissed from SNL, he would go on to star in his first comedic outing, 1998’s “Dirty Work!”
In “Dirty Work” MacDonald plays Mitch Weaver, a down and out loser. After being fired from his fourteenth job in two months and his girlfriend kicking him out of their apartment, he goes to live with his best friend, Sam McKenna (Artie Lange) and his dad, whom they refer to as ‘Pops’ (Jack Warden). During a night watching television Pops has a heart attack and is in the hospital. The treating physician, Dr. Farthing (Chevy Chase) informs Mitch and Sam that Pops needs a heart transplant and needs $50,000 for the transplant. Mitch and Sam do various odd jobs to get the money. After an event at their jobs where they were paid by their co-workers to embarrass their boss, they start a revenge for hire business called “Dirty Work!” Their concept is for people to pay them to do their dirty work. With this new business they hope to raise the funds in time and save Pop’s life.
Not only is this Norm MacDonald’s first leading role, this is the directorial debut of Bob Saget (yes, THAT Bob Saget). Together they create a movie that has plenty of sleazy jokes, cringeworthy moments and even a lightweight love story. It’s an interesting concept by MacDonald which I’m sure came from the idea of wanting to give NBC the finger (this was made before MacDonald would be fired). It has a feel similar to “National Lampoon’s Animal House!”
MacDonald holds up good as the lead in this movie. He’s pretty much playing himself. He’s a smartass and seems to be the intelligent one when it came to the idea of the business and the methods on how to screw over the people they were hired to screw over. There are times in the movie where he is repeating the same jokes such as brining out a tape recorded and dictating a, ‘Note to Self’. You get the idea after a few of them. Some of the revenge schemes are bizarre in nature, but the purpose is to get rid of the nuisance that their client is paying them to do.
The rest of the cast has some familiar faces. Legendary actor Jack Warden who plays Pops chews up the scenes he’s in with his twist of humor and dirty mind. Chevy Chase plays the aloof and gambling addict Dr. Farthing. When you hear about some of the things he’s gambled on, it makes you want to shrug your shoulders and raise your hands in disbelief. It’s one of the funnier roles for Chevy that I’ve seen in a very long time. Traylor Howard, best known for being in the sitcoms “Two Guys & A Girl AKA Two Guys, A Girl & A Pizza Place” and “Monk” plays Kathy who would become Mitch’s love interest after meeting in a bar. She finds him funny and witty but is not amused when his business starts getting noticed. Christopher McDonald, best known for playing Shooter McGavin in “Happy Gilmore” plays local real estate mogul Travis Cole who hires Mitch and Sam to get revenge on a rival. My favorite performances in the movie are the small special guest appearances from Chris Farley who plays Jimmy, a barfly that had his nose bitten off by a prostitute and in true Chris Farley fashion goes nuts when people bring that up to him and Don Rickles playing a movie theater manager who insults Lange’s weight and follows it up by insulting MacDonald’s “personality” (which was improvised brilliantly by Rickle). Look out for cameos from Gary Coleman, Adam Sandler and John Goodman as well.
The weakest performance by far is Artie Lange as Sam. He’s not very funny and seems to be concerned about the things Mitch is doing to gain money. Not only that, but his desperate attempt to get noticed by women is repetitive. Norm would’ve benefitted more by having an experienced actor play his best friend.
The comedy in the movie is a blend of physical jokes and MacDonald’s stand up puns. Some of the pranks range from being ingenious to just downright bizarre. Others are just plain mean like something a school bully would do to the kid her or she would be harassing. The majority of their jobs that they do for their clients are downright criminal although they seem to get away with it. This movie would not be made in today’s world. The movie clocks in at an hour and twenty-three minutes, which is pretty short for a comedy movie, but there’s no moment that seems to drag out.
There’s not much more I can say about this movie without spoiling it, but if you were a fan of the 90s “Saturday Night Live” or a fan of Norm MacDonald, I recommend “Dirty Work!” I give the film props for coming up with something that has never been done before, a revenge business comedy. It’s almost as if this movie is in its own category since there hasn’t been a revenge comedy in recent memory. And if you watch this movie and don’t enjoy it, then you can pay someone to do your dirty work on me!
Chris Farley’s last film, but he wasn’t included in the credits.
This movie came out a few months after Norm MacDonald was fired from Saturday Night Live (1975). When it was out in theaters, none of the shows on NBC were allowed to advertise it.
Howard Stern was offered a cameo appearance as Satan, but turned it down. Adam Sandler ended up with the role.
In the scene where Mitch (Norm MacDonald) and Sam (Artie Lange) are getting berated by Mr. Hamilton (Don Rickles), Don Rickles started ad-libbing insults. At one point, Don Rickles started insulting Norm McDonald, and not his Mitch Weaver character. This, of course, didn’t make it into the film, but the “baby gorilla” line, directed towards Sam, was used.
According to Chevy Chase, he was impressed by the original script’s raunchy, R-rated, “over the top” tone (particularly a filmed, but ultimately cut, gag involving MacDonald and Lange delivering donuts that had been photographed around their genitals), and went so far as to tell MacDonald and Lange to not allow any changes. However, the studio insisted on a PG-13 rating, and re-scheduled the film’s release from February to June, where it fared poorly against blockbusters like Godzilla (1998). Unfortunately, no alternate scenes had been shot, and the dialogue could only be changed with the actor’s re-recording their lines. This may explain why some of the dialogue is dubbed in certain scenes.
Julia Sweeney plays Mitch’s deceased mother in a still photograph
Starring: Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Megan Gallagher, Red Buttons, Janine Turner
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Sadly, we’ve reached the final movie review in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. I want to thank all you readers out there for the support and spending time reading these reviews. If you’re a Larry Cohen fan, I hope I reviewed some of your favorites. If you’re not familiar with his work, hopefully I’ve given you enough for you to find one of his movies and watch it. For the last movie, we are going to look at Larry’s first feature film of the 90s. It’s a Mystery and Suspense film that has you at the edge of your seat. It’s also a movie where a vehicle is treated like a full-fledged character. The last movie in our Larry Cohen Tribute Special is 1990’s ‘The Ambulance!’
‘The Ambulance’ stars Eric Roberts as Joshua Baker, a comic book artist who is currently working on a project for none other than Marvel Comics (featuring a cameo from the late great Stan Lee) who meets a young woman on a New York City street named Cheryl (Janine Turner). Suddenly, Cheryl collapses on the street and within a matter of minutes, an ambulance arrives to take Cheryl to the hospital. Josh heads to the nearest hospital to check up on her. When he arrives at the front desk to find out what room Cheryl is in, the staff tell him that she was not admitted to the hospital. He then goes to another local hospital where they state she was not admitted here. Josh passes a sketch of Cheryl to people walking the streets hoping someone would recognize her and find out what happened to her. Cheryl’s roommate notices the picture and speaks with Josh. She takes him to what she believed to be Cheryl’s last location only for the same ambulance to arrive and kidnap her. Now Josh is convinced there is something going on with the ambulance and the people who are associated with it. After asking for help from the local police department, specifically Lt. Frank Spencer (James Earl Jones) who is not convinced of his story, Josh continues his investigation hoping to find Cheryl before it’s too late.
Larry Cohen came up with this concept after his own personal experience involving an ambulance. He talked about some of the horrors he dealt with when he was being driven to the hospital, which he says in his documentary ‘King Cohen.’ The experience made him think about medical services. Ambulances are supposed to pick up someone and rush them to the hospital. It’s a service where it means life or death for people. What if an ambulance went rogue and didn’t take the person to the nearest hospital? It’s a scary thought that Cohen tries to capitalize in this movie.
The first thing that I noticed right away when watching this movie was the cinematography. Compared to Cohen’s grainy looking pictures of the 80s, the picture is bright sharp looking and relative to how movies were starting to look as the 90s began. Once again the movie takes place in New York City as it has been in the majority of Cohen’s films. You have scenes all over the city from the busy downtown to the rough outskirts and the shady areas. You see many sides of the city.
‘The Ambulance’ is a mystery/thriller, with Cohen throwing in his macabre sense of humor to not make it too dark. Like all his films Cohen rounds up an experience cast with Eric Roberts taking the lead role. I’m not familiar with a lot of Eric Roberts’ work, but he is someone I never thought of being a protagonist. He plays Joshua Baker as an arrogant smooth talking character who’s not afraid of going up to random women, in this case Cheryl to introduce himself and perhaps get to know them on a personal level. When Cheryl disappears, Roberts goes into detective mode trying to figure out what happened to her and tries to be the hero despite the fact he is trying to save someone he doesn’t know at all. His illustration skills come in handy with the investigation when he draws both Cheryl and the ambulance and gives it to not only the police but regular passerby’s hoping someone would recognize her and have information. Along the way, Baker comes across some unique and over the top partners to aid in his quest. James Earl Jones’ Lt. Spencer is boisterous and unconvinced of Baker’s story and has his own suspicions about him thinking that he may have something to do with Cheryl’s disappearance. Megan Gallagher plays Sandra Malloy, a spunky police officer who believes Baker’s story and uses her position of authority to find leads. Finally comic legend Red Buttons plays Elias Zacharai, who (you guess it) provides the comic relief of the movie. He meets Baker during a scene in a hospital room. Buttons’ provides his traditional zingers and one liners to help ease the tension of the movie. Lastly you have the antagonist of the movie played by soap opera legend Eric Braden who is behind the kidnapping of Cheryl. He is cunning, sadistic and has a purpose for Cheryl which is revealed in the film.
We can’t forget the character of the ambulance itself. It’s an old ambulance, painted in red with a glowing green inside. It gives it a ghostly feel to it. The ambulance reminds me of the Stephen King novel turned John Carpenter movie ‘Christine’. Although it’s not a car that comes to life, but it is alive from the look and the people who are driving it. Whenever the ambulance appears on screen, you know something is about to go down and not for good intentions.
The movie is fast paced and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The movie teases the audience every time Josh stumbles upon a place that Cheryl is last scene thinking that she is there only for The Doctor and the ambulance to be one step ahead of him. Scenes like this keep your heart racing and you may let out a pounding on the table moment in some cases.
The movie is without its flaws. First was the climax. In my best attempt to avoid any spoilers all I can say is that the climax does not give Josh redeeming quality. It makes him look selfish at the end when things don’t go the way he had hope for. You’ve been cheering this guy on throughout the movie and then all of a sudden there’s a one eighty. I don’t know what Cohen was thinking with that. The other flaw I found was there was no real character development with the antagonist. You don’t know if he’s a real doctor, a mad scientist, a crazy man pretending to be a doctor or a doctor who had his medical license revoked. You don’t know his true name, his background. Given Cohen’ reputation as creating memorable and colorful characters it seems like he didn’t put in the work to develop the bad guy.
‘The Ambulance’ is a non-stop thriller that not only gets your heart pounding, but gives you a chuckle or two. While the kidnapping story is nothing new, but giving the twist of medical personnel who are not all that they claim to be gives it a unique style that only Larry Cohen could come up with.
We now have reached the conclusion of the ‘Larry Cohen Tribute Special’. Hopefully you enjoyed these five reviews that I’ve presented. It’s the most ambitious work I’ve done since I’ve started this blog. Larry Cohen has been an inspiration to me and re-watching his films have given me a new desire to write some scripts that are original and creative. If I can convert one person into a Larry Cohen fan, then I have done my job. Hopefully you, the reader are that person.
Thank you for taking the time this month to check out these movies, readers!
– The ambulance used is a 1973 Cadillac commercial chassis with coach work by Miller Meteor. It is a Lifeliner model with 54 inches of rear headroom. The actual movie car is now owned by a collector in California.
– The role of the villain was originally played by Wesley Addy. However Cohen was unhappy with his performance and recast the role with Eric Braeden
– John Travolta was originally considered for the lead role before Eric Roberts was cast.
– A young Jim Carrey was also considered for the role of Josh.
– Jamie Lee Curtis was originally considered for the role of Officer Malloy.
– Donald Trump made a small cameo in a deleted scene.
– First movie role for Nick Chinlund, best known for playing Billy Bedlam in the 90s action packed thriller ‘Con Air’.
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
I’ve been waiting to post this review. Now is a perfect time. It’s movie #4 in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. This is perhaps the most popular film in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It is a movie that is still fresh and relatable almost thirty-five years since its release. The concept may be goofy, but you will enjoy the ride this movie provides once you push the Play button on your remote control. If you ask most movie fans to name one Larry Cohen movie off the top of their heads, the majority will say this title, ‘The Stuff!’. So, without further ado, here is the review to the 1985 horror cult classic ‘The Stuff!’
The movie starts with a railroad worker noticing a white bubbly substance coming from the snowy ground. He takes a taste of it to see what it is. To his delight it tastes very sweet with the texture of yogurt. Soon the substance is being marketed to consumers as “The Stuff” which becomes a phenomenon. “The Stuff” is marketed as being creamy, filling and with no calories. You can find “The Stuff” at supermarkets, small vendor carts and even a Dairy Queen style drive thru. While people are going crazy over “The Stuff” there are people highly suspicious of this addictive edible food. First there’s a young boy named Jason who wakes up in the middle of the night looking for a snack. He opens the refrigerator door to see a container of “The Stuff” moving. He tries to convince his family that there is something alive within it, but they are dismissive of his claims. Jason gets paranoid that he vandalizes a supermarket by destroying the massive amounts of “The Stuff” that is being sold. The other person who is skeptical of “The Stuff” is a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur named David “Mo” Rutherford (who tells people that he got the nickname from whenever people gave him money, he always wanted mo!). He is hired by numerous corporate executives of the ice cream industry to find out what is in “The Stuff” and destroy it. He befriends the head marketer of “The Stuff” Nicole and they set out to investigate the contents. Mo’s efforts reveal that “The Stuff” is a living parasite that takes over people’s brains and then mutates the host into zombies. Mo encounters Jason and the three of them are determined to destroy “The Stuff” before it consumes more and more people.
As I’ve said in my opening statement, “The Stuff” is still my favorite movie in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It took me a long time to find interest in checking it out. When I first saw the cover art, it didn’t appeal to me. Mainly because I wasn’t familiar with Larry Cohen’s work nor was, I interested in low budget horror movies. After seeing the movie pop up on several streaming services, I decided to give it a chance and boy did I not regret it. I enjoyed every frame, scene, characters and effects. It made me wish I had seen this movie a lot sooner than I did.
Michael Moriarty once again returns in a Larry Cohen picture. He follows up his astounding performance in ‘Q: The Winged Serpent” with another memorable performance. I loved his portrayal of Mo Rutherford. He has the smarts of a detective and the tongue of a salesman. He’s smooth talking, confident and keeps his eye on the ball. What starts as a simple job to expose “The Stuff” to his employers turns into a national crisis that he must find a way to put an end. The rest of the cast is convincing in their roles. Andrea Marcovicci plays Nicole, the attractive and smart marketer of “The Stuff” who joins Mo in his investigation and become lovers. Garrett Morris plays ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs, the junk food magnet that Mo befriends while visiting a town that has been desolated by relocation of jobs and the great Paul Sorvino as Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears who leads the operation into destroying “The Stuff” and warning the public about the dangers of consuming it. Sorvino chews up the scenery all throughout the climax of the movie.
Like most of Cohen’s films, “The Stuff” is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties were the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. With these new products came heavy advertising and marketing. This was during Reaganomics where the American economy was booming, and people were spending their hard-earned money of anything they can get their hands on. Cohen based “The Stuff” off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits.
The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. There’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures.
‘The Stuff’ is not without its flaws and there’s plenty of them. There’s no main antagonist to the movie only that the product itself and the corporate executives. I think there was a missed opportunity there. If they had a main antagonist who could perhaps be a rival saboteur to Mo or a person who wants to manipulate the infected people and make them servants of his, it would have made for a more interesting confrontation. The color of The Stuff is white. It’s not a scary color or a color that is associated with blobs or goo. If it were green or blue, I think it would’ve been a more organic look. Also, I did not enjoy the performance of the kid, Jason. If I had to create a list of the ‘Most Annoying Characters in Horror Movies’ he would be on that list. He is constantly whining about telling his family not to eat The Stuff. He also complains to Mo that he had to eat shaving cream to convince his parents that he is now under the power of The Stuff. I also didn’t like how he was portrayed at the end of the movie. It didn’t give him any redeeming quality or likeability. Finally, there could’ve been a lot more romantic development between Mo and Nicole. It’s like they meet and then all of a sudden Nicole is in love with him. My viewing experience of characters falling in love tends to build up from the beginning of the movie to the mid-way point and there was none of that here. You may notice these flaws as you watch it, but because there is so much going on in terms of the action and the horror of the movie that you will more than likely shrug it off.
‘The Stuff’ is a rare find. It should’ve been a much more mainstream film considering the subject matter. This is a movie that still holds up after all this time. You can relate this movie to everything that is going on in our world today as consumerism and Capitalism hasn’t slowed down. It’s an iconic B-Movie that stacks right up there with many of the underrated greats. This is the most recognizable film of Larry Cohen’s work and the one movie that people associate Cohen with.
Next week we present the final review of the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. Make sure you check back next week. Same time, same place, same website.
– According to audio commentary on the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD, the scene in the motel where the Stuff comes out of the mattress and pillows and attacks the man on the wall and ceiling was shot in a room that could turn upside down, allowing the Stuff to move up and down the wall. It was exactly the same room used in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) when Johnny Depp’s character Glen is sucked into his bed and his blood is regurgitated back out onto the ceiling.
– According to Larry Cohen himself, in some scenes in which the Stuff chases characters, a foam made of blended fish bones was used. It stank so much that, as soon as the shots were done, the actors ran to a river in order to bathe and get rid of the stench.
– Garrett Morris was asked about this film when he participated in AV Club’s “Random Roles” interview series. He said the production was “crazy,” and when the interviewer noted Larry Cohen’s history as “a character,” and asked Morris what he was like, Morris said that “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” with no further comment about Cohen.
– Arsenio Hall was considered for the role of “Chocolate Chip” Charlie W. Hobbs.
– David ‘Mo’ Rutherford tells ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs to contact agent Frank Herbert from the FBI. Frank Herbert was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels.
– Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford) and Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears) went on to appear in 31 episodes of Law & Order (1990) together from 1991 to 1992 as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone and Sergeant Phil Cerreta, respectively.
– The original cut of the film was said to be much longer and described by Director Larry Cohen as more “dense and sophisticated”. Feeling that the film was too long, it was cut to increase the pace of the film. There was a romantic scene between Moriarty and Marcovicci that took place in a hotel room in the original cut.
– The Executive’s Office at the End is strangely similar to Mr Burns’ Office from The Simpsons, particularly the Stuffed Polar Bear.
Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, Richard Roundtree, James Dixon
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
We have reached the half way point in our Larry Cohen Tribute Month. Thank you to everyone who has been sticking with the special since the first movie. Still plenty more to come. For this week’s review, we are going to be looking at one of Larry Cohen’s most popular movies. It’s an homage to the early monster movies such as ‘King Kong.’ It takes place in New York City (like King Kong), but instead of seeing the monster on top of the Empire State Building, you’re going to be seeing a monster on top of another landmark building, the Chrysler Building. This week we’re going to be reviewing 1982’s ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!”
As the title suggests, ‘Q’ is a flying monster that has made its home on top of the Chrysler Building. It flies through the skies of New York City snatching up people for food. No one knows where this creature came from or how it got here. As the monster roams the skies, two separate stories are going on. The first story you have is Police Detective Shepard (David Carradine) who is assigned the case of finding the monster and killing it. He believes the monster has something to do with a series of ritual killings he’s also been investigating. Along with his partner Powell (Richard Roundtree), they link the killings and the monster to a secret Neo Aztec cult. The second story involves Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), a cheap two-timing crook who is an excellent piano player who is involved in a botched diamond heist. He makes his escape by hiding inside the Chrysler Building where he discovers the creature’s nest atop complete with a giant egg. Jimmy uses this knowledge of the creature’s location to lure his fellow mob pursuers to their deaths at the hands of the creature and to extort the city of money and immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving up the creature’s hideout.
Larry Cohen wrote and shot this movie in a little over two weeks. He was working on a project called ‘I, The Jury’ until he was fired by the studio (he is credited for writing the script to the movie). Not wanting to leave his hotel room that was paid up, he assembled a small crew from the aforementioned project and started shooting all around the city. It took Cohen six days to write the script for ‘Q’. The cast was not aware of what they were making when they received a short telegram from Cohen to arrive in the city and be prepared to work.
When I first watched ‘Q’, I was thoroughly impressed with the look and style of the movie. It reminded me of the Godzilla movies that I used to watch as a kid on television. There was a look and feel to them that stuck in my brain and this movie did the same thing. It had me engaged from the first scene and I was on the edge of my seat to see how it was going to play out. I was familiar with Larry Cohen’s work at the time, but not enough to know how he shot films and how he edited them.
‘Q’ has an excellent cast filled with character actors and method actors. I’ve always been a fan of David Carradine and I was ecstatic when I found out he was in this film. He doesn’t disappoint. He plays Shepard as a traditional detective, trying to find all the clues and piece them together. When he comes up with his final report, it is rejected by his superiors. Carradine continues to believe what he has uncovered and is willing to do what it takes to stop the monster and save the city. His partner, played by Richard Roundtree is a little rougher around the edges. If interrogators were playing ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ with a suspect, Roundtree would easily be the ‘Bad Cop.’ There’s even a scene where he plays that on Jimmy Quinn. Speaking of Jimmy Quinn, he’s the surprising hero of the movie played brilliantly by Michael Moriarty. When he first appears on screen he is desperate to get back in the game of stealing. When the diamond heist goes bad he starts to get edgy and paranoid. As the movie progresses you see that Jimmy grows a brain and develops a plan to get rid of the people who are looking for him and a way to set himself up for the failed heist. Many critics and fans have hailed Moriarty’s performance as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen and I echo that sentiment. He pours emotions filled with anger, despair and cockiness. This was the first collaboration between Moriarty and Cohen and it wouldn’t be the last as they would work together on five more movies.
Like all of his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture.
Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun.
There’s not much more I can say about ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ without giving too much away. It’s one of the best B-Movies to come out within the last forty years. It continues to have an impact and has inspired other filmmakers to make their own monster movies using this concept. I rank this as my second favorite Larry Cohen movie only to the one movie which I will be reviewing next week. If you want to find out what movie I’m talking about then stay tuned next week! You may be surprised (or may not be surprised)!
A young Bruce Willis wanted to star in David Carradine’s role but wasn’t a known name at the time that Larry Cohen could depend on to be bankable. Bruce later met Larry again when Moonlighting (1985) was a hit.
Pre-production for the movie lasted just one week. The film was conceived after Larry Cohen was fired from a big budget film shooting in New York. Cohen, determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, hired the actors and prepared a shooting script within six days.
In an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Moriarty described the scene in which he auditions as a piano player. The music he played was a self-composed and unrehearsed improvisation, and the dog’s reaction was genuine.
The building in the opening scene of the movie is the Empire State Building. In this scene, a window cleaner loses his head to the monster. His name is William Pilch, and was the actual window cleaner for the Empire State Building at the time of the movie’s filming.
The French movie poster incorrectly shows the monster covered with feathers, a wavy dinosaur frill along its back, and with large white teeth. This is because it was illustrated and printed up before copies of the film were imported into France.
David Carradine agreed to play Shepard even though he didn’t receive a script to read prior to his first day of working on the film.
The jewel store that the bad guys rob in the early part of the film is called “Neil Diamonds” a pun on the name of Neil Diamond.
Cohen stated about the monsters death at the ending, “It’s the exact same scene as the end of the $150 million Godzilla picture. Gee, if I had that money I could have made 150 movies.”
Starring: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sam Levene, Mike Kellin, Richard Lynch
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
We’re now on to the second movie in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. For this review, we’re going to be looking at a social commentary quasi science fiction movie about religion. It looks at how religion can influence the minds of those who believe in the scriptures. It influences them so much that they go out and do horrible things. It’s a movie that was not a success when it first came out, but over the years grew into an important film tackling this kind of subject. This review we will be looking at 1976’s ‘God Told Me To!’
The movie begins with a man on top of a water tower who opens fire on people walking the street with a .22 caliber rifle. His actions result in the death of fifteen people. Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) is called in to stop the sniper. He climbs the water tower and talks to the sniper about why he is doing what he is doing. The sniper responds by telling Peter, “God told me to!” before jumping off the water tower to his death. The incident would be the first of many random murders to come throughout the movie all with the suspects seemingly implying that they were told by God to kill. As Peter investigates these strange acts, his clues lead him to a man named Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch) who is the leader of a religious cult who according to the members has psychic powers and is controlling the minds of people to commit murder. Peter pursues Phillips through various avenues where he will be shocked about what he has discovered not only about Phillips, but about himself.
This is perhaps Larry Cohen’s most bizarre and controversial movie as it deals with religion and religious extremism. Cohen deals with the rationalization believers go to in order to follow “the word of God.” There is extremism in every religion. You have people killing each other in the name of religion. Everyone believes their religion is one true religion and that those who practice something else is a heathen, infidel, unbeliever, etc. The movie also deals with cultism as the antagonist is the leader of a cult who is controlling the minds of others to kill people to spread his message. It’s relatable to this day with all the numerous cults that are out today. You could compare this film today to the rhetoric of Scientology.
Cohen brings in a cast of well-respected veteran working actors to assist with his vision with Tony Lo Bianco playing the lead as Detective Peter Nicholas. Lo Bianco doesn’t look like a lead actor, but he is the meat and potatoes of the story. In addition to dealing with these crimes and looking at the religious aspect, he is also dealing with his own beliefs. Peter Nicholas is shown throughout the movie as a devout Catholic. You see shots of him in a Church praying, talking to his wife about going to confession and begins to question his faith as these random murders continue. He’s also conflicted in his ranks as he feels that he is on his own with the investigation, not receiving support from his fellow police officers. The supporting cast features Deborah Raffin as Casey Forster who is Peter’s mistress, Sandy Dennis as Peter’s wife Martha whom is on the verge of divorcing him, Sylvia Sidney as Elizabeth Mullin who becomes a central figure in the film and has a connection to Bernard Phillips and Mike Kellin of ‘Midnight Express and ‘Sleepaway Camp’ fame as the Deputy Commissioner who is desperately trying to get the situation under control. Finally, you have the antagonist Bernard Phillips in a chilling performance by Richard Lynch. He appears in all gold and glowing, kind of like Jesus (which is what Cohen based Phillips on). Everything he does in the movie is to get Nicholas to come to him for which he makes a shocking revelation to Nicholas and unveils his master plan.
As is customary in a Larry Cohen movie, Cohen fills the scenes with stolen shots and unplanned sequences which gives the movie a realistic tone. Cameras are placed all over the city to get many intriguing shots of the city and the everyday people who walk and commute in it. The most iconic scene in the movie is Cohen shoots the St. Patrick’s Day Parade filled with thousands of New York City Police Officers and features a cameo from comedian Andy Kauffman dressed up as an officer. Again, they didn’t have permission to shoot the parade so there are many shots of the police overhead, the Mayor and city officials and of course Kauffman. It’s great to see the unscripted reactions of fellow officers when they recognize Kauffman. They though Kauffman was doing another one of his typical jokes.
While Cohen was unable to return legendary film composer Bernard Hermann to score this movie after previous scoring ‘It’s Alive’ due to his untimely death, Cohen brings in Frank Cordell to the music. Cordell provides booming biblical tones which adds another dimension to the movie. The music is placed appropriately through tension scenes and plot reveals.
The pacing of the movie starts out quick and gutsy. By the time the second and third act come around things start to slow down creating a feeling of unbalance. The events and situations seem to jump around. I think this is in part to the condensed schedule that Cohen had when making this film.
‘God Told Me To’ was not well received when it first opened. Critics including Roger Ebert vivisected this film. However, as time went by, critics revisited this movie and like its premise, it’s become a cult film. Rolling Stone listed it as one of “20 Scariest Films You’ve Never Seen!”  If you’re a fan of movies with crazy and weird plots, this movie is for you. You could even joke with people that ‘God told me to watch this movie!’
That concludes the second movie in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. Next week we continue the special with another film of his that has had widespread acclaim and legacy. Don’t miss out!
Composer Bernard Herrmann, Larry Cohen’s first choice to score the film, died that night after seeing the film without music. The film is dedicated to Hermann in his honor.
Larry Cohen did not have a permit to film the scene at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but he did it anyway.
According to Larry Cohen, during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade scene, he was organizing the crew, only to see Andy Kaufman, dressed in his policeman’s uniform, antagonizing and making faces at the crowd. Some of the crowd members then attempted to jump the barricades and beat Kaufman, and Cohen had to hold them back.
Tony Lo Bianco accidentally broke actor William Roerick’s rib performing CPR in the heart attack scene.
Many years after the film’s release, a 70-something year old Larry Cohen stated in an interview that a young French filmmaker had asked him if he could remake the film. He couldn’t remember who this guy was, but he had left some of his films for Cohen to see, and when he took them out, that young French filmmaker turned out to be no other than Gaspar Noé.
When Larry Cohen asked composer Miklós Rózsa to score this picture, Rozsa replied, “God told me not to.”