Larry Cohen: 'The Stuff' dreams are made of

By Jon Roig

Arizona Daily Wildcat

You know, when you think about it ... if Jesus were to come back, he probably wouldn't be a very nice guy. I mean this is GOD we're talkin' about here the modern day super-being that flooded the earth and delivered 10, very nasty plagues to the Egyptians. You don't mess with The Almighty, it's that simple.

Imagine you're an alien, growing up in the mid-seventies, thinking you're human, but then you realize "Hey, I have all these super-powers." You're not going to think you're Superman and spend the rest of your life battling evildoers, you're going to take one look at the Bible (which is, incidentally, the most widely read book in the world) and go "Hey, I must be God."

Such is the premise of Larry Cohen's "God Told Me To." The way Quentin Tarantino's name is thrown around, you'd think he was the only auteur at work in Hollywood, but Cohen has been writing and directing his own films for more than 20 years now. You've probably seen some of his films without realizing it they're more than wacky-leftist treatises against popular institutions like religion they're extremely watchable.

If you haven't seen "It's Alive," you've probably heard of it. At one point during 1973 it held the top spot at the box office, and set the standard for killer baby movies to come. Some might even say that David Lynch's "The Elephant Man" ripped a lot off from it.

And "The Stuff," a weird indictment of the food industry, mass market advertising, and the FDA, has been a mainstay of Saturday afternoon TV matinees for years now. The story involves a dessert called "The Stuff." It's filling ... it's delicious ... it's yummy ... it's nutritious. Everybody is eating it. Everybody. Except a young boy who, throughout the course of the film, discovers that The Stuff is more than just addictive: it's an evil alien mind control device that eventually kills its victims. Only nobody will listen to him, even his family they're all addicts.

You can tell Cohen had to make a choice in the middle of the film. Should it be a silly movie about a boy battling an evil, yet somewhat goofy, corporate conspiracy? Or should it be a serious Oliver Stone style "message movie" that attempts to hammer the point in so the audience doesn't somehow overlook what the movie has to say?

"It takes a little bit of sugar to make the medicine go down." Mary Poppins said that. Because the movie allows the audience to actually enjoy the film, the film actually works in a subversive way. "Natural Born Killers" failed mostly because of it's heavy-handedness, while "The Stuff" continues to address social-evil for a general audience a few weekends a year on "The Football Hater's Movie."

It's the Roger Corman low-budget, high-ambition school of filmmaking at work, and although their only real connection is that Corman distributed "God Told Me To" (retitled "The Demon" to make it sell better), you can see a lot of parallels in their work. Corman, known as the "High Priest of Pop Cinema," on The Movie Channel, has a magical way of turning a cheezy idea, such as the typical "Jurassic Park" rip-off sci-fi/dinosaur movie, into "Carnosaur" a somewhat serious, yet highly entertaining, comment on the what happens when an evil biologist starts to muck about with genetics in the name of science.

Yes, Larry Cohen may be a paranoid freak ... but we need more paranoid freaks like him and less paranoid freaks like Oliver Stone. You may never get a chance to see one of his films in the theaters, but the shear diversity in media outlets insures that we haven't heard the last of Larry Cohen ... yet.

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