Friday, December 2, 2016

Consumerism Horror: The Stuff vs. They Live

* The Stuff

* spoilers *

The Stuff is a delicious yogurt-like food that has no calories. The craze has millions of people eating it and made the company behind it a huge amount of money. The Stuff's stylish and sexy commercials are everywhere with big stars endorsing it. Unfortunately, the snack isn't all that it seems. The Stuff in reality is a parasitic living organism that takes over people's bodies and brains. It also has the ability to move in its pure form, attacking anyone who opposes it. The effects for it where varied and interesting. It would crawl up the wall, out of people's throats, or shoot across a room. This monstrous product is a metaphor for unhealthy products marketed for everyone even though they are harmful like sugary food, alcohol, cigarettes, and fast food. Corporations only care about making money and don't care about the negative effects on their consumer's health. The Stuff corporation took it a step further and pushed out the product without even really knowing what's in it. The message is clear, but the film has problems in other places.

The acting overall is pretty horrible, especially from the little boy Jason. Mo, the main hero, grates on the nerves with his know it all, smug attitude. He and his motivations also undermine the message of the film. He was only hired to expose The Stuff by ice cream companies whose sales were affected by its success. His motivations play into more corporate greed from a different source, so he isn't morally any better than those who make The Stuff. The characters make bizarre decisions and conventient but illogical plot points are plentiful. The relationship between Mo and Nicole just happens and then she disappears from the end of the film for no reason. Nicole sets Mo's face on fire when it's covered with The Stuff and he's completely fine afterwards. The film's end is also strange. Mo forces The Stuff's company head, who was already coming out with a replacement product with less Stuff, to eat tubs and tubs of his product. Wouldn't this just create more problems and more Stuff zombies? The film ends with a very short scene of men selling The Stuff on the black market. It seemed out of place and odd. While The Stuff is an enjoyable film with a clear message, that message ends up muddied with confused plot points and cheesiness.

My rating: 3/5

* They Live

* spoilers *

An unnamed drifter wanders into town, looking for a job. He is welcomed by a homeless community that completely destroyed by police shortly after. In the same raid, a resistance movement is also attacked. The drifter stumbles into their base and finds a pair of sunglasses that reveals an earth shattering conspiracy.  With the sunglasses, the drifter sees through society's facade. Advertisements actual say things like "Obey," "Consume," "Marry and reproduce," "Stay asleep," "Conform," "Money is your god." and "No independent thought." The upper echelons of society have been taken over by aliens whose hideous true faces are revealed through the sunglasses. They plan to harvest our planet for all it's worth and move on to another planet.

I had heard of this film for a while and I had no idea John Carpenter directed it. As with all Carpenter films I've seen, it's formidable. The film is incredibly relevant today when we are constantly assaulted by advertising even more than when this was made. People would rather follow reality stars and social media than be interested in the presidential race that has a huge impact on their lives and on the planet. Many of us are obsessed with items and status symbols instead of more important things in our lives. One of the great points the film made was how people sold out their fellow man in return for riches. They were fine with aliens poisoning the earth and keeping the poor downtrodden for their own personal gain. The situation in real life is similar considering the corruption of many corporations and their willingness to sell harmful products to the masses, exploit workers, and pollute our environment.

The film shows an underlying reason for the class warfare in our society. It's satisfying to see a man with no social power fight successfully against those with the most power. The class we are born into is still hard to get out of as it was in the Reagan era this film took place in. People just see a sad homeless person with no prospects in the drifter. It was particularly heartbreaking to see the homeless community callously bulldozed. This giving community coexisted with friendship and peace even though none of them have a lot of physical goods. They all contributed what they could in stark contrast to the cutthroat nature of high society. The special effects are decent. The alien effects are more B movie, but it seems like a stylistic choice. The alien masks or prosthetics are awesome with just enough ugliness and bright colors reminiscent of the aliens from The Island Earth from 1955.

The problems I had with the film all boil to do Roddy Piper. He doesn't act well enough to be believable and his performance really affected the quality of the film. While the film is intentionally a little cheesy, his acting makes the film even more so. The fight scenes are fine as expected. Keith David and pretty much everyone else was amazing, but Piper doesn't rise to their level. The role really should have gone to Kurt Russell or someone who was at least an actor. Overall, They Live is an amazing classic with one flaw.

My rating: 4.5/5

The verdict:

While it's a decent and effective film, The Stuff has too many things that detract from the underlying message. They Live is a subversive film especially during the time it was made that highlights the problems with consumerism perfectly.

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