It Can't Stand the Cold!: The Two Meteors Which Unleashed The Blob
With word of an upcoming prequel to The Blob, Andrew reviews the original and the remake.

Beware of the Blob!
It creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor
Right through the door and all around the wall,
A splotch, a blotch,
Be careful of the Blob!
In 1958, American International Pictures released an independently produced B horror flick for drive-in double features exhibition about a killer slime from outer space that assimilates its victims and grows red with human blood. The big screen debut of actor Steve McQueen, with a snarky opening track by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, The Blob quickly became a respectable classic of the 50s creature feature genre, spawning a big budget remake in 1988 as well as inspiring the likes of Night of the Creeps and Slither. Let us look at how a jar of preserves became one of the most formidable and iconic movie monsters of the horror genre.  

The Blob (1958 – directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.)

Originally titled The Molten Meteor, this 1958 drive-in classic cost a mere $110,000 and wound up taking in $4 million at the box office! One of the first truly independent horror films to be shot in both color and the newly developed widescreen format, The Blob is a cult phenomenon of enduring popularity.  The plot is exceedingly simple: a meteor crashes near Downingtown, Pennsylvania.  An elderly man approaches the crash site and upon prodding the meteor with a stick, it cracks open to reveal a slimy substance of some kind.  The slime climbs up the stick and attaches itself to the man’s hand, turning red almost immediately as it sucks his blood and begins to dissolve his body. Soon the creature grows larger until it’s a giant beast wreaking havoc on the small town. Only a teenager named Steve (Steve McQueen) who tried to help the elder early on may know how to stop it!

The charm of The Blob infects almost immediately as the snarky song warns listeners with an impish tickle to the side. While most creature feature drive-in thrillers of the day absolutely invited laughter for their shoddy technical merits and campy theatrics, The Blob is something of an outlier with the self-aware opening title sequence, as a single wobbling red circle forms multiple circles within one another before taking up the screen.  If you’re here to laugh at The Blob, the film gets the chuckles of appreciation out of the way immediately, though it should be noted the film has a consistently sharp sense of humor in almost every scene. While the simplistic special effects for The Blob call attention to themselves, notably in the climactic diner sequence when it engulfs an entire restaurant by rolling silicon over still strategically placed photographs, it’s the stock characters that make The Blob shine.   
Although Steve McQueen would eventually voice dismay over The Blob being his debut, he’s fantastic in the role of the lone hero no one believes as he takes on the unknown horrors of the cosmos single-handedly. Overall, the ensemble cast of characters, from the skeptical policemen, the teenage pals of McQueen and the locals who cannot bring themselves to believing his story about a killer slime running amok, never misstep or overplay their scenes. This is too well acted for another average drive-in double feature. Further still, some of the more elite critics have read The Blob as emblematic of the Red Scare, with Communism silently creeping into the United States and assimilating all in its path.  

With time, The Blob would spawn a 1971 sequel entitled Son of Blob, or whichever title the various distributors would ultimately use. The movie theater (recently restored) used in the trailer showing hundreds of terrified spectators running for their lives from an over sized blob is now a tourist attraction for local reenactments of that very scene!  The diner itself in the film’s final scene also became a fixture for movie memorabilia, with the famous basement open for tourism on weekday mornings. Exactly 30 years later, writer Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and director Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) would reimagine the classic B movie as a visual effects laden nightmare of 80s horror.


The Blob (1988 – written and directed by Chuck Russell)

As with the 1958 The Blob, Chuck Russell’s expensive remake follows much of the same trajectory with several idiosyncratic deviations and additions to the killer slime. Transposing the outbreak to Arborville, California, Steve McQueen’s shoes are filled instead by Saw regular Shawnee Smith when she witnesses her boyfriend being devoured by the blob as he attempts to call the police for help. Unlike the silent killer slime creeping about in the 1958 film, this new creation grunts and groans, whips out tentacles and can quickly speed up to snatch its victims. In one startling sequence, a teenager trying to have sex with his girlfriend is horrified to find the creature bursting from her mouth and eye sockets before it kills him too. If that’s not enough to promote the new blob as a force to be reckoned with, it also yanks a man down a kitchen sink erator, splits another man in half by his spine, throws people about with its tentacles like children’s toys, and carries with it decomposing bodies in its slithering mass. This is The Blob for the John Carpenter Thing generation.
The Blob provides a cavalcade of cult character actors, including director Nicolas Roeg’s former sweetheart Candy Clark, Kevin Dillon as Shawnee Smith’s love interest, and Bill Moseley of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and The Devil’s Rejects fame shows up. Singer and scream queen Shawnee Smith quickly adorns the Ellen Ripley shoes as she musters up the courage to take on the creature armed with a machine gun and fire extinguishers. We even get a crazed Reverend (Del Close) who believes the creature is a prophecy of the end of the world. Where The Blob stumbles, however, is the Bioweapons Division subplot involving men in airtight suits wanting to use the creature for biological warfare, as if the film really needed Ridley Scott’s Alien shoehorned into the proceedings.  Too bad that an otherwise solid 80s creature feature just had to tack this cliché on, although years later it would work to greater effect in writer Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist.  

Overall the new Blob is a special effects bonanza and thrilling update to the 1958 film with a surprising amount of scares and grotesquerie. Between the two, however, despite the technical updates on display and homage to the tropes of the 1958 film, upon watching this, the charm of the original which inspired it is lacking somewhat here. When Frank Oz remade Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors as David Geffen’s off Broadway musical, critics were quick to assail the update’s sophisticated visual effects puppetry as draining the playful nature of the original cheapie out of the film. While not entirely true, one must wonder if that same argument is applicable to Chuck Russell’s update. It’s a fun 80s B movie much like the original, if only it knew better how to keep its tongue firmly planted in cheek and not become too lost in self-seriousness.  That’s not to say Russell’s film isn’t rife with comic relief, but there’s something about that Burt Bacharach song opening the 1958 picture that simply cannot be duplicated.  

6/10 - Andrew Kotwicki