The Blob (1988)
(This is the next in a series of reviews of movies from the 70s and 80s, part of a small collection of horror and science fiction movies on videotape that I bought at a flea market before Christmas, some of which I haven’t seen since they first came out)
The Monster Movie. The very phrase carries more power than any dozen Harry Potter spells. Say it with me, True Believers: “Monster Movie”.
Yeah. Gets your motor running, doesn’t it?
I spent a childhood eschewing touch football and learning racist jokes in the streets of Queens to stay in and watch Creature Features and Chiller on the local stations, enticed by the brief descriptions in the TV Guide of what was on offer, which was usually monster movies from the Fifties: THEM, THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE BLACK SCORPION, TARANTULA, THE BEGINNING OF THE END… Oh, there was always also a flying saucer movie or one where a phony-looking gorilla was hypnotised to kill, but my heart was always with the Monsters…
Admittedly, a lot were either photographically-enlarged real-life bugs, or guys in suits, and I’m sure they tried their darndest, but sometimes, it just didn’t work out, and they ended up forgotten by most people. One exception was the 1958 movie THE BLOB, about an amorphous alien organism that came to Earth in a meteorite, and began devouring all animal life around it, growing in size as it did so. Through various contrivances, the Blob eats up everyone it encounters in a small town, and when the straight-laced grown-ups remain ignorant or skeptical, it’s up to the local teenagers, led by a young Steve McQueen in his film debut, to deal with it before it consumes the world!
(Okay, at the time McQueen was 28, and apparently such a pain in the ass to work with that after THE BLOB he was released from his original three-picture deal; the other two movies would have been DINOSAURUS and THE 4-D MAN.) The Blob was created with silicon gel that was gradually coloured redder as it consumed more bodies, and is still in its original pail, where it’s brought out to various film festivals. And if that’s not trivia enough for you, the movie’s theme song was co-written by the legendary Burt Bacharach!
Now, watching the movie today requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief. Even by the low budget standards of the day, the movie’s concept is stronger than its execution. The ‘fast and the furious’ teenagers of the movie make the Brady Bunch look like the Clockwork Orange gang, and the special effects really do rely on the crew letting the silicon drip over model sets.
Still, the movie stuck in the public consciousness, so much so that in 1972, producer Jack H. Harris, who considered THE BLOB his favourite film, greenlit SON OF BLOB, aka BEWARE! THE BLOB. This could be considered either a remake or a sequel (and given we see a character in SON OF BLOB watching the original movie on TV, maybe it’s neither, or both). Actor Larry Hagman, who owned a beach house beside Harris, became interested in the project, and eventually ended up directing it as well as having a small role (the film would be later released tagged as “The movie that JR shot!”). It became more comedy than horror, much of it improvised on the set (no doubt with the help of contemporary narcotics), and pretty much followed the same plot as the first movie: Blob appears, kills people, young folks witness but because they’re dirty hippies the police don’t believe them, Blob grows bigger, threatens everything… It was a mess all around, but I remember watching it as a boy and being terrified of the scene where the Blob overruns a bowling alley. I liked bowling alleys. Now I can’t trust them. Thanks, guys.
Chuck Russell started out producing a number of genre films from the early Eighties, including HELL NIGHT, THE HEARSE and DREAMSCAPE, but started directing as well in 1987’s NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS. Since then, you will have seen his work in SER, THE SCORPION KING, and still has a number of upcoming projects in development. Before all that, however, he directed and co-produced 1988’s THE BLOB.
THE BLOB was the first drive-in movie I went to see as an adult, rather than with my parents. It was in Montana, I was in the Air Force and had just purchased a new car, and was taking a young woman and fellow horror film nerd. To be honest, I was more interested in getting in the back seat with my date, but she was more interested in the movie (No, your Uncle Deggsy did not strike out! Technically, there was never any chance; I found out later my date played for the other side. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, okay?)
Anyway, the movie opens on the small, sleepy town of Arborville, California, one of those places that only comes alive during the skiing season. The opening credits show the town looking deserted – it turns out that it’s because everyone’s at the big high school football game, where jock Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch, CUTTING CLASS) gets tackled, but does finally manage to work up the courage to ask cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith, SAW) out. Meanwhile, outside of town, Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon, PLATOON) is getting ready to jump his motorcycle over a ravine, witnessed only by transient Can Man (Billy Beck, HOUSE – the movie, not the TV series). Brian is a bad boy; you can tell not because of his full-on awesome 80s perm, but because he wears a leather jacket. Anyway he fails and busts up his bike, but you get the impression that’s not the worst thing to happen in his life.
The next ten or fifteen minutes are spent introducing some of the other characters at play, including Sheriff Herb Geller (Jeffrey DeMunn, whom you might know better now as Dale from THE WALKING DEAD TV series, and the only reason I watched that show). Herb has a soft spot for diner owner Fran Hewitt (Candy Clark, CAT’S EYE), and finally makes a date with her later that night. There’s also the Reverend Jacob Meeker (Del Close, a genius at improv comedy, who was in SON OF BLOB with Burgess Meredith and Tony Hagman), who likes to secretly imbibe the sacramental whiskey, but only at times that end in “o’clock”. And there’s Deputy Bill Briggs (Paul McCrane, whom who will know as Emil, the crook who melted from toxic waste in ROBOCOP), who likes to harass Brian and remind him that he’s a delinquent, that his Mom is a drunk, etc. nice guy.
Later that evening, still out in the woods, Can Man witnesses the crash of a meteor. Poking at it with a stick (like you do), a small gelatinous substance rushes out and envelopes his hand. Luckily Brian had returned to the area with tools to fix his bike, but in trying to help the old man, the poor guy gets knocked down by Paul and Meg out on their date. The three youths take him to the town’s infirmary, and spend an hour filling out forms while the old man is left alone and unattended (well, he’s hardly likely to have insurance, so screw him).
Brian takes off, fed up with the way the guy’s being treated, and Paul goes to check up on the old man – only to find the stuff on the arm has spread, and the lower half of him has been eaten away! Paul calls the Sheriff’s office, but only manages to drop Brian’s name before he’s swallowed up by the Blob… and Meg, in trying to save him, only saves his forearm (Worst First Date Night Ever?).
The police don’t believe Meg’s story, and though they round up the usual suspect – Brian – the Sheriff knows that he’s no killer. Meeting together in the diner, Meg and Brian share notes, as the only living witnesses to what happened. Don’t worry, kids, just check out what’s coming up out of the diner sink…
THE BLOB, along with THE FLY, is probably one of the most successful remakes of a Fifties horror movie that there’s ever been: both update the original stories, but maintain the elements that made the originals so memorable. One of the improvements made is the addition of a subplot, that the Blob is a secret government experiment, and the townspeople unwitting lab rats (this is a few years before THE X-FILES remember), thus forcing our heroes to fight both the creature and the soliders and scientists led by the ruthless Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca, SILVERADO), who’s had the town quarantined and foolishly thinks he can contain the creature.
Of particular note is that the script was co-written by Frank Darabont, later to pen the screenplays and direct the Stephen King adaptations THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE MIST. Darabont loads up THE BLOB not only with references to the original BLOB, but with references to King’s THE STAND (Kevin Dillon’s character Brian Flagg instead of the demonic Randall Flagg, The Can Man could be the Trash Can Man from THE STAND, the secret government bioweapons experiment, etc).
The movie holds up quite well even now, despite the pre-CGI effects (the practical effects especially, more than the animated long shots). There’s lots of gore, because this Blob doesn’t just swallow you up, it emits a corrosive acid to help digest its food, so we get plenty of gooey goodness. Precious little time is wasted in getting the action going, and the acting is fine all around.
There had been plans afoot for Rob Zombie to do his own BLOB, but these appear to have fallen by the wayside. Which is okay by me; this one deserves to be remembered. Watch the trailer below, and catch the movie somewhere… before it catches you!
Director: Chuck Russell
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 8 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. The D is silent. Watch yourself, it kicks ass.