Without a doubt, The Blob is one of those classic time capsules which get better with age. For 1958, it was rare to think a B movie like this would escape the bonds of being a cheap trick and make its way to Hollywood fame. The premise is simple, almost every character feels organic and it has a lasting nostalgic charm that keeps everything fresh with every view.
A meteor falls into a small town which contains a jelly-like goo that gets bigger with every victim it consumes. And that’s all you need to know. There is more to The Blob with the characters and some raising stakes, but that is about as basic as it gets. This movie was created in a time when monsters were more campy and less scary. Famed creatures, like Universal’s Gill Man or Harryhausen’s Ymir, got born in an age when atomic warfare was more frightening than a rubber monster. Obviously, the tone of horror shifted from trying to scare audiences into something more fun and goofy. Some of them worked while others didn’t. Still, Blob was able to break through the mold of cliche 1950s monsters films.
For one, the characters are actually much smarter than they appear. A group of teenagers actually plan things out and try to be one step ahead. True, they drag race and enjoy a late night scary movie from the local theater, but that’s who they are. If these kids walked around and said stale, brainy dialogue, then we wouldn’t buy it. Everyone speaks with a natural flow and feel like average people we can see in real life. Even the police are more than just the typical “biased adults” who think there is a prank going on. Once in a while, there is an officer that debates wither these kids are telling the truth about a monster giving actual reasons and theories.
Steve McQueen leads on and does a great job being the intimidating yet heroic Steve Andrews. He’s the kind of kid that doesn’t mess around. Sometimes, he enjoys a good race on the road, but is always street smart. He’s the guy you want to root for and see save the day. At times, the delivery of his dialogue is a tad stiff, but I feel it adds to his “tough” attitude. It feels like watching a teenage Charlton Heston for some reason.
The special effects on the blob creature are something to be desired. There is a great range of miniatures and camera tricks to make you believe this monster is pulsating and alive. There’s not too much you see of the monster, but it adds tension. To think years later and silicone gel can make a frightening beast compared to today’s CGI. While primitive, there is something charming to see civilians running from a gelatinous monster who are trying to sell the fear.
The Blob has been celebrated so much, that my own opinion can’t do much justice. This film has become a staple of classic Americana to the point a yearly festival is performed called “Blobfest” and hosted in the town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, one of the original location shoots. The movie gets screened in the local Colonial Theatre ,along with a re-enacting of the scene where moviegoers run out of the theater in terror. Not to mention, the actual gel used for the Blob effects has surprisingly survived over the years and is always on display during the event. It shows there is much love for this simple film which continues to expand from one generation to the next.
You would think a modern remake would tarnish and trash the impact of the original. However, there does exist a remake from 1988 which does a great job being its own kind of entertainment. This one reflects the time period when horror movies were gorier and increased the tension. There’s plenty of differences that extinguish both from each other which proves when remaking something, it’s ok to do something different.
The cast of characters are more stock, but there is a tongue-in-cheek feel to it. Ranging from a batch of randy teens to adults with morals, there are characters you still root for. The protagonist duties are switched from a local drag racer to a cheerleader played by Swawnee Smith and feels less like a damsel in distress. They do throw you for a loop at the start when you think her boyfriend is going to be the lead. But there is a nice little bait and switch that feels natural. It starts like the normal story with the goody-goody boy hoping to get the girl, until the story takes a different turn.
The script was a collaborative effort by director Chuck Russell, who also directed The Mask and Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and Frank Darabont, best known for directing The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption and even wrote some Tales from the Crypt episodes. The tone is self-aware and uses iconic moments from the original while adding new spins. For example, when the creature first crashes, we see this weird rock-like meteor sticking out of the ground. Later on, we see its really a round satellite that hosted the creature with debris on top. It keeps newcomers engaged while adding new twists that never diminish the enjoyment.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the updates to the blob. It gets upgraded from alien jelly to a man-made biological weapon that moves quick and packs a gluttonous appetite. A wide rage of stop-motion and animatronics are used to bring this fierce creature to life. It adds more personality to the pink beast as it consumes one person after another changing all sorts of shapes. Again, the effects themselves relate to the time when practical effects were close to becoming a dying art.
It should be noted some of the blob effects were created by Lyle Conway, who did the Audrey II plant puppets for 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors. Originally, Little Shop ended with the plants taking over the world and eating up New York. The entire finale cost $5 million to produce and ended up getting scrapped for a happier ending. If anything, the scenes where the blob goes on a rampage almost feels like an apology for cutting a entire special effects finale where giant Venus flytraps destroy and scale a miniature Statue of Liberty.
The only thing that nearly ruins it for me is the secret government agents that get involved. The head agent, played by Joe Seneca, really wants to confine this beast and doesn’t care about sparing humanity in the process. It’s not a bad touch, but it feels a little “run of the mile” and cliche. A lot of this movie does play around with classic character tropes, but I almost feel like these agents could have tried to help others out in the process.
In the long run, I love both the original and remake on their own terms. Both Blobs have distinguishing elements to separate from each other while the remake doesn’t stray too far off. The original is your perfect popcorn entertainment, while the remake knows where to improve on things. Both versions reflect the time they were made in and their charm comes from what suits your film appetite. If you want a well-made B movie or a great special effects show from the 1980s, there is a lot of variety here from both.