The best way to establish the nature of The Blob is with a song. This little ditty by a young Burt Bacharach is the first impression of the franchise, playing over the opening credits. Unlike the chilling horror scores for filmmakers like Hitchcock, Argento, or Carpenter, The Blob has a theme song that you can dance to, something more in the neighborhood of The Monster Mash. If someone had never been exposed to The Blob before, they might expect a cartoon after hearing the song.
I recommend that while reading this blog entry, you play the above song to get the full media experience. If you read faster than 2 minutes and 41 seconds, then you may want to scroll back up and play it again. The song is catchy and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen to it a dozen times or more during this Blogathon process.
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
The song is a riot, but even the name is on the silly side. What is a Blob anyway? According to the dictionary, it is “a globule of liquid; bubble.” It is far from menacing, and instead is a playful, ridiculous villain, the type that would be right at home with the popcorn sci-fi double features of the 1950s. The reason the film was so successful and the song a hit has less to do with the scares, and more to do with the pop culture phenomenon of a funny little monster that resembles Play-Doh or a well-chewed piece of gum.
I’ve already talked about the 1958 version of The Blob, but the 1988 remake is also worth recognizing as a significant part of the franchise, even if it has a slightly different tone as the original. It has plenty of teenage inadequacy and angst, but is expressed more in the palette of the 1980s. Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) is a renegade outsider, wears a leather jacket, has a mullet, and rides a motorcycle. Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) is a pretty cheerleader who at first wants to date the star of the football team, yet later is thrown into the Blob hysteria with Dillon. Just by the way the characters are drawn, they fit the typical 80s theme of how children fit (or don’t fit) into different social cliques.
The remake takes itself more seriously than the original, but it is not without having a little fun at its own expense. For starters, it has the star football player buying condoms at the pharmacy for his hot date with Meg, and later discovers that his date’s dad is the same pharmacist. Doh! Most of the rest of its humor fits with the state of the horror genre in the 1980s. Some of the Blob’s attacks and kills are outlandish and you cannot help but laugh, which is a distinctively different atmosphere as the original, which celebrates and has fun with teenage life.
So let’s talk about the monster itself.
In both movies, it came from outer space. In both movies, it is discovered by a homeless person, who tries to touch the meteorite with a stick, only to get a piece of The Blob on his arm.
In the original, he tries to shake it off like one would shake a stuck piece of rubber or glue. It’s just something disgusting that he wants off. This is when The Blob first gets its exposure to human flesh, and immediately wants more. It latches onto his arm and doesn’t let go. In the remake, they don’t waste time with having the homeless guy dance around trying to get a sticky mess off his arm. They instead go right for the gusto. Once The Blob gets a whiff of humanity, it strikes and latches on with lethal precision. Again being playful, the remake cuts to kids eating jell-o.
The colors of each film are worth discussing. One of the reasons that the original caught on was that it featured an extremely good use of color for the time. You can even tell from the screenshots that the color palette holds up reasonably well today. Of course by the time the 1988 version came along, color was not exactly groundbreaking, so they instead played around with the mise-en-scene. The school colors use pink, so cheerleaders at the football game have pink pom-poms. In one scene the use of color is addressed directly with Meg messing up the laundry and accidentally turning a sweater pink. Maybe that was an epidemic because there are many pink sweaters seen throughout the film. The remake had more flexibility with special effects to highlight the colors of the monster, and sometimes used that to color the frame. A good example of this is the phone booth scene where The Blob and one if it’s captives envelop the booth.
The way they kill may not necessarily be different. The special effects limitations for the 1958 version don’t allow us to see the all the deaths. Besides, for the time frame, anything remotely close to the graphic images in the 1988 version would be shocking and revolting. The old homeless man is found dead in both movies, although far too graphic in the second film for me to even post a screenshot.
Steve and Nancy see the doctor dying, and presumably other people die as well, but most deaths are not on screen. In both films, The Blob can kill by enveloping their victims and we’d assume they suffocate. In the remake, The Blob also has the ability to dissolve their body as if they had been dipped in a vat of acid. That’s interesting because in the 1958 version, the nurse unsuccessfully tries to throw acid on The Blob, which has no effect.
As for how The Blob gets around, Burt Bacharach mostly had it right, at least for the 1958 version. It creeps, leaps, glides, and slides. Where does it go? Across the floor, through the door, and around the wall.
There are some movement similarities during the early portion of both movies. The Blob grasps at the homeless guy’s arm and gradually spreads to the rest of the body. From there, the 1988 Blob moves at a far more rapid pace. This could be another special effect limitation because we do not see the 1958 Blob move as much. After all, he was basically just a bag of silicone. There are some fun movement parallels between both movies. For instance when Steve and Nancy are in the closet, The Blob oozes under the door. When Brian and Meg are in the walk-in freezer, The Blob oozes similarly toward them.
Another fun sequence in both movies is the theater. For 1958, the theater was groundbreaking in a sense. The late movie aspect of 50s teenage culture had not become a presence on film until The Blob, which used it as an exceptional plot device and a way to creatively show off the special effects at their disposal. The remake borrowed the movie theater plot, injecting some children who are seeing a movie that they shouldn’t. Again, it is a comic scenario, with an annoying guy who keeps talking loudly during the movie being the first to get Blobbed. What’s even funnier is that they show the scream in the movie as a reaction to this loudmouth’s quick demise.
The Blob starts in the projection room of both theaters, coming in through the ventilation system, and then makes it into the theater itself, causing mass havoc. The 1988 screen is darker and the visual may not show up well.
You can almost count on your fingers the number of times that The Blob appears in the 1958 version, and the screens that I’ve posted here represent a high percentage of the monster’s appearance. In the 1988 version, he is everywhere. When he appears, they make it a point to have him encompasses a large portion of the screen.
The conclusion is where the versions diverge. They have a similar ending in that The Blob is allergic to coldness. You could argue that the original was poorly written with a convenient deus ex machina ending as they discover this type of “Kryptonite” in the final act. The latter takes a more sophisticated approach, planting the seed of the aversion to coldness about midway in the aforementioned frozen locker scene. When The Blob oozes under the door, it oozes right back when it is exposed to the cool air.
The latter version also has an origin story, scientists that implement a biological containment as if it is a virus, and some far-fetched explanations that I won’t spoil. I’ll be honest that I much prefer the earlier ending, ‘deus ex machina’ or not. It has that same element of teenage innocence that makes the rest of the film so effective, while the latter version suffers from “Summer Movie Syndrome.” If something is expensive, that does not necessarily mean it is better.
So what can we say about The Blob as a villain?
In both versions, he’s a ferocious monster that basically eats people. I’d say that qualifies as a villain. The one thing I’ve purposely omitted from both write-ups until now is the representation of the red scare. In the 1950s, the symbolism of this nondescript menace that nobody understands is almost too obviously a nod toward the Cold War. That was the real fear, and The Blob is one way that allowed people, particularly teenagers, to process the fear. The 1988 version was still in the midst of the Cold War, but the cultural sensitivity was not as pronounced. Instead they use the additional backstory plot as a way of referencing weaponization. Perhaps they wrote this as an homage to the original, to fit it into the Cold War theme that clearly existed. Or maybe it was a product of the times, way of processing Reaganomic escalation. Either way, any text that uses a being to portray a political or societal evil qualifies as a villain in my opinion.
I first saw Scanners as a teenager. I cannot remember precisely where, but it was a cable stable in the 1980s-1990s, and it infamous for that exploding head scene. It was Cronenberg’s breakthrough film, which established what would be an interesting and diverse career for someone who cut his teeth making raw horror films. When I was younger, I embraced the novelty of the special effectives, especially that head that I have seen probably 1000 times via GIFs.
Sometimes time and experience can change perception. My memory was that Scanners was a cutting edge, state of the art, ground breaking horror film. It is some of those things, lots of those things, but I remembered it being a little better than what I saw yesterday. The plot is scattershot, and some of it hasn’t aged well (like having the protagonist scan into a monochrome computer system via a pay phone). Until the final scene, it lacks character conflict. We don’t really understand the motivations for each of the two scanning leads, and the clunky corporate exposition doesn’t help matters. Michael Ironside practically steals every scene he is in, and I found myself wanting more of him — one of my favorite scenes being the archived videotape where he explains drilling into his own head. His adversary, played by Stephen Lack is barely interesting and could have used some acting lessons.
The head explosion scene was absolutely fan-f’ing-tastic! I had forgotten when to expect it, and I love that it came 13 minutes in. It sets the tone for the violence and special effects to come. The Blu-Ray transfer didn’t make too much of a difference, but it probably would have if I had watched frame by frame.
I found much of the exposition to be plodding, and some of that makes sense now that I understand the production difficulties. And then comes the ending, which I will do my best not to spoil. Let me just say that these effects are most definitely dated, and I still cringed at what they did with the veins, which DID look a lot better in Blu-Ray.
The 25-minute or so featurette about the visual effects was more engaging than the movie itself. I had no idea how they pulled off the exploding head, and I won’t say here, but it is worth watching just to see that. I will say that the way they did this would not happen in a studio production today. It also spoke to the issues with production, the daily re-writes, and what a mad, chaotic scramble the entire production was. Yet they managed to bring in some of the best in the business, which showed in the end product.
There were interviews with Michael Ironside and Stephen Lack, which were somewhat interesting, but I find myself less interested in Criterion interviews, especially when they are nearly half an hour a piece. There are exceptions, like Sterling Hayden’s interview for The Killing, but that’s a topic for another day. Ironside’s was somewhat more compelling because he’s since gained a lot of credibility by working in countless features. Lack was, well, lacking, and I probably am biased because I didn’t like him in the role.
The Cronenberg appearance on Canadian television was short, to the point, and my 2nd favorite feature. It was mostly a retrospective, as they showed trailers for his handful of prior films (Shivers, The Brood, etc.) and had him say a few words about them. It was mostly interesting to see Cronenberg in 1981, in his element, looking like one of the early Microsoft programmers. He said that he wasn’t really a horror fan, yet the genre found him. That speaks to his later work, where he would dabble in other areas, and has practically abandoned the horror film today.
Despite this not being a Criterion-caliber film, its position in pop and specifically horror culture makes it worth a look.
Criterion Rating: 7/10