Last weekend, The Rock’s latest action film, Rampage, hit theaters. Less than a month ago, the Pacific Rim sequel brought more giant monsters and robots to the big screen. Even King Kong made a comeback in 2017. The point – people love a good creature feature. Whether it’s just regular sharks, aliens, or over-sized insects and/or animals, film-goers can’t get enough of big monsters tearing our cities apart.
For this edition of Re-Animated, I take a look at one of the best examples of the 1950’s science-fiction creature feature – The Blob. It’s the perfect midnight movie and a testament to a way of film-making that sadly goes unappreciated today. Thirty years after The Blob was released, it got the remake treatment. How well does the remake compare to its predecessor? Can it add something new to a fun 1950’s B-film? Let’s take a look below.
The Blob (1958)
Following World War II and the birth of the “Atomic Age” and the “Space Race”, the horror genre shifted its focus from Gothic monsters to science-fiction inspired nightmares. A growing middle class with more disposable income also saw filmmakers begin to target the teen market with cheap films that could fit on a drive-in theater double-bill.
The Blob was an independent sci-fi/horror film distributed by Paramount Pictures and starring a young Steve McQueen. It has a perfect 1950’s B-film plot – a meteor crashes outside a small town unleashing a formless alien life-form that consumes anything that gets in its way. Teen Steve Andrews and his girlfriend, Jane Martin, must convince the town’s skeptical adults that there is a threat on its way before it’s too late.
Pure popcorn fun, The Blob is a surprisingly briskly paced film for its time period. Despite its admittedly silly premise, the film also builds a fair amount of suspense in its execution. Director Irvin Yeaworth stages the scenes with the slow-moving ‘blob’ in clever ways to mount some sense of tension. Good special effects for the era and a healthy dose of humor help out flesh out a well-staged, original concept.
Aside from McQueen, who shows the charm that would make him a movie star, most of the acting is fairly wooden. Some of the dialogue also probably falls on the side of unintentionally humorous (“Hotrodding around the universe”, anyone). But these aspects of The Blob just add to its charm.
‘Doctor, nothing will stop it.’
One part of The Blob that is interesting to note today, decades after its release, is how it elevates its young cast as the protagonists. The film’s adults are either characterized as authoritarian, skeptical, or clueless. Straight-laced teen Steve has to rely on his ‘buddies’ to warn the townsfolk. Generally, The Blob lacks any real social commentary; its centering of teen characters is more a reflection of marketing concerns. Nonetheless, The Blob is a call-back to fun era of Hollywood monster-making.
The Blob (1988)
Now this is how you remake a horror classic. The Blob remake, released 30 years after the original teen drive-in staple, honours the B-film spirit of its predecessor while injecting enough contemporary commentary to allow it to stand on its own. There’s no Steve McQueen star power here. Instead, we get Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith along with a cast of familiar character actors. Like the original film, the acting isn’t particularly noteworthy but no one is watching film about a man-eating ‘blob’ for Oscar-worthy performances.
For the most part, The Blob remake follows the same plot as the original. One of the most noticeable changes is the use of more graphic special effects. Director Chuck Russell’s remake takes advantage of F/X advancements and has fun with the film’s concept. In its smaller-scale scenes, the blob effects hold up quite well with a few grisly moments of bodily destruction caught on screen. When the film moves to larger-scale moments the special effects are obviously strained and will feel dated by today’s standards. Fortunately, the cheaper aesthetics of some of these effects still fit with The Blob’s B-film roots.
Yet the most significant departure here is its subversive interpretation of the original film. While the Steve McQueen ‘creature feature’ makes heroes out of its teens and pokes fun at the adults, it still largely shows an affection for ‘small-town Americana’ and the prevailing social order. In contrast, the 1988 version of The Blob flips the source of the man-eating blob. It’s no longer an alien lifeform from a meteor; it’s a military bio-weapons experiment. This origin change makes authority generally and, more specifically, the American military a secondary villain in the film. As such, The Blob remake offers some biting criticism of the American industrial-military complex.
Come on Meg, we don’t even know who they are. NASA, CIA, Royal Canadian Mounties, all I know is I saw a bunch of unmarked trucks back there. I think the whole thing stinks.
Russell’s remake even flips audience expectations with its protagonists. Football star Paul Taylor most closely fits McQueen’s straight-arrow Steve. You expect ‘Paul’ to be the film’s hero. In a clever twist, Paul is one of the blob’s early victims and it’s Kevin Dillon’s delinquent Brian Flagg, with his black leather jacket and motorcycle, who becomes the film’s hero. The film’s most anti-authority character becomes the hero in a film where authority is constructed as dangerous.
As I said above, the original The Blob is a fun popcorn film, intended to be watched late at night with the lights out. Its monster remains both clever and unique in the horror and science fiction genres. It even has its own theme song, penned by Burt Bacharach and performed by “The Five Blobs”. If you’re looking to pair The Blob with another film for your own double-bill, the 1988 version is the rare example of a remake getting it right, updating special effects and some parts of the story for its era while honoring the original film’s fun spirit. Both films would make great additions to ‘creatures’ film marathon.