The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars, no such fate awaited The Blob, despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.
Kim Newman called the titular creature “the simplest and most satisfying of all movie monsters” while Chuck Russell suggested “The Blob itself is a wonderfully elemental evil that simply can’t be reasoned with and a great way to play out that classic theme”. Looking for reasons for its failure, he pondered “Maybe it was a mistake to do a remake of The Blob with a sense of humour. I thought that would be an entertaining interpretation. … Unfortunately, it was released late in a very hectic summer filled with big films and it didn’t have a particularly good ad campaign”.
I doubt that’s the reason; it certainly didn’t do Freddy any harm (New Line passed on the script Russell and Frank Darabont were shopping, but nevertheless employed them for Dream Warriors), although there IS an argument to be made that studios were a little at a loss in the sales department when movies combined the two (Tremors). For me, the reason is pretty straightforward: with no motivation or psychology, the monster is essentially a gelatinous slasher, leaning – or flob-olling – it more towards your Jasons and Freddys than the “elemental evil” found in Jaws; where Spielberg’s movie succeeded was in characterisation that served to underpin the threat, along with an acute judgement of pacing, and the peaks and troughs of plotting.
The Blob has going for it… what? Matt Dillon’s brother sporting a mullet, biker jacket and faux attitude? Shawnee Smith doesn’t fare much better. And where there are a couple of likeable characters (Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn’s Sheriff and Candy Clark’s diner owner, set up for a romance), Russell and Darabont dispatch them with disappointing alacrity, in the admittedly inventive “Blob envelops telephone box” scene. Indeed, the more one thinks about it, the more one sees the compare and contrasts with how Gremlins – a horror with a sense of humour sent in a small town overrun by elemental evil – hits its targets, thanks to an evident affection for its characters. The Blob doesn’t care for any of its residents, who in any case tend towards teen slasher victims (Donovan Leitch is cast as the Janet Leigh Psycho fake-out hero, but the fatal mistake is there’s none of the engagement with him you have with her).
Paul McCrane appears as a deputy, destined to die in a manner almost as creative as his demise in Robocop, or dismemberment in ER, but he doesn’t get the kind of crazed disbelief that makes Jonathan Banks so good as Gremlins’ Deputy. Lynch regular Jack Nance appears as a doctor, Art LeFleur (Trancers) as Smith’s dad and Del Close is a memorably demented apocalypse preacher, Reverend Meeker, who winds up with one-lens-blanked glasses as he delivers brimstone pronouncements while keeping a Blob remnant. He’s more reminiscent of Fox Harris in Repo Man than his hobo wearing an eyepatch in Son of the Blob! His presence also allies itself with Darabont’s running distaste for religious zeal (see The Mist).
Credit wear it’s due, The Blob’s makers’ senses of humour are readily evident. The Blob, characterised loosely in its modus operandi as an inside-out stomach, is serviced with various gag cuts, from an early one attacking a hobo’s hand to kids wolfing down jelly, to a later one of a projectionist screaming at whatever is coming at him out of the air vent to the audience screaming at “Your basic slice ’n’ dice” flick. This being a sequence that features its own brand of justice for an incessant talker, and pronounced consequences for kids Kevin (Michael Kenworthy) and Eddie (Douglas Emerson), sneaking in against Kevin’s mum’s wishes; Eddie, the instigator is duly punished and absorbed while Kevin promises “I’ll never see a movie ever again!”
There’s also – very teen-horror smirk directed – moments such as Jock Scott (Ricky Paull Goldin) getting frisky with a victim who turns out to be blobbed, a diner kitchen hand who gets sucked into the plug hole, and a Blob Cinema invasion that is both post-Gremlins and pre-Outbreak. The Blob has, fortunately, a readily accessible weakness, in this case via Chekov’s snowmaker truck containing canisters of liquid nitrogen (paging Mr Cameron…)
Brian Flagg: NASA, CIA, Royal Canadian Mounties? All l know is, I saw a bunch of unmarked trucks back there, I think the whole thing stinks.
Perhaps most interesting is the conspiracy angle. Like Invaders from Mars, the military show up in the small town, but this time, we discover events are at their instigation. Russell opens on a misdirection, with the camera moving down into globe Earth and cutting between eerie grey skies in an empty town (suggestive of chemtrail aftereffects). The creature itself is goo, but not black goo (or oil). This misdirection and further misdirection from Dr Meddows (Joe Seneca), that this is a creature from outer space, conceals a truth is much closer to home. His “government-sanctioned biological containment team” of “microbe hunters” are after “a troublesome souvenir from space… a meteorite”, from which there is “danger of contamination” He proceeds to feed Brian a line:
Meddows: Let me tell you a story. The dinosaurs ruled our planet for millions of years. And yet they died out almost overnight. Why? The evidence suggests a meteorite fell to earth bearing an alien bacterium.
So in the space of minutes we have a NASA lie (meteorites) a history lie (dinosaurs) and an ET lie (regardless of potential existence of ETs in other parts of the universe, the version we are sold is part of the NASA lie). We even hear “The meteor is manmade!” The remainder of the plot is more formulaic, but it’s essentially acting as confirmation that the official story we, the public, are fed is invariably a lie. In this case “It’s some kind of germ-warfare test they fucked up” and the group, oblivious to the danger, assert “This’ll put US defence years ahead of the Russians”. Despite the threat that “At this rate, by next week, there may be no US”. What is most evident from the establishment’s attitude is that people are expendable, a means to an aid when “whole nations are at stake”.
As noted, the effects are impressive throughout, and frequently as icky as The Thing’s; obviously, this isn’t the case among genre aficionados, but its praises remain relatively unsung in that regard. Perhaps The Blob simply arrived at the wrong moment, at a point in the decade where such splatter had largely worked itself out and was no longer wowing audiences. Either way, Russell and Darabont update the effects, and they update the angle (government vs ET), but they miss character. The Blob remains a resolute B-movie in that regard.
First published by Now in Full Color on 25/06/22.