A few gleefully gory murder sequences highlight The Blob, an exceedingly fun, charmingly shlocky remake in which a handful of plucky teenagers must escape a flesh-eating monster from outer space.
A financial failure when initially released, this decade of decadence production is in fact a well-timed retelling of a genre classic. McCarthyism and the Red Scare were in full swing by the time Paramount released their 1958 creature feature about an amorphous, red glob terrorizing small town America. Paranoia surrounding the second Cold War and a lingering mistrust of government following Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon fomented a McCarthyist renaissance in the 1980s.
Like the original, the remake witnesses a delinquent boy and darling girl narrowly escaping the gooey clutches of the crimson mass as it devours their small town. However, while the young couple in the original picture were aided in their plight by devoted friends and a proactive police department, the universe created for the remake is much more narcissistic. As the Queen of Pop affirmed, “we are living in a material world.” And at a time when audiences wanted more and more, advances in visual effects meant their darkest fantasies could be brought to life on screen. Thus, we see flesh pulling from the bone and eyes popping from their sockets in nauseating close-up and in full color.
In perhaps the most sensational set piece of the movie, a waitress barricades herself inside a phone booth. With her heart in her mouth, she dials the local sheriff as the bulbous mass of malignant goo wraps itself around the glass box. The synth-enhanced score moves into full-attack mode as the scarlet predator begins to squeeze its way through the cracks and seams of the enclosure. As the operator informs her the sheriff already left for the diner, the officer’s lifeless face floats by like a ghoulish mannequin, his right eye and lower jaw partially dissolved by the gummy creature. The waitress screams as the blob bursts through the glass, engulfing her in a torrent of pink.
The Blob was just one of many B-movies of the Atomic era to be refurbished for modern audiences in the greedy eighties. The socially cohesive aura of Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was supplanted by a hedonism in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) displaced the concern with communists from the original with a full sweep distrust of everyone. The detrimental effect of arrogance laid bare in the original The Fly (1958) was exacerbated to an extreme degree in David Cronenber’s 1986 remake.
The 1958 version of The Blob was a giddy sci-fi monster flick in line with the tongue-in-cheek chillers of the Atomic age. It lacked the level of terror and tension present in the more metaphorical genre classics of the McCarthy-era. The remake adopts the humorous tone of its predecessor, demonstrating deference in its reworking of the material for new audiences. While it doesn’t speak to the dark issues with the same intensity as its brethren, it does provide viewers chilling, gory escapism, skillfully combining dark humor with sensational fits of gore and grue. Its lighthearted approach is also entirely representative of the Reagan era. The gloriously campy creature, synth-based score, over the top bloodletting and gonzo teenagers in peril premise are mainstays of late 80s horror.
Much of the film’s success is owed to the writing/directing team of Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell who have a firm grasp on the methodology of storytelling. They utilize old tricks to create scares but subvert audience expectations enough to elevate the film beyond your generic genre offering.
For example, team quarterback and class heartthrob Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch) is the first to witness the destructive power of the blob. Before he can warn the townsfolk he is devoured by the malevolent creature. The apparent hero of the movie is removed from the spotlight in the opening act, undercutting audience assumptions. Similarly, the town derelict is introduced attempting to jump his motorcycle over a decrepit bridge in a seemingly cheesy attempt to paint him as a badass. The set piece is lent weight toward the end of the picture when the character has to achieve the stunt in order to flee military personnel.
Darabont and Russell teamed up prior to The Blob to create A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, one of the more resonant sequels of the popular franchise. It would have been convenient for them to mime the lesser entries of that series and force nameless characters into The Blob to serve as cannon fodder for the sanguinary killer. Instead, they attribute each of the would-be victims of their story with identifiable personalities so as to heighten the anguish or excitability whenever one of them is killed off. One such character is a young boy called Eddie Beckner (Douglas Emerson). Audiences expect central characters to be massacred in horror films. However, the killing of children is not a common occurrence in mainstream cinema. And Eddie gets it in particularly grueling fashion. While attempting to evade the blob through the sewers of Arborville, Eddie is caught by the carnivorous creature who reduces him to bone in the space of half-a-minute.
Movies can act as conduits to some of our best memories. John Candy mudwrestling a group of bikini-clad babes in Stripes kindles flashbacks to my first drive-in movie and the first time I had to urinate in a cup. Lethal Weapon 2 awakens in me memories of my first “French” kiss.
When my mom introduced me to The Blob (1958) we were sitting on my living room floor wishing for a way to escape the boredom of the day. We sat engrossed, distracted from the deluge of rain outside. When the screen fell to black, it took a moment to digest what my mother had just shared with me, a ludicrous work of science fiction that never failed to entertain. When the remake hit theaters, I was first in line to see it.
When asked to comment on the recent spate of horror remakes at a convention I attended not too long ago, director John Landis responded he wasn’t opposed to genre retreads, just shitty movies. Scary movie veterans have had to endure a number of uninspired copycats of treasured fright flicks by a Hollywood preoccupied with security and bankability since the turn of the century. From 2003’s financially successful Chainsaw Massacre reboot to Tom Cruise’s abhorred Mummy reimagining, the horror genre has been cannibalizing itself to adverse effect. 1988’s The Blob is an exception to the rule. Like John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenber’s The Fly, Chuck Russell’s blood-soaked remake reworks the material in an exciting, sometimes original manner.
So, if you’re tired of waiting out another downpour, and find yourself looking gloomily out the window, maybe it’s not too bad an idea to draw the curtains and load up the remade Blob.
SINCE ITS RELEASE:
Chuck Russell had a versatile career that included the hugely prosperous Jim Carrey vehicle, The Mask and the moderately successful action flicks, Eraser and The Scorpion King. Frank Darabont earned acclaim for his directorial debut The Shawshank Redemption before moving on to helm a handful of other award-winning Stephen King adaptations. He is perhaps most loved by horror fans for bringing the famed comic-book series, The Walking Dead, to the small screen. Talks of a long-rumored Blob remake starring Samuel L. Jackson have simmered recently. The 1958 version of the film is available on blu ray from Criterion. Umbrella Entertainment offers the 1988 remake on a fairly bare-bones region 2 disc.