Published on August 5th, 1988 | by Padraic Coffey0
The Blob (1988)
As a decade for American cinema, the 1980s may not have produced as many great new filmmakers as the 1970s – with its Altmans, Scorseses and Coppolas – or have been fuelled with the same smart, slick self-awareness of 1990s auteurs like Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher or the Coen brothers. Nevertheless, the Eighties were a golden age for one type of moviegoer: the fan of genre cinema. Science-fiction and horror, in particular, dominated the output of many studios: perhaps it should have come as no surprise, as Spielberg’s terrifying Jaws and Lucas’ fantastical Star Wars were the two highest grossing films in the preceding decade.
Breakthrough special effects and, of course, the ending of the Hays Code at the end of the 1960s, meant filmmakers who had been inspired by the B-pictures of old could now put on screen images that had never been seen before. This led to several science-fiction/horror remakes; though, unlike the turgid output which currently clogs up cinema screens annually, these updated versions of (debatable) classics were something new. Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World, Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors and Kurt Neumann’s The Fly were all readapted with bigger budgets and more graphic visuals by John Carpenter, Frank Oz and David Cronenberg respectively (though Oz’s film was granted a modest PG-13 certificate from the MPAA). Irvin Yeaworth’s The Blob, which in 1958 had given Steve McQueen his first leading role, was remade with a higher budget than either Carpenter or Cronenberg’s horror/sci-fi efforts by Chuck Russell, but failed to recoup even half its original cost at the box office.
Its plot is straightforward. In small-town America, a pulsating, acidic, sentient goo spills from a fallen meteor, attacking several locals, while increasing its size with each victim. Meanwhile, two youthful witnesses attempt to warn authorities of the danger posed, but are greeted with predictable scepticism.
The Blob is certainly not a great film (unlike Cronenberg’s The Fly, which is a bona fide masterpiece), but its current obscurity – it has never been released on DVD in Britain – does not befit what aficionados of sci-fi/horror might well view with huge enjoyment. One name which stands out in the opening credits is that of co-writer Frank Darabont, known to many as the man behind one of the most beloved films ever made, The Shawshank Redemption. While most familiar to audiences for that prison-set drama, Darabont’s career has actually been dominated by the horror genre, from early stints penning sequels like The Fly II (again, unlike Cronenberg’s film, no masterpiece) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, to 2007’s The Mist and the increasingly popular television series, The Walking Dead.
While he may not have been behind the camera, recognisable traits of Darabont’s oeuvre are visible, not least the casting of Jeffrey DeMunn (featured in every film Darabont has ever directed, as well as The Walking Dead) as Sheriff Herb, or Darabont’s blackly comic foreshadowing of the horrors to come; “when they’re through screaming their heads off they’ll be in here like a flood”, quips a diner owner in her first scene. Where the film falls down is in its terribly cheesy Eighties-era music and wafer-thin characterisation. Indeed, were it not for the explicit gore and rare use of an f-bomb, The Blob could have been aimed at a much younger audience.
Still, one can admire the casualness with which seemingly major characters are picked off, and the effects – ranging from unconvincing mattes to superb animatronics – are a refreshing reminder of the days before nondescript CGI took centre stage. As this is set in the Eighties, references to the Cold War abound, which date the movie even more that some of the ropier effects. There are those among the townsfolk who view the carnage carried out as a sign of God’s will, which would recur in Darabont’s The Mist. Darabont and Russell poke fun at such demagoguery, not least in the closing scene, setting the film up for a sequel which never came.
Those expecting a work with the maturity of Cronenberg’s The Fly, or the fear-factor of Carpenter’s The Thing will be disappointed by The Blob, but fans of 1980s effects-driven gorefests should lap up the severed arms, melted faces and floating corpses. If you can track it down, The Blob is worth at least one watch.