Monday, September 28, 2015

Silver Screen Stories: The Blob

It's that time of year again, with October just around the corner. So let's kick off the festivities a bit early......

Now THAT, is poster art.

It's well documented by now that around age 8 or 9, around 1989 or 1990, I became a "monster nut". It had started at an earlier age, as for many years in my early childhood I was obsessed with dinosaurs. By the late 80s, this evolved into also loving movie monsters, and all manner of creatures from mythology and folklore that I could possibly learn about. And of course, my passionate love affair with Godzilla. Part of what helped this love along, of course, was the fact that by the late 80s, at some point, we finally got a VCR in my household. Before that, it had just been basic network channels or cable TV, so I certainly saw movies on TV, even monster movies from time to time, but I don't really have strong memories of any of them. With an introduction to VHS and home video in my life, however, two things happened. One of them, was that we started renting movies from local video stores (something young people today, I'm sure, are becoming increasingly unfamiliar with). The other, was that we bought blank tapes, and would record various things when they were on TV.

It was in this way that I slowly but surely started getting introduced to, but also being allowed repeat watchings of many old classic sci-fi, horror and monster films. One of the early tapes I remember us buying, aside from ones that would later become "mine", such as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero or The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, was the 1958 gem entitled The Blob. Now, mind you, by today's sadly desensitized standards, this movie is probably kind of corny (because of it's super strong 50s stylings, and the lack of gore), but for 1958, I'm sure it was terrifying. And to a little kid, who had not yet been (somewhat) desensitized to graphic gore and killing depictions on TV and movies, who also took movies at face value and got caught up in the stories they were telling no matter what (with very few exceptions), it genuinely creeped me out when I first saw it too.

The Blob, as it was first discovered.

Shoulda left that shit alone, pops........

So for those unfamiliar, the basic setup for this tale, deals with the titular Blob, naturally. At the beginning of the film, a "shooting star" is seen falling to earth, and what's left of the fairly tiny meteorite, happens to land out in the boondocks, near some old man's cabin. Now, of course, as you can see above, the old man is impossibly curious (if he wasn't maybe there would be no film), so he goes poking around, and comes in contact with what at first looks like a small, clear/colorless pile of snot. The Blob itself, though never really explained (on purpose) in the movie, seems to be some sort of amorphous organism from, one would assume, somewhere in deep space, that had been drifting around for who knows how long, dormant in the cold vacuum.

You might wanna get that looked at...

So of course, the colorless goop that he's inspecting on a stick, starts gooping it's way towards his hand, and when he turns the stick upside down, to try and use gravity against it (because really, who wants space snot on their hand?), it reveals itself to be alive, and keeps coming for his hand, quickly enveloping the whole thing. The man screams in pain, and (understandably) freaks out, running off into the night. Meanwhile, our intrepid young heroes, who had seen the "shooting star" while sitting out at (where else) "Lover's Lane", had taken off in their car, to try to find the meteor for themselves. They instead find the old man out in the road, almost hitting him, before they see the grotesque thing that is by now covering most of his arm, and decide to try and rush him to the local town doctor's office.

Dr. Hallen is on the case.

Now the young heroes, of course, are actors Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut, both of whom were starring in their first feature film roles. That's right, the legendary Steve McQueen, got his start in a "cheesy" monster movie. You'd be surprised just how many big stars of yesteryear did (just ask Clint Eastwood). Corsaut would go on to be a prolific television actress, most well known for a long stint on the Andy Griffith Show, while of course McQueen would go on to be one of the biggest actors of his era (until his unfortunate death). They managed to get to "The Doc" just in time, as fate would have it he was just leaving to go out of town (he should have). Dr. Hallen tried his best to treat the patient, even calling his nurse Kate back into work to help him. But the damn unidentified snot-like thing just kept enveloping more and more of the man, and there was little time to really study the case, let alone help him. The kids are sent off by the "Doc" to go see if they can find anyone out in the boonies who knows who grandpa is, and he and his nurse are soon left alone with the creature of the feature.

The terror begins....

Not even acid affects it!

Anyway, as you can imagine, shit starts to get heavy. By the time Nurse Kate arrives on the scene, Doc Hallen asks her to check on the patient, only for her to find the operating room empty. The old man was nowhere to be found, and instead, there was just a bigger, redder Blob, creeping about the place, ready for it's next victim. As it would turn out, this amorphous piece of monstrosity, absorbed living organic matter at a frightening (and increasing rate). It also turned out, the damn thing was fairly indestructible, as acid failed to dissolve it. Not to get too spoilerific, but things don't look too good for the Doc and poor Kate. Not even a RIFLE affects it (who's a Blob)!

Steve and Jane, the main kids, wind up running into some other 50s townies, pals of theirs, and after some 50s street car hijinks, they all take off up to Old Man River's place to see what cooks. All they find is his poor little dog left behind, and no real sign of who the dude was. Long story short, they get back into town, can't find the Doc, and get into some shit with the police (though to be fair, while Sgt. Jim can't stand those goddamn kids, his boss Lt. Dave, is a pretty swell guy). Naturally they try to tell the cops that some Blob monster is on the loose, gobbling people right up, but adults just don't understand. Until it's too late that is.

The infamous movie theater scene.

The kids sneak back out of their homes after the police ordeal, knowing that they've got to do something with this monster out there, so they round up their pals again, and this time try to warn people, even though people are still assholes and won't listen. Steve and Jane even wind up cornered and almost eaten (SPOILERS) in a grocery store, looking for that poor dog. So they get all their cars together and raise hell, honking and whatnot, till half the town and the firemen and cops arrive to see what the hell's going on. They make their last plea to be heard, and the cops check out the store only to find nothing, and it looks hopeless. That is, until.....the infamous scene at the now equally infamous Colonial Theater (in Pheonixville, Pennsylvania), where patrons of a late-night spook-fest, come swarming out of the place, running for their lives, after that jerk of a Blob crept in and started eatin' folks. After that, the cops FINALLY believe those damn kids, and it's off to the races, trying to find a way to stop this unstoppable juggernaut of jello.

Lt. Dave is an O-K Cat.

All humor aside, while The Blob might seem quaint and even funny by today's standards, because it is just so 1950s, it also happens to be a really good, and fun movie. It manages to pull off a handful of a genuinely creepy little moments, quiet moments when people are alone with this disgusting evil from space, while at the same time having a "period piece" humor and charm to it. It's really a perfectly distilled piece of the 50s, and is a perfect representative of what 50s era monster movies and science fiction was all about. When I first saw it, as I said, it did scare my young self, but upon repeated watching, I grew to enjoy it a lot (even though I genuinely felt sorry for all those people getting absorbed....what can I say, I've always been a bit of a softy like that). And of course in my adult years, I appreciate it for all new reasons, as well.

The climactic diner scene.

One thing to note, is that while it certainly can come off as "hokey" to many modern day viewers, The Blob is hardly poorly written, or acted. In fact the acting by some, such as young McQueen himself, is top notch, and overall, you genuinely care about these characters and their sleepy little town. There are also moments, such as (without giving too much away), the climatic battle at the diner, where the "punk kids" and the cops, etc., all come together to try and destroy this thing and save lives, that are honestly quite touching. I'll leave the ending to your imagination, as incentive to see it yourselves.

It certainly does. How rude!

 The film was made independently, on only a $110,000 budget, and it wound up becoming a modest hit in 1958, making over 4 million at the box office. It was more of a "drive in" hit to be sure, but it also became a cult classic, and is to this day highly regarded as one of the gems of it's era. And that is a status I feel it richly deserves. It's not epic like War of the Worlds or Forbidden Planet, nor is it deeply thought provoking like The Day the Earth Stood Still or The Incredible Shrinking Man, but what it does have is a ton of heart, and it tells a genuinely good and interesting story.

Today, every year in Phoenixville (home of the Colonial Theater and one of the locations the film was shot in), they hold the annual "Blobfest", where they show the original film in all it's theatrical glory, as well as other classic films of the era. And they always have fans re-enact the theater scene, with everyone running out together. There was a horribly made "sequel" in the 70s called Beware the Blob, that I cannot even recommend seeing as a curiosity, because it was so bad I didn't even get very far into it before quitting. For as low as the budget was for the original, it doesn't show. The "sequel" looked very cheaply shot, and acted, and written, etc. They also got around to making a remake in the 1980s, but I also wouldn't recommend that, personally. As with many horror remakes, all it did was up the gore, and try to market itself by grossing you out. If that's your thing, though, give it a whirl, but it has nothing on the 50s film as far as quality and class goes.

I would highly recommend including the original 1958 classic in your rotation of Halloween time movies to watch, though, as it is a very well done and highly entertaining flick. There's far more Halloween madness to come, but for now, I'll leave you folks with the super catchy intro tune....


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