Skip to main content

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob

(SPOILERS) 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). However, despite this misdirection and further misdirection from Dr Meddows (Joe Seneca), that this is a creature from outer space, the 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 (whether or not there are 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.

Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.