Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Blob (USA, 1958)

The Blob is one of those films everyone has heard of, relatively few have actually ever seen or even want to see, but almost everyone likes after having seen. Legendary as a camp classic, it is indeed exactly that, but to simply stop there is to do the film injustice. Shot on a miniscule budget of $120,000 (rather than the larger but nonetheless equally minuscule amount of $240,000, as is most often but incorrectly reported), The Blob is a surprisingly tight and effective, well-crafted horror film with more than a few decent scares and some decent special effects. Sure it features a wide-eyed innocence that is laughable today, but even while this age-added campy sheen is an enjoyable aspect to the film, the original intent to thrill and chill (and supply an occasional laugh) is both still obvious and viable. Although it is arguable that he did so more by accident than by design, with The Blob Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr and his crew managed to make one of the true classics of low-budget, it-came-from-outer-space monster films of the fifties, as well as one of the seminal "teenager flicks" ever. The only other teen-horror flick to be half as fun is Ray Kellogg's The Giant Gila Monster (1959), another monster flick that holds the ideas that not all teenagers are evil…
At the time that he made this film, Yeaworth was a minister in the small town of Valley Forge, PA, where the movie was actually shot over a three-week period. The movie's unexpected huge success is probably what led the good man to go on and make a few more low-budget sci-fi flicks, namely the interesting but forgotten 4D Man (1959) and the laughable and forgotten Dinosaurus (1960), but after these two flops and a few religious films, Yeaworth eventually drifted out of film making.
Still, for this movie, the chemistry was right all around. The script was supplied by Kate Phillips (also known as Kay Linaker), a onetime actress and extra turned television scriptwriter, and Theodore Simonson, based on story by Irving H. Millgate. Phillips has reported that she got a massive $125 for her work on the script, while Simonson, who went on to write the script for 4D Man, never went on the record about his financial remuneration. The youthful looking Steve McQueen (billed as Steven McQueen and, at 27, rather old to be playing a teenager), on the other hand, is known to have received a flat payment of $3,000 for his work, eschewing what would have been a much more profitable percentage share as payment due to his doubts about the film's commercial viability. Still, whether he thought the film was going to be crap or not, for his first headlining role, McQueen literally acts everyone else in the movie off the screen in what is a truly good, believable performance.
That The Blob is going to be a fun film is already obvious from the movie's credits sequence. Featuring a simply (but typical to its age and fitting to the film) drawn biomorphic form that undulates and grows, the fabulous design is both cheap yet effective. When the movie's theme song Beware of the Blob begins, the viewer cannot help but feel all warm inside. Though credited to "The Five Blobs," the song is actually sung by only one man, the now-forgotten country singer Bernie Nee, his voice repeatedly overdubbed so as to sound like a group production. The immortal lyrics — "Beware of The Blob! It creeps, and leaps, and glides, and slides, across the floor, right through the door and all around the wall. A splotch, a blotch, be careful of The Blob!" — were supplied by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, who both went on to much bigger things. (Ralph Carmichael, who supplied the rest of the incidental background music, went on to score the infamous television series My Mother the Car and the 1972 movie The Cross & The Switchblade.) The title song of The Blob, the tune of which sounds surprisingly a lot like the classic hit song Tequila, was a Top 40 staple for three weeks in 1958. A cult-cover tune favorite, it is fully deserving of greater rediscovery!
As the last swinging chords fade out, in fades a close-up scene of some decidedly dry-mouthed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation between the virginal Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut she went on to play Andy's gal Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show and appear in Dennis Donnelly's legendary Tool Box Murders (1978)) and her beau Steve Andrews ("Steven" McQueen). Aside from how innocently the two teenage lovers smooch, the big surprise here is that the despite its low budget, The Blob is filmed in both wide screen and color. After some fluffy teen lovey-dovey dialogue, the cliché of a thousand films happens: a shooting star crashes just over the hill. Of course, the two lose all interest in sharing spit and drive off to find the meteorite, but some Old Man (Olin Howlen, whose long career as a bit player began in 1918) finds it first. And though the meteorite has managed to crash unscathed onto the earth, the Old Geezer breaks it open with but a few pokes of a thin branch. In no time flat, the Old Guy is in pain and stumbling through the forest, the blob attached to his hand. Jane and Steve almost run over him, but instead of killing him and dumping in a harbor like today's teenagers would (as seen in I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)) they deliver him to the local doc, Doctor Hallen (Alden/Stephan Chase, a character actor and oft un-credited background filler whose only other truly memorable role was in When World's Collide (1951)). The doc promptly sends them back to where they found the Old Fart, saying "Look if you can find anybody who knows what happened." Obviously not one of the brightest to ever graduate from med school, he then spends most of the time flipping through books before finally calling his nurse Kate (Lee Payton), who, despite the late time at night, promptly shows up to become blob-food in her perfectly pressed nurse's uniform. (Got to wonder about a Doc who decides to shoot a pulsating glob of Jell-O with a rifle after acid doesn't even blister it.) In the meantime, Jane and Steve, after a brief interlude involving backward drag racing — used to introduce Lt. Dave (Earl Rowe), the most understanding and friendly cop ever — have explored the area around the Old Dude's house with some other teenagers and not found much more than a smashed meteor and dog. The rest of the teen's go to the midnight showing of Daughter of Horror — originally made as Dementia (1955), it is itself a forgotten and falsely maligned masterpiece of surreal cinema — but Jane and Steve go back to the Doc, where Steve witnesses the man of medicine getting slimed. Like the good teens that they are, they go to the police, who, though doubtful of their story of a jelly monster, go check out the Doc's place. Needless to say, neither the blob, the doc, nor the nurse are there and everything points towards a teenage prank. Rather than lock the two teens up for the use of illegal hallucinogens, parents get called and they get sent home, no one believing their claims of the imminent danger of the blob, which has since gone on to eat a henpecked mechanic dreaming of his weekend. (Odd how, even after finding a complete bar empty of patrons and bartender but with cash register open and drinks still cold, not one of the cops thinks anything other than teenage pranksters might be loose. Their education obviously wasn't much better than the Doc's was.) The young lovers sneak out and gather together all their friends, not one of whom finds their claims of a slime monster even slightly unbelievable, unlike all the adults they try in vain to warn. After Steve and Jane almost get oozed at the supermarket, the teens wake the town with every warning signal available, but the blob is again no where to be found. Just as the two once again are about to appear as liars and pranksters, the blob attacks the movie theater audience, which flees in terror, laughing and screaming. Just then Jane's little snot of a baby brother Danny (Keith Almoney) shows up to kill the blob with his cap gun, and in no time flat all three are trapped in the only diner in the whole world to have a basement along with the diner's owner and the waitress. The diner is completely covered by the blob and the building is on fire — will our heroes survive? Is the world doomed?
Of course not…
Okay, the plot cheesy, and the acting and direction is often rather uneven, but the movie's pace is brisk and the special effects are surprisingly effective. The comic interludes are of varying quality, but even the flat parts have become oddly endearing and laughable due to the time passed. Yes, The Blob is a campy film, easy to laugh at and make fun of. But it is also a darn-tooting scary film at times, perfect to watch either alone or with your kids. Rent this one for the whole family, and while yer kiddies are still bopping away to the theme song during the opening credits, finish the joint out in the kitchen… That way, you'll all have a good time!
The Blob
, of course, was eventually remade in 1988. The remake is also an acceptable film, but of a completely different type: it isn’t one you would watch with the kiddies. In 1972 Larry Hagman, better known as either J.R. in the TV nighttime soap Dallas or as the wimpy closet case who fails to realize exactly how hubba-hubba Jeannie (Barbara Eden) is in I Dream of Jeannie, directed a sequel entitled Beware! The Blob. Now past the age to care about how public statements might affect his career, Hagman once went on the record as being a pot smoker. Anyone who has seen this monstrosity of a sequel will have no trouble believing this, as in all likelihood everyone involved with that turkey was smoking way too much of something way too good.


Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Teddy da Bear said...

Better film than you give it credit for.
You kids today wouldn't know a better story line
if it bit you in the butt.
Today's movies are pure crap.

Abraham said...

Hey Teddy, you even read the review? The Blob is great, and I give it credit where credit is due. And, by the way: I would be surprised if you were older than me — my peach fuzz has long gone grey, and I've buried more than one family member. And your? But thanks for the compliment — better young at heart and in the mind than a bitter-sounding, old fart.

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