It’s been thirty years since The Blob ‘88 was released. I remember seeing the big movie poster in the supermarket video rental store: those irregular purple waves of Blob, and beneath it the dissolving face and hand of a man who was being slowly broken down and eaten.
But by the time I’d seen the remake, I’d already watched the original -- which, by the way, is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year.
To appreciate the new ground the remake broke, I’m going to trace the steps the first film made in 1958, when under the watchful eyes of producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut made first contact with The Blob, attached as it was to the arm of an unsuspecting hermit in the middle of the woods . . .
“We’re going to find this thing, and we’re going to make people believe us.”
-- Steve Andrews, The Blob ‘58
McQueen and Corsaut play Steven Andrews and Jane Martin, two silly but headstrong Baby Boomer teenagers whose Greatest Generation parents -- and other authority figures -- are so convinced of their own intellectual superiority that they dismiss Steve and Jane’s eyewitness accounts of The Blob outright. Therefore, the task falls to Steve and Jane and their friends to save the city and, as the situation worsens, the entire planet by waking up the population to the existence of The Blob in their midst before it’s too late.
There are two police officers, Lieutenant Dave (Earl Rowe) and Sergeant Jim Bert (John Benson), with the former a well meaning and kind man, while the latter hates teens and dismisses their every request for help outright, regardless of merit. Lieutenant Dave, to his credit, at least investigates when Steve and Jane say they witnessed The Blob murdering the town doctor -- but Sergeant Bert initially refuses to even look into it!
Who cares who the kid says did it, a man has been killed!
What kind of police department is this?
Sergeant Bert does at least have a reason for his distrust of teenagers. His wife died in a terrible car accident where a teenager was at the wheel of the other vehicle, and ever since he’s hated teens.
I didn’t say it was a great reason, or that it made a ton of sense. But hey, it’s a reason, so you have to give the writers that.
Lieutenant Dave gives Steve and Jane the benefit of the doubt throughout the film. It’s through his support -- and finally seeing The Blob in its final, movie theater size incarnation that both police officers and the entire city sign on to the Let’s Beat Some Blob Ass team, and together, old people and young people unite, they finally take care of some big business that would have been a whole lot smaller business if they would have just listened to Steve and Jane when they warned them a half hour into the movie.
But nobody ever listens when kids say a jelly monster eats their doctor, do they?
Speaking of jelly monsters, the special effects look pretty silly in this film, which is to be expected considering the film was budgeted at $120,000 according to Turner Classic Movies.
About those special effects: The Blob itself was a special compound mixed with dyes to give it the red coloring. For a while there, you could actually buy a bucket of it on EBay. Extensive use of miniatures provided the scenes toward the end of the film.
“Has everyone in this whole town gone crazy?”
-- Henry Martin, The Blob ‘58
So at the end of the day, what do you get with The Blob ‘58? A group of good, clean American kids lead their well meaning but condescending older generation to save the world from an extraterrestrial threat. It’s pretty silly stuff when you think about it.
Suzanne J. Murdico wrote in her book, Meet The Blob, that The Blob was intended to be a metaphor for the growing threat of communism at the time, but I’m not convinced of that. Just because a film was released in the ‘50s does not mean it was about communism -- that theme was definitely present in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, no argument from me. But The Blob strikes me much more of a cypher -- it as a creature means nothing. It’s faceless, it has no way to express itself. You can assign any meaning you want to it and bend the rest of the film to make your argument work.
If any purposeful theme is to be derived from The Blob ‘58, it’s much more of a generational commentary. It’s to do with how the Baby Boomer generation related to the Greatest Generation, and perhaps a growing resentment at the lack of respect there. After all, the teens do the most in the film. Their lives are on the line, they get no thanks for it and everybody considers them idiots. And who dies in the film? Adults who should know better. The teens are hip to the problem.
But in the end, their parents and the Powers That Be are good and just, and they listen because that’s what good people do. Steve and Jane are good people too, and so are their parents and so are Lieutenant Dave and Sergeant Burt.
The Blob ‘58 is silly and at times a bit saccharine, and the film is so dated that it takes a little imagination to get into, but The Blob itself is a terrifying monster. There are still a few hair raising moments tucked away in its run time.
“It’s a lie. All of it.” -- Brian Flagg, The Blob ‘88
So we’ve covered the original, and that leads us to the spectacular Chuck Russell helmed 1988 remake starring Shawnee Smith and Kevin Dillon. Made for an estimated $19 million according to IMDB, it’s no surprise that it’s light years beyond the original in terms of production quality.
The Blob ‘88 opens in small town middle America and feels faithful to the original in that it’s still about teen hijinx, albeit transferred to the 1980’s, so it’s injected with a healthy dollop of sex comedy. Smith plays Meg Penny, and Paul (Donovan Leitch, Jr.), the high school quarterback, takes Penny out for their first date into the country to make out. This also happens to be the same stretch where Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) pops wheelies. Flagg’s a motorcycle drivin’, hard livin’ high school outcast.
Unfortunately for all of them, a lonely hermit just discovered his new friend -- The Blob -- who wastes no time getting acquainted with the hermit’s hand and then his whole arm. Flagg spooks the already shocked hermit into the road, where Paul hits him with his car. The three teens, suddenly united in purpose, drive the hermit to the hospital.
Instead of being able to help, the nurses and doctor make notes of the hermit’s condition, purse their lips and look pensive, and leave the teens to watch as his condition deteriorates.
Paul sees The Blob eat through the hermit’s lower body and surge up the old man’s throat in a truly stomach churning shot. He gets the doctor, but when they return, the body’s gone. While the doctor stands there incompetently, Paul runs into an adjoining office to call for help. The Blob, now man sized, drops from the ceiling and engulfs him.
This is the moment that defines the film for many viewers, myself included. Paul’s demise is one of the most horrifying scenes I have ever seen committed to celluloid. Director Chuck Russell expertly shows everything: Paul’s smothered and held in place by The Blob’s gummy body, and every orifice -- his nose, his mouth, probably even his eyes, every part of him is assaulted by The Blob’s acidic body which dissolves and eats him in what must be the most agonizing death imaginable.
“What we do here will affect the balance of world power. Of course there are lives at stake -- whole nations, in fact. And that's far more important than a handful of people in this small town.”
-- Dr. Meddows, The Blob ‘88
The original film felt basically harmless -- even toward the end, where death for Steve and Jane seemed certain. They never addressed the true terror of what a creature like The Blob was capable of -- well, this remake addresses this unapologetically, and plunges us into full on body horror territory. In this regard, it’s not dissimilar to, say, David Cronenberg’s own remake of The Fly.
The Blob ‘88 shows the body being broken down in an extremely graphic manner, to the point where it is uncomfortable to watch. It’s not just bloody or gory. It makes you feel how insignificant and how tenuous a hold our joints, muscles and skin really have over us, and how easily it can all be torn asunder. The Blob is far more powerful than our anatomies, and with every kill, it grows in power and size. It sprouts tentacles to seize its prey and manipulate its environment.
That’s arguably the biggest improvement of this film over the original: the special effects here are really and truly special, and it took a large crew -- called The Blob Shop -- to pull it off right. The creature and puppetry effects are spectacular and hold up with the best of any film, even today.
“The organism is growing at a geometric rate. By all accounts, it's at least a thousand times its original mass.”
-- Jennings, The Blob ‘88
For insight into the unique demands of this film, I talked to two special effects wizards behind The Blob ‘88. Blob Movement Designer and Effects Crewmember Trey Stokes has since moved on to work on Starship Troopers, Team America, The Polar Express and directed the George Lucas approved Star Wars homage Pink Five.
But in his early career, he had a whole lot of fun working on The Blob ‘88. The Blob, he said, was mostly sheets of silk bags filled with goo called “Blob quilts”. He mentioned to me that director Chuck Russell gave his team three “Blob Commandments”: The Blob should always be aggressive, muscular and busy.
“‘Busy’ was the minimum requirement -- if any piece of The Blob wasn’t moving, it immediately looked like a lifeless bag of goo again. ‘Muscular’ we achieved via tricks like twisting several Blob quilts together, dragging them apart, and then running the shot backward so it looked like The Blob was pulling itself together.
“‘Aggressive’ . . . a predator’s intent is shown by what it’s looking at, but The Blob couldn’t ‘look’ at anything in a conventional way. It helped that by this point we had rough cuts of scenes to look at, so we knew what The Blob was supposed to be doing in each shot. It was usually a case of just rehearsing different moves until we had something that worked.”
Jeff Farley has become indispensable to horror and sci-fi since being a Creature Effects Crewmember of The Blob ‘88. He’s worked on Pet Sematary, Demolition Man, and Wolf, in addition to numerous other genre efforts. When he wrote me about The Blob ‘88, he explained a lot about how those tentacled shots were performed.
“Pretty much every type of effect was used to create the sentient look of the creature. [Blob quilts] were further enhanced with veins and other painted details. Quite a few people would be underneath undulating the sheet and performing choreographed movements. The tentacles were sometimes mechanical and other times, just wiggled by a crew member in front of the camera. It would take a whole day to get just a handful of shots if we were lucky as numerous takes were common.”
Beyond the intense demand for complicated special effects -- which would extend to miniatures and even groundbreaking early green screen work, there’s an interesting additional subtext to this film, which was noticeably absent from the original. It’s that delightful cynicism of the late ‘80s, and it’s here in full force.
No longer are the authority figures well meaning. Now, they are downright antagonistic. The police department immediately zeroes in on Flagg as Paul’s murderer, even though the victim’s body is gone except for his steaming severed arm. How’d some teenager melt off limbs and escape the hospital without anyone noticing, apparently taking the body with him on his motorcycle?
Very imaginative police work.
“I never thought I'd go out of my way to find a cop.”
-- Brian Flagg, The Blob ‘88
This version of The Blob isn’t even extraterrestrial -- it is a bioweapon created by a government agency that has zero concern for the people it is supposedly protecting. There’s even a random religious subplot thrown in for the promise of a sequel that never came.
In other words, every trusted institution is, at best, not to be trusted -- and, more often, out for the blood of the citizenry. Similar to the original film, the only people who can act to stop The Blob are the teens.
Gone, however, is the love story. Gone are the teams of teenagers working together to save the world -- now it’s just a cheerleader and an outcast, coming together and solving the world’s problems.
Gone are the well meaning parents. Gone is any semblance of the previous generation coming to their senses.
There’s no assistance, no mediation between the teens and the adults, no coordinating efforts like in the original film.
The Blob ‘88 seems to be saying that the teens of Generation X have no hope of being accepted as adults by the narcissism of the Baby Boomer generation, and that if they ever want to take the reins of this world, so to speak, it will take one hell of a battle.
“You know, plenty of people in their right minds thought they saw stuff like flying saucers. The light was just right in the angle of the imagination. And, oh boy, if that's what this is, this is just an ordinary night and you and I are going to go home to sleep, and tomorrow, the sun will shine just like yesterday. Good old yesterday.”
-- Steve Andrews, The Blob ‘58
The Blob ‘88 is in many ways the complete opposite film to the 1958 original, but it moved the story into darker, more graphic territory that spoke to the general unrest and cynicism of the times. It did exactly what the original did -- it held up a mirror to the teens of the moment, and let them see what they were thinking, acted out on the silver screen.
So . . . it’s been 60 years since The Blob ‘58, and 30 years since The Blob ‘88. It would seem inevitable that another remake should be on the way . . . right?
Oddly enough, yes. Glad you asked.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson (I’m not joking), The Blob ‘19 is on its way courtesy of Arclight Films, directed by Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The General’s Daughter), and he’s promised an immersive experience with the latest and greatest in special effects including CGI -- so make of that what you will. The story is slightly different, apparently skewing away from the teen market -- coal miners unearth it and then town residents work together to defeat it.
Since the previous two movies have been about the difficulties of one generation relating to the next -- “changing of the guard” films, in a way -- I hope they address that in any subsequent film they do make. It’d be a shame not to shine a light for this generation as well, and continue the films’ celebration of youth.
In any case, I say thank goodness for a new film. It’s been too long since we’ve been able to see The Blob wreak havoc on the big screen, and I personally have never seen any of them theatrically. I’m sure there will be plenty of haters who will condemn the film before it’s even filming, but just remember that it can’t be any worse than 1972’s Beware! The Blob -- which you’ll notice I’m not including as Blob canon for reasons which will become obvious if you choose to sit through it -- and this new film may even become a classic in time.
We’ll have to wait and see.
Until then, heed what a wise man with a smooth voice once said over a particularly memorable title card: