Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Blob (Russell 1988)

Years ago, I watched the original 1958 version of The Blob (Yeaworth), which features Steve McQueen as a teenager in a town where a mysterious alien substance has landed is consuming townsfolk. The film was entertaining, but I did not remember much about it afterwards, a point which has not improved with time.

As such, it is pretty much impossible to make any comparison between the original film and director Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake of The Blob, which was co-written by Russell (The Mask) with Frank Darabont (The Green Mile). I doubt any stronger familiarity would either help or hinder Russell’s film though, because the 1988 version is a straightforward update of the 1950s era B-movies, paying homage to the past with a slicker (and gorier) production typical of the 1980s. The end result is a vapid-but-fun affair that seeks to do nothing more than to find the most inventive ways to see the title substance wipe out town folk and government spooks alike.

As in the original, a mysterious substance lands in a small town, and proceeds to spread across the hand of a homeless man. This event is witness by a group of teenagers, including rebel Brian (Kevin Dillon) and cheerleader Meg (Shawnee Smith) who take the man to a hospital. When the blob starts to move about and graphically consume its victims, the teens are not believed at first by authorities, until a group of government scientists lead by Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca) arrive to deal with the situation. Meddows knows more than he is telling, and when the truth comes out, it is up to Brian and Meg to save the day.

With a film like The Blob, the degree to which the film works is measurable only by the amount of energy an enthusiasm brought to the film by the filmmakers. Luckily for audiences, Russell and Darabont’s love for classic science fiction horror cinema is on full display in the film as they find a way to bridge the culture gap between the 1950s and 1980s. As with their contemporaries Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Russell and Darabont display a nostalgic love of 1950s America, yet go a step further by injecting a sense of post-Watergate paranoia and cynicism into the film, starting with the titular monster.


Unlike the original film, in which the mysterious substance came from space, the blob here is re-invented as an American biological weapon’s experiment gone wrong, with Dr. Meddows being more than willing to sacrifice the town in order to save their weapon. As such, the film becomes something of a mild commentary on the Cold War arms race, with the reaffirming of community values and commitment coming across as a longing for the mythic simplicity of America’s past, while understanding the need to remain vigilant for possible internal threats. Such longing is of course absurd, as the notion that life was ever simple is betrayed by history, but we are talking about a film with a giant purple substance eating people here. Besides, such political and ideological readings of the film give the impression that the film is more complex than it is.


While the monster may have changed since the 1950s, the reason the audience is watching any version of The Blob has not: the hope of being scared and dazzled by some hopefully solid special effects work. The film thankfully delivers on these fronts, with some clever jump scares and more than enough gory mayhem, from watching a would-be date rapist pay dearly, to a modern reinterpretation of the iconic theatre attack from the original film. The film is a practical effects fans dream, and acts as a reminder about why computer generated effects often lack the distinction and quality of something that can be shot for real.

Russell and Darabont do however remember to give attention to their characters at the same time thankfully. While the film is mostly populated by stock types, the characters are written and cast well enough that they are fleshed out more than is typical of this type of film, from a smarter than average sheriff (Jeffery DeMunn) to Kevin Dillon’s rebel who is more James Dean than Steve McQueen. Also, genre vets Paul McCrane (Robocop), Candy Clark (The Man Who Fell to Earth) and even Bill Moseley (TheTexas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2) are on hand to give the film a bit of charm.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that The Blob is a completely disposable film, and a minor work for all involved. Moreover, for those seeking a little substance with their horror, the film will fall completely flat and likely leave them annoyed, as a more interesting concept for the never realized sequel is teased at the film’s conclusion. However, for those looking for a fun little horror film, The Blob is worth checking out, particularly given that you will likely find the film for around five dollars. There are worse ways to spend your money.

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