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Does it really pay To Beware of The Blob?
The late 1980s saw a number of updated remakes of classic 'fifties science fiction films, following the lead of the reasonably successful Richter/Kaufman Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978. John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing had the good idea of going back to the mostly un-filmed source story that Howard Hawks had ignored thirty years before. Finally, David Cronenberg took the 1958 The Fly, a film already somewhat diluted by two repetitive sequels, and re-invented it from top to bottom. His 1986 remake stayed true to the George Langelaan concept, yet provided the ideal framework on which to hang Cronenberg's obsessions with disease and decay.
But soon thereafter came remakes with little apparent reason for being, except to recycle one famous title or another. 1985's Invaders from Mars all but buried the good name of the 1953 original it copied. This big budget, effects and gore-laden remake of the 1958 The Blob may have its heart in the right place, but everything about it is just too obvious.
The movie takes place in a small snow-country town, just before the setting. High school jock Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch) and cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) run down an old man who runs into the road, and take him, along with witness Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) to the hospital. A strange substance on the old man's hand appears to be growing, but nobody wants to listen to the teenagers. The situation almost immediately gets out of control, with poor Brian a murder suspect.
An attractive cast and good production values can't hide the fact that this Blob re-tread is a fast attempt to update the original film with modern special effects, non-stop mayhem, and little else. We applaud that the story takes the time to firmly introduce six or seven interesting characters, but it quickly kills off the three or four most interesting, leaving the show to essentially re-start with a stock delinquent and a spunky cheerleader. From then on the killings are so frequent, arbitrary and In Our Faces that our dramatic involvement takes a dive. So many partially dissolved and dismembered humans are seen that they swiftly become a joke. It's almost as if the Blob weren't actually killing people, but instead revealing them to be made of Pla-Doh. If the object were fun rather than fear, the movie would work fine -- just throw in amusing pop music needle-drops. But this show wants it both ways.
Co-writer-director Chuck Russell and co-writer Frank Darabont mirror original writer Theodore Simonson for the essential structure and set pieces like an attack on a movie theater. The earlier part of the movie is actually the best. For about ten minutes, particularly in the hospital scenes (with a welcome bit from David Lynch regular Jack Nance) the show builds a mood of anticipatory, ascending horror. But when the loveable waitress and the reasonable sheriff are dispatched just for the sake of some quick thrills, the show's heart goes with them. The remaining characters are stock teens stretched to become action heroes. Our cheerleader heroine goes from innocent pom-pom babe to sewer commando with a machine gun. She swears at the Blob, just like Sigourney Weaver taking on the 'Alien Mutha'. The town thug, actually a pretty boy with a dark attitude, transforms into a combination Captain America and Archie Andrews. Gee, the Blob really helps people sort out their lives, doesn't it?
The commercial underpinnings of The Blob show far too clearly. The cameraman is from Cronenberg's The Fly. The trailer and main titles ape the portentous mood and taglines from Ridley Scott's Alien, or Carpenter's The Thing. The gore cheerfully outdoes that found in the slasher subgenre, and the monster itself behaves more like Carpenter's shape-shifting Thing than Jack H. Harris' original tub of red silicone.
The original Blob was frightening in its simplicity. It was a quiet, oozing, colorful kind of universal solvent, come to cleanse Earth of all that bothersome animal and human infestation, anything with flesh and bones to dissolve. This new mutated-bacteria creature is more complicated but less convincing, appearing to be a shape-shifting cross between The Thing and the tripe-and-trimmings creature glimpsed at the end of The Quatermass Xperiment. It can look like a partly cooked omlette, or a creeping placenta with veins and flesh. It's gelatinous in some scenes and a churning mass of protoplasm in others. It also displays the ability to make itself as rigid as a ton of asphalt, or shoot out forty-foot tentacle grabbers. The original creature just crept along, perhaps guided by heat or movement, but this thing is so dexterous and intelligent in its actions that it begs more explanation. Since we know that the only explanation is convenience, there's not much interest to be had. Despite its low budget and few onscreen appearances, the original The Blob had pretty much explored the possibilities of its original concept. When the new filmmakers talk about new ideas, they just mean new gore scenes. 1
The new plot angles are a disaster. We get the overworked idea from Alien that a sinister government program will kill off a whole town to secure The Blob for use as a biological weapon. Even by 1988 this was a "Duh" plot development, which mainly provides some guys in white suits as additional Blob-snacks, spouting reams of terrible dialogue. Other wrinkles vary in impact. A minister whose menace only becomes evident in an epilogue, is not bad. Frank Darabont later wrote the adapted screenplay for Stephen King's The Mist, which has a number of similarities, especially when the town's population is trapped inside one building.
Most of the cast is as expendable as campers in a slasher film, and just seeing who gets it next (rude moviegoer, nice little kid) has a limited appeal. It's sad to see the adorable Candy Clark exit so soon. She perhaps sympathizes with the teenagers because she remembers her own midnight encounter with The Goat Killer in American Graffiti. The best surprise character-wise is Deputy Bill Briggs, played by Paul McCrane, the notable 'industrial waste victim' from the previous year's RoboCop. Deputy Briggs starts out a jerk, just as in the Verhoeven film. He transforms into a good guy by taking the side of the 'teens against the G-Men, and becomes a feel-good hero. Yet the screenwriter of this new Blob can't let a decent character survive. The body count is high, and many of the gruesome melted people on view seem totally gratuitous. The Blob is dispatched basically identically as in the first picture, which provides a particularly unsatisfying non-ending, complete with a coda indicating the possibility of a remake with an apocalyptic theme. Richter, Carpenter, and Cronenberg did the right thing when they re-invented their respective remakes instead of simply reiterating the originals.
Shawnee Smith would definitely be a 1988 teen's definition of a hot date, while Kevin Dillon is an affected but reasonably effective nice-guy hood with a slightly retro look. But we cared much more for those supporting characters that got gobbled up or wiped out. Effects-wise, The Blob is an encyclopedia of what could be done in 1988, one year before The Abyss ushered in digital effects for dimensional creatures. There are mattes, matte paintings, stop motion animation and plenty of shots that Savant has just no clue at all how they were done. Some effects are more successful than others but almost all of them make an impact. The scene in a claustrophobic phone booth mainly works because we care so much about that particular victim. The writers probably ask the blob to do too many clever/silly things, but the graphic image of an unlucky dishwasher pulled literally 'down the drain', is a standout. We all understand plumbing.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of The Blob is already rumored to be one of those titles that will quickly sell out quickly, even with sales limited to three copies per customer. The show is fondly remembered by the thirty-somethings whose first exposure to wild Sci-fi movie thrills were 'eighties pictures like The Last Starfighter and Lifeforce.
Twilight Time includes an Isolated Score Track for Michael Hoenig's music. Host Ryan Turek welcomes director Chuck Russell to a full audio commentary, where Russell tells us that he approached producer Jack H. Harris and begged him for a chance to develop a remake of the original. We're also given a video of a Q&A at a Cinefamily screening in Los Angeles and both a green band and a red band trailer. Julie Kirgo's liner notes point up the film's salient features, and concludes that it's best regarded as "a hoot."
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Blob Blu-ray rates:
1. Serious Blob Chat, anyone? Despite what Jack H. Harris said, the original Blob was almost surely inspired by Nigel Kneale and Val Guest's The Quatermass Xperiment, which seems to have launched dozens of creepy-crawly horrors. There's always Ishiro Honda's creative The H-Man, but for sheer invention and chills the best variant by far is Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava's Caltiki The Immortal Monster.
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T'was Ever Thus.