Friday, March 8, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 16 - The Blob (1958)

1958's "The Blob" is a bit different than most of the American giant monster movies I've been dealing with lately.  It was still a low budget independently-made film that only paid its leading actors a few thousand dollars for their participation, but it has something those others don't:  a widescreen aspect ratio and color!

"The Blob" features easily the most famous American monster of the 1950s, an alien hump of red matter that creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor, right through the door, all around the wall.  Nobody has heard of "Attack of the Crab Creatures", and even less have any idea what "Beginning of the End" is, but "The Blob" is an icon.  Its also out of the most original monsters that have come out of a cheap independent B-movie, a formless mass that simply devours people.  Its difficult to say what the Blob is, what's its after, or even if its actually alive, all it does is crawl around on the ground, absorbing flesh into more red goo.  This is probably the most primordially frightening monster concept we've had here.  Giant spiders are just animals, Godzilla has personality, but the Blob has no personality, its a faceless visceral fear that just keeps growing larger using the bodies of your family and friends.  And it makes no sound.  None.  There is nothing to it except the mindless instinct to devour living beings.  No wonder why this is one of the best American horror films of the Fifties.

Curiously, though, "The Blob" did not have a considerably-larger budget than "Beginning of the End".  It was directed by Irvin Yeaworth, whose main body of work consisted of mainly educational shorts and motivational films, the kind of mindless nonsense that tortured millions of bored American high schoolers and endlessly tickled "Mystery Science Theater 3000".  However, somehow, he managed to make a movie in color and widescreen, with decent special effects, a pretty well-known leading man in Steve McQueen, and still ten thousand dollars under-budget.  Yeaworth even managed to film convincing night scenes - which is good since this entire movie takes place during the course of a single night, rather than just using a dim blue filter over what is clearly midday light like most films of this period.  So generally, I'm pretty impressed with the production values here, and what's a fairly solidly written and directed movie.  "The Blob" is a really good, nicely cheesy, but still somewhat frightening horror movie, which should not be missed.

Again, I'm disappointed to admit that I've never seen another classic horror movie, so this is the first time I've seen "The Blob"*.  And really, "The Blob" immediately offers a great surprise.  Watch these opening credits.  This is truly amazing.  Trust me, you're in for a treat:

Greatest theme song ever!

"The Blob" is probably the only movie I've reviewed yet that seems aware of how incredibly silly it is.  This theme was made by Burt Bacharach and is the greatest thing ever to happen to horror cheese.

Now let me talk about the other part of this movie that absolutely kicks ass:  Steve McQueen.  He's pretty much the only famous actor in this whole movie, though in 1958 he was only beginning to move out of television and into feature films, and "The Blob" was the first starring role he had.  In just a decade, Steve McQueen's career would skyrocket to rock star status, briefly becoming the highest-paid actor on Earth.  Even in this movie, with only a few scenes to really show off his natural charm, Steve McQueen comes off as one of the coolest dudes to ever live, with ice-blue eyes and blond hair.  His fellow actors, "a cast of exciting young people" are generally okay, though McQueen's girlfriend is so generically female that I'm surprised she isn't from a Toho movie of this period.  By the way, its funny how 1950s rowdy teenagers are wearing button-down shirts - tucked in, no less - which are more formal than even my dad would wear in just normal life.

So let's break down the story real quick.  A meteor falls out of the sky and lands someplace in the woods of Anytown, USA.  An old man goes to investigate, and quickly gets his hand eaten by a small little clump of bubblegum alien flesh.  Meanwhile, Steve McQueen and the Girl are driving through the woods (with their headlights off for some reason), and they run into, but not run over, the old man.  By now the Old Timer is in such awful, unimaginable pain and terror that he can barely even moan.  They take him to the local doctor, but by now the old man's hand has already turned into this:

"Simon's turned to jelly!"

Steve McQueen leaves to go do some hotrod driving with his buddies.  You can't have Steve McQueen in a movie without him driving something, they might have even jammed a Corvette into "The Magnificent Seven".  The local nice cop, Dave, does catch Steve at his driving, and what follows is a short but massively entertaining sequence where, if you were alive in 1958, it should have been immediately obvious that Mr. Steven McQueen was going to be a star, heck, a superstar.  Yet, all this car action ultimately distracts us from the real situation, in which the Blob finishes assimilating the Old Man, eats the nurse, and then eats the doctor.  And then, "The Blob" presumably decides that it was moving too quickly, its pace was too successful, it was too creepy, so the next half hour or so is painfully boring.

The Blob eats maybe two people during this period, the rest is spent with Steve and the Girl trying to convince the local police department that there really is a monster lump from outer space going around eating people.  And this turns into a massively complicated thing, since Officer Dave is merely skeptical, and his deputy, Bert, is a giant douche - so much of a giant douche that he doesn't even do the audience the favor of becoming a blob meal.  Bert refuses to even believe that the doctor is dead, and will not be happy until Steve McQueen and presumably every other teenager on Earth is in the electric chair.  Maybe the doctor actually went to the medical convention, it gets stupidly complicated, since we know what's going on!  There's no mystery here, only obstructionist characters that are dragging the movie down.

 It is somewhat interesting though that the Blob stars teenagers, more or less helpless characters trying to flag down help, instead of omniscient scientists backed with the omnipotent power of the US government.  The story is also nicely claustrophobic, since it takes place in a single town during a single night.  There is sort of an underdeveloped sense of teen culture and teen rebellion going on here, that would definitely get expanded upon greatly in the Eighties remake.

Thank heavens, our star does reappear eventually:

 The Blob is the most delicious movie monster ever.

At last, we reach the climax.  The Blob has eaten enough people that by now it can attack an entire movie theater, which in an oddly metafictional note, is playing a later Bela Legosi B-movie.  Watch out, teenage-version of my Grandma, you might be enjoying the Blob now, but maybe its already eaten the projectionist and is about to seep out of the walls in an excellent stop-motion shot and then eat the entire theater.  The main climax though, actually features Steve McQueen, his girlfriend, and her little brother getting captured by the Blob inside a diner, as the creature covers every escape and folds around the entire structure.  All seems lost for the poor citizens of whatever town this is supposed to be, until they learn the Blob's elemental weakness:  Cold.  So just cover it with fire extinguishers, freeze is up, get the army, and drop is in the Arctic, where it will sleep until the 1972 sequel, "Beware the Blob!"

"The Blob", before it goes, offered me one last treat.  Its "The End" title card morphs into a giant question mark, the ultimately cheesy move, as the possibilities of sequels are left open.  And since this movie was really successful, you knew there were going to be sequels one day.  I've already mentioned them, a 1972 sequel set in Alaska, and a 1988 remake that I rather like.  Movie blasphemy here:  I like the remake better.

I already mentioned that the lightning in this movie fantastic and believable, but the Blob effects themselves could use some discussion.  The effects were made by the rookie special effects artist, Bart Sloane, who oddly would only be involved in just two films.  "The Blob" actually features a collage of special effects techniques.  Sometimes the blob is a prop made out of a modified weather balloon, other times its silicon gel dyed red, and in the theater scene there's some limited use of stop-motion.  I think the effects budget starting going overboard towards the end, because the last shots of the blob are just a cartoon drawing of a blob creature surrounding a diner, which is hilariously poor-looking.

To conclude this little review, "The Blob" kinda rocks.  Its got a scary monster, its well-shot, its got a good cast, and yeah, its a little slow at parts, but its a generally well-made movie that shows real filmmaking skill.  And yet, its one of the first B-movies I know of that actually seemed to willing to admit to itself that it was something more ridiculous than frightening, as evidenced by that magical Blob theme song.  That's something that you have to memorize and sing in the shower.

On the next episode of All-Out Giant Monster Attack! - The Angry Video Game Nerd's favorite giant monster movie, "The Giant Claw".


* Let's be honest, this giant monster business is not-to-secretly just an excuse to watch and talk about a lot of B-movies.  And my definition of "giant monster" is going to become highly creative.


  1. I watched this one when I was studying America in the 50s-60s, it had little relevance but my lecturer told me it was great. Never got the damn theme tune out of my head, oh and the end cracks me up every time - let's dump it in the Arctic!

  2. I was wondering if you were going to do this movie. I do have to say though the most frightning thing about the blob is the fact that you can't kill the damn thing outside of slowing it down by freezing it. The blob is probably the only movie monster outside of zombies to actually to put fear in my heart. Which brings me to my next question: Are you going to go all the way up to the 80's? If you do I like to see a review of "The Thing".

    1. Well, "The Thing" is never really a giant monster, as much as I love that movie. I've been pretty flexible with the definition of a giant monster, but nobody would ever call that a giant monster movie. I mean, I'll find an excuse to cover it one day, for some reason - but I honestly wonder what I could say about it that everybody else has said already.

      Now checking my current strategy of attack, the latest movie on the list is none other than "Trollhunter" from 2010. So I'll be going all the way to the current day.

    2. Technically the Thing DOE'S turn into a giant monster at the end of the movie so their's your loophole.