The October Horrorshow Giant Monstershow continues on with a classic from 1958. How classic is director Irvin Yeaworth’s The Blob? In the print I saw, the film was preceded by the logos of both The Criterion Collection and Janus Films. That’s quite the seal of approval for film buffs.
Steve McQueen plays Steve Andrews, a laughably old teenager (he was in his late 20s when this was filmed, but the lines on his face make him look even older) who is at a secluded makeout spot with his girlfriend Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut), when a meteorite falls from the sky and lands nearby. They set off in search of it, but before they can find it, an old mountain hermit (Olin Howland) locates the space rock. It cracks open, and inside is a small ball of slime with a carnivorous disposition. It latches on to the old man’s hand and begins to eat him alive. Steve and Jane find the old man, who pleads with them to take him to a doctor. They do, and now the plot is off and rolling.
Now that the blob is in the town, it can begin to wreak real havoc. The blob is nothing more than a gelatinous mass, but it’s touch dissolves and consumes every person with which it comes in contact. As it absorbs its victims, it grows, making it more dangerous and pervasive with every attack. It’s also a weekend night in the town, and most everyone is asleep. The blob makes its stealthy way through the small burg, disappearing folks at every opportunity.
Meanwhile, only Steve and Jane are aware of the true danger. The local cops think they’re just a couple of pesky kids crying wolf. They’re telling the truth, but it is a wild tale they are telling. A blob that’s eating the townsfolk? Come on. It’s all Lieutenant Dave (Earl Rowe) can do to keep from throwing Steve in the slammer.
Of course, the blob does eventually emerge from the shadows, in an iconic scene filmed in front of a movie theater in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania (which the town still celebrates annually). Now no one can refuse to take Steve and Jane seriously.
After having watched so many Bert I. Gordon flicks for this month, it was easy to forget the differences between a competent filmmaker and one who is not so competent. The basic plot elements of The Blob aren’t any different from Earth vs. The Spider, but the two films are miles apart from each other.
Yeaworth understood how to set up a film like this without getting bogged down in preliminaries. The movie is only a few minutes old and we get our first tantalizing glimpse of the action to come. When the movie threatens to slow, Yeaworth made sure to provide a new victim to keep audiences interested. It’s not the pacing that undermines this film.
Despite having access to decent film stock and lenses, this is still a low-budget horror flick. Pay close attention and it shows. For one thing, as iconic as the blob is, it doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time. In most horror films, this would be a good thing. The unseen generally holds much more tension than the seen in a horror flick. But not only is this film skimpy with the blob, it’s skimpy with death scenes. That iconic scene in the movie theater mentioned above? There are barely any shots from inside the theater. When Lieutenant Dave arrives on scene he goes inside and comes back out quickly and only alludes to the horror he saw inside. It sure would have been nice for the movie to follow him into the theater so we viewers could share in this vision, but it just wasn’t to be. In fact, most of the time when the blob gets ahold of a victim, the camera doesn’t show what’s happening. It’s quite disappointing, and hurts the classic reputation of the film.
The acting is a letdown, as well. Most of the dialogue feels either improvised or unrehearsed. McQueen, who would go on to much greater things in Hollywood, at times seemed barely able to hold together his performance. Part of the theme of this film is the uphill battle that youths have in getting adults to take them seriously. That battle is encapsulated in the performers, as well. Those that play the teens have strangely skittish, halting performances, while the older adults who play parents and cops are cut straight from the 1950s Hollywood playbook.
The Blob may be a classic, but I think that might be a case of rosy retrospection. This is a thin film at times that does not deliver on the promise of its creature. We see the aftermath of the blob’s actions at every turn, but rarely the monster itself. This movie is remembered fondly compared to its peers, I think, because it was filmed in color. That’s the only reason I can think of why it’s so highly regarded, because otherwise, there’s just not a lot of there, there. The 1988 remake, believe it or not, is the better film.