Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Off Script: The Blob (1988)

Film: The Blob (1988)
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the things I love about the original version of The Blob is that it’s the first major starring role for Steve McQueen. It’s also a really fun idea. So what do you do when you have a fun monster movie idea and the ability to update it with more modern sensibilities and especially with gore? Well, you change a few things, figure out a way to make the horror that ensues the fault of the government, and do your best to gross people out. In this case, the result is the 1988 remake of The Blob. It has some plot holes and plenty of goofiness. But so what? This is a movie made to be a carnival fun house with some scenes of 1980s-level gross-out.

The plot is only mildly different from the original version. In the original, an organism that is essentially an amorphous splotch of acid-based protoplasm, lands on Earth in a meteor. It then proceeds to devour anything organic (especially people) and grow. The blob is more or less a mobile sack of stomach acid that grows larger as it ingests food. We have the same thing here, with the difference that the consuming protoplasm is actually a biological weapon gone amok.

There are a lot of things The Blob gets right. First, we get a very high body count. Even better, we get some very inventive and creative deaths, and we also get vivid shots of people enveloped by the creature at various stages of being digested. These partly digested people are the reason anyone watched this. No one went to see The Blob in 1988 because they wanted to watch a science fiction/horror allegory of government science run rampant. No, this is all about seeing people getting their faces melted off. Those deaths really are creative, too. One guy gets sucked through a sink drain; another has the creature enter his hermetically sealed containment suit. This is fun stuff.

Another thing done well here is the nature of the victims. Like any good film of this type, we’re going to be mostly invested in a group of teens that have the issue of trying to convince the adults in the town that there is something very bad happening. Here, we have a trio of teens. Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) is the local bad boy. He rides a motorcycle and has been in trouble with the law over and over. Next is Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith), cheerleader and good girl. Third is Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch Jr.), football hero and putative boyfriend of Meg. The couple starts out in opposition to Brian, since he’s the bad boy. What we expect is that through the course of the film Brian will redeem himself in the eyes of the other two. Instead, (don’t worry, this isn’t really a spoiler), Paul is the second victim of the creature and he’s devoured and dissolved at the beginning of the second act.

The Blob also gets the necessary evil bureaucracy done right. We’re introduced to Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca) initially as a good guy who (no surprise) turns out to be an evil bureaucrat/scientist by the end of the second act. We also get several appearances from Reverend Meeker (Del Close) as the surface good/substance evil religious authority in town. But what really works here is the character of Deputy Briggs (Paul McCrane). Briggs starts out as a bad guy authoritarian, especially as it concerns Brian. By the end of the movie, he’s come a long way to trusting the kids and distrusting the people in authority.

I also like that there are a number of throwbacks to the original film. In the 1958 film, a huge part of the action takes place in a movie theater where the crowd is watching a horror movie. In this version, the same thing happens, with the only difference being the updating of the sort of film being shown. I love that this works on a meta level as well as an homage to the source material. I also love that one of the movie theater blob deaths is specifically a guy talking during the movie. One can only imagine that there was a cheer from the crowd when that happened.

So what does it do wrong? The Blob falls into the same sort of traps that all movies like this do eventually. Things happen not because it’s how they would happen but because it works for the story. Rather than having the plot driven by the situation, we have multiple instances where things happen specifically to give us particular scenes. There’s no reason, for instance, that the creature would stalk particular people the way it does here. If it wants only to grow bigger and eat, it would eat anything rather than setting traps for people so that we can get scary, suspenseful scenes in the movie.

The biggest example of this comes in one of the scenes in the city sewer. Meg, her younger brother, and her brother’s friend are escaping from the movie theater through the sewers. Naturally, we get to a place where Meg can’t get out, and she’s hanging suspended over the mass of protoplasm in the sewer below her. It’s a great looking scene. Unfortunately, we’ve already established that the blob can shoot up pseudopods to wrap around things above it, which is exactly what it should do here. Instead, we’re asked to forget that it can (and would) act in that way so that we can see Meg in danger and see her get away.

So sure, there are logical problems here. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. The Blob is all about the fun and the gore, and on that front, The Blob delivers.

Why to watch The Blob: This is how you do a gory horror movie in the 1980s.
Why not to watch: It’s also kinda dumb.


  1. Replies
    1. I think I like the original version better because of Steve McQueen, but this one is a lot of gory fun.

  2. Without this version with the beautiful Shawnee, there'd probably never have been a Joss Whedon directed version of "The Avengers" because there would have been no "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

    1. I first noticed Shawnee Smith in the made-for-television version of The Stand. I won't dispute the "beautiful" tag, but there's something offputting to me about her eyes. Too close together, maybe?