Thursday, October 30, 2008

THE BLOB - #91

In all honesty, I don't know what to think of The Blob. Just how seriously am I supposed to take the 1958 sci-fi horror teensploitation flick? Sure, by today's standards, it seems campy, but that doesn't mean it wasn't made with absolute earnestness. The Burt Bacharach-penned title song might make it seem like it's all supposed to be a goof, but then again, Paramount commissioned the tune to be a soft opening so that audiences wouldn't get creeped out too soon. I've read some theories that suggest that the Blob itself was meant to be a metaphor for communism, a creeping mass with a reddish hue that consumes everyone in its path, growing larger, erasing identities, and leaving no trace of the individuals it swallows. It also could be seen as 1950s conformity, and the teenagers who resist the alien monster are resisting assimilation into square culture.

Personally, I would lean more toward the Blob being adolescence itself, a quivering mess of hormones and lust, an icky and oily embodiment of teenage anxieties. It attacks the older generation first, leaving the juveniles to sound the alarm, but their twitchy slang makes it impossible to spread the word to an adult world that either can't or refuses to understand them.

That's what I'd likely say if I thought more of The Blob, but the truth is, I really don't think much of it at all. I like B-movies as much as the next guy, but The Blob is funnier in the abstract than it is in execution. I like that there is a silly movie like it out there, but I'm not necessarily all that eager to sit through it. As a horror movie, it's not that scary. It's a thriller without thrills, clumsily paced and poorly acted. Steve McQueen went on to better things from here, but he was nearly 30 when he made the movie and he's not very convincing as a teenager. His stuttering delivery is so overly method, even Stanislavski would blush. Put him in a red windbreaker and I'd believe he was parodying James Dean rather than delivering a legitimate performance.

The story here is simple: a meteor crashes in the mountains, and when it cracks open, a gelatinous substance emerges. It attaches itself to the old man who finds it, sticking to his hand. He runs from the site of impact in terror and nearly gets run over by Steve Andrews (McQueen) and his date for the evening, Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut). They take him to the local doctor, but soon the substance takes over the old man's entire body before moving on to the doctor and his nurse, and then oozing into town, where it goes after all the tasty humans at the movie theatre, grocery store, and other places. Steve and Jane stand against it, alongside the few adults that believe them (notably, Lieutenant Dave of the local constabulary, played by Earl Rowe). Naturally, they succeed, as this isn't an apocalyptic picture, but I'll leave the how for you to discover, just in case you ever do watch The Blob. I'd rather not suck all the fun out of it--what little there is.

I'm a firm believer in B-movies as camouflage for more subversive cargo. I'm all for seeing sci-fi and horror as carrying greater social messages. In fact, all the theories above can also be applied to Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, made just two years later, and that movie has ribs the notions can stick to. I trust that Siegel was trying for something more meaningful with his flick, and it might just me being a snob, since Body Snatchers is so much better made than The Blob. There just isn't anything here that makes me think the producers wanted anything more than to try to pull in the kids and get them to empty their pockets, and that a big glop of Jell-O looked like the cheapest way to do it. This, too, would be fine, were that cheapness also fun or even remotely effective. I don't know how well the Blob worked back in the day, but I'm at a loss for how this featureless creature would freak anyone out. It never looks like it would be that hard to outrun. Then again, everything moves slow in The Blob. Just check that backwards drag race Steve and the guys get into. I could walk faster than they drive!

One of the more famous scenes in The Blob is when the monster invades the projection booth of the town movie theatre, snuffs out the projectionist, and then halts the midnight spook show everyone is watching before sending them running. It's meant to be self-reflexive, to make viewers wonder if maybe the theatre they are in is in danger. I find it self-reflexive in another way. The Blob certainly wouldn't be the last time a movie was built around a special effect, as if that alone was enough and story and other needless accoutrements could be left by the wayside. In these days of computer-generated high-concept celluloid, a metaphorical Blob fills up many a projection booth. In the long run, most of these movies will end up forgotten, and it baffles me why The Blob has managed to avoid the same fate. The Blob doesn't consume me with its chills, rather it just leaves me cold.

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