Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Movies I Love: The Blob (1988)

by Patrick Bromley
Chuck Russell's 1988 take on The Blob is one of the three best horror remakes of all time. It's also one of the best horror movies of the '80s and one of my favorite horror movies of all time.

This column is dedicated to Josh Pearlman (A Prince). It contains spoilers.

I bear no ill will towards the original 1958 version of The Blob, a movie our own JB is on record as loving. It's a perfectly silly '50s monster movie that offers harmless fun but which has never done much for me. I'm happy to watch it if it's on, but won't go out of my way to seek it out.

That's not true of its 1988 remake, directed by Chuck Russell and written by Russell and Frank Darabont. Alongside John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly, the '88 Blob is one of the best horror remakes of all time -- it just doesn't get mentioned as often as those other two. It's the rare horror film that's hard-edged but still upbeat and fun, moving at a breakneck pace for all of its  95 minutes and offering a number of surprises along the way. Even when you think you know exactly what to expect, Russell and Darabont make sure to prove you wrong.
The setup is the same as the '58 film: a meteor crash lands in a field (now in California instead of Pennsylvania) and is discovered by an old homeless dude, who promptly POKES THE PINK GOO INSIDE WITH A STICK. The goo responds by attaching itself to his hand, which hurts like hell. ELSEWHERE, cheerleader Meg (Shawnee Smith) has her first date with football player Paul (Donovan Leitch), which is interrupted when they cross paths with town delinquent Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) and the old man, who tries amputating his hand in front of them only to have the wound sealed up by The Blob moving further up his arm. The three bring the old man to the hospital, where The Blob ends up crawling into him and dissolving the entire lower half of his body.

From there, The Blob is on the loose in the town, melting and eating everything and everyone in its path (including a few people you wouldn't expect) until some shadowy military guys and scientists in Hazmat suits show up to contain it. Wouldn't you know they have an agenda of their own?

Part of the special genius of The Blob '88 is that it gets to have it both ways, paying tribute to some of the sweetness of the '50s original while having a much harder '80s edge, one that's wall-to-wall practical gore effects and paranoid cynicism. The first act of the film is all about setting up a gentle small town with and old-school feel. The sheriff has a crush on the waitress at the diner. The high school's big jock has a crush on the pretty cheerleader and there's nothing sleazy about it: he's nervous about asking her out, he's respectful to her parents (ignore that stupid condom buying stuff) and when he finds the homeless guy in trouble he immediately wants to help. He is a very decent guy, which makes it all the more surprising when he's nearly the first one to die screaming as he's dissolved beneath The Blob.
Kevin Dillon is the '50s teenage rebel with his motorcycle, his biker jacket, his mistrust of authority and hints at time spent in juvie. He's "dangerous," but not really; underneath that biker jacket is a buttoned-down white shirt tucked into his jeans. Don't believe the mullet -- he's hardly a badass. Shawnee Smith begins the movie as the typical demure cheerleader type but ends it not just as a survivor but a fighter, firing machine gun rounds into The Blob. The film introduces exactly the kinds of '50s "types" we expect and then inverts them in ways we don't.

And while the film initially hints that the gelatinous killer came from space, it's later revealed that it's actually a chemical weapon developed by the U.S. military -- a wrinkle added specifically to the remake to give it some political subtext. While the '58 Blob is fun, it's not really about more than it's about. The Blob '88 is a reaction to the Reagan era (era), from its environmental concerns to the way it attacks the idyllic '50s nostalgia upon which that administration thrived. Don't trust the people in charge, the movie says, and while it's not a new sentiment for a horror movie, it is novel for a Blob movie.

Chuck Russell has always been an underrated genre director. After getting his start on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors -- still the smartest and best of the sequels (not counting New Nightmare), which he also co-wrote with Darabont -- Russell has made all kinds of movies, from action (Eraser) to comedy (The Mask) to even a sword and sandal epic (The Scorpion King) (the supernatural horror film Bless the Child is his only true dud). All of his movies are better than their premises or genres might dictate, made with intelligence and energy. Russell's movies feel alive, and nowhere is that more true than in The Blob. The movie starts strong and never once looks back, only getting bigger and better as it rolls along. It's like The Blob itself in that way.
Darabont and Russell's script is also full of clever, self-aware jokes, like when Eddie (Douglas Emerson) talks up the violence of a horror film he and Kevin are going to see but assures Mrs. Penny that it's ok because there's no sex or anything. They also pay tribute to the famous movie theater scene from the '58 film but increase the scale tenfold, devouring first the staff and then an obnoxious audience member who talks through the movie (a none-too-subtle bit of commentary, that) before swallowing up more than half the auditorium. It's just one of the movie's multiple jaw-dropping set pieces, each better than the last and every one of them a "Holy shit!" moment. The Blob has more "holy shit" moments than almost any horror movie I can think of, save maybe for Dead Alive and the denouement of Day of the Dead. Sometimes they're played for dark comedy, like the fate of a would-be date rapist who gets more than he bargained for or the nightmare logic of what happens when a a guy tries to plunge The Blob out of a sink drain. Sometims it's just the shock of seeing something we don't usually see in movies, like the obnoxius Eddie getting melted in the sewer. Kids rarely die in horror movies, and hardly ever this horribly. Holy shit, The Blob. You went there.  

And then there are the effects. Alongside Rob Bottin's work on John Carpenter's The Thing, Tony Gardner's practical effects on The Blob might just be my favorite of all time (note the distinction of "favorite" and not "best"; I have no interest in debating what is best). Every time The Blob takes someone down, it's a showstopper all the way up to the end, when Deputy Briggs gets folded in half the wrong way (between this and being melted in RoboCop, Paul McCrane has bragging rights to two of the best movie deaths of all time). No one in The Blob goes gently; even the offscreen deaths are awful as depicted in all their gooey aftermath. But the gore doesn't have that repellant quality of many effects-driven horror films of the period. Even when it's gross or outrageous, it keeps being fun -- fun because of how a gag is staged or fun because you can't believe what you're seeing. You can practically hear Russell and Darabont laughing off camera, giddy with just how much they're getting away with.
It's the energy and the invention that I respond to most. The Blob is one of the few horror films I can think of that combines the gore-soaked geek show qualities of '80s horror -- those movies that exist just to show us the most modern advancements in special effects -- with the sense of fun found in '50s horror. It's a true drive-in movie for the 1980s. Hell, it's a great drive-in movie for 2014. Except for Kevin Dillon's hairstyle and a few shots that have a processed, rear-projection look -- the most egregious is of Shawnee Smith and Dillon running away from The Blob (which just serve to tie the film into its '50s roots -- The Blob hasn't dated a bit. The great ones rarely do.

The Blob was released on Blu-ray this October from Twilight Time in a limited run of only 5,000 copies. As of this writing, it has already sold out. Try to find a copy on eBay if you can, or cross your fingers that they reissue it sometime in the near future. It's essential viewing for any horror fan. I love it.

#blob

9 comments:

  1. I'm humbled and floored by the dedication, sir. Thank you so much! I adore this movie, and If F This Movie! has taught me anything, it's this: don't poke the goo with a stick.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I bought the TT release and was going to save it for Halloween - I vaguely remember seeing it when I was younger but I'm really looking forward to watching it again. I jumped all over buying this (based mostly on Joe Lynch's love for it), paying more than I generally would for one movie and I was starting to second guess it based on the first couple reviews I read - your enthusiasm gives me confidence I made the right decision!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well after I gather some courage I want to share how
    nostalgic this review made me feel. For me, this movie is one
    of the best of the 80´s. I just remember watching it
    in Betamax, at night with some friends at home, I
    couldn´t believe then how much fun this horror adventure
    was, the characters, special effects, the monster,
    everything was great.

    Thanks Patrick!

    ReplyDelete
  4. We've discussed the pain of finding particular horror gems on Blu-ray before, Patrick -- so don't be shocked that I am LIVID that a company (that I know nothing about, I'd like to make clear beforehand so everyone can see how much I talk out of my ass) would procure the rights to a (cult classic) film, manufacture Blu-rays for those discerning members of the public...but STOP making them at 5000?!? It boggles my mind. Is Twilight Time the same company that did this for the Christine BD that's currently $125 on Amazon (or was when I looked a couple weeks ago)? I know there's a reissue of that in the works, but still. I kinda want to look them up to see if that's their typical MO but if it is I know that'll just piss me off.

    And it's technically Halloween. No anger, just celebration!!!
    (okay, maybe a little anger, 'cause I want The Fucking Blob on fucking BD)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Me too Albert. And Christine too. Please stop it with limited runs. If there are fans out there please get all your lawyers together and sort out any bloody rights issues between whoever and sell the film to the fans. 5000 is crazy for a film so well known. If your gonna go through the time and effort to create a bluray then the best option is to sell lots of them. It makes no sense

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nick Redman who runs Twilight Time was a guest on Killer POV a few weeks ago and said that they chose 3,000 because in his experience, that's the right amount of copies that would sell on more niche title. It seems low, but for the most part he's right -- they've only ever sold out of a few titles. Not surprisingly, they've all been horror. And Wild at Heart, I believe.

      Delete
  6. Thats a fair point. It costs a lot of money up front. But if they do sell out of batch 1 could they not do another batch? I dont see any reason to stick with only 3000 if there is a market for more. A second run. Third. As long as there selling everyone is happy. Cheers Den

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great review, Patrick.
    It sums up everything I think, like and love about this wonderful and funny film.
    I saw it in 1988 on the big screen with a group of friends in a very rare double feature with the original.
    The old one was fine but we had tons of fun with Russell`s version and I have watched it a lot over the years.
    One of the great films of my youth.

    ReplyDelete