We’re back! Another year, another October, another Octoberween. Everybody has their own way of getting in the mood for Halloween (everybody who does get in the mood, anyway), and my personal preference is with spooky movies. Of varying spook factor. Sure, I love me something genuinely scary, like John Carpenter’s Halloween, and I love kid-friendly Scooby-Doo fare; I love black-and-white classics and Hammer Horrors and anything starring Vincent Price. Like I said: varying spook factor. Well, nothing does varying spook factor quite like…
The Blob (1958)
The Plot: A meteor falls to Earth near a sleepy rural Pennsylvania town, unleashing a gelatinous, shapeless monster that devours all it touches, growing in size as it does. As the blob makes its way through the town in the dead of night, a gang of hip young teens (led by a 28-year-old Steve McQueen in his feature debut) must race against time to convince their doubting elders that the threat is very real, and very gooey.
The Blob opens with a boppy, campy theme song composed in part by a fledgling Burt Bacharach (who knew?). An animated credit sequence akin to those later seen in Charade, Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, and various James Bond outings tells the audience exactly what to expect: a goofy, tongue-in-cheek, delightful sci-fi romp with corny effects and a few good gags.
That is 100%, completely not what you get.
The song, which is great, is nonetheless deeply incongruous. Much to its credit, The Blob plays out totally straight-faced. There’s no rib-nudging or winking here, from script to performances, special effects to editing, direction to sound. From soup to nuts, if you will. I’d seen The Blob many times as a kid, but this may have been my first viewing as an adult. When you’re a kid, campy horror is no less scary than straight-faced horror. If people are getting eaten by monsters, it’s not funny, no matter the context. It freaked me out when I was little. I liked it, but it freaked me out. As an adult, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised that The Blob isn’t one big joke. Sure, there’s a varying spook factor between the song, the horror, and some of the early sequences with the “teenagers”, but overall there’s an obvious reason why The Blob became and remains a beloved classic. Actually, there are several obvious reasons.
One thing that immediately separates it from its contemporaries in the sci-fi horror genre is that the whole thing was filmed in popping color. Black-and-white is a beautiful thing and can be used to great effect in horror, but color serves an important purpose in The Blob, as the gelatinous behemoth’s shifting pigmentation adds another layer of uncanniness to the whole affair, underlying the genius monster design.
Next, we have some instances of genuinely good direction. Director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. got his name on just four other feature films: two cautionary drugsploitation films, The Flaming Teenage and Way Out; and two other horror movies with excellently promising titles, 4D Man and my personal favorite, Dinosaurus!. Any movie with an exclamation point in its title is going to be a good time.
So anyway, Mr. Yeaworth didn’t have the most illustrious Hollywood career, and he approaches most scenes in The Blob with a workman’s staunch competence, but like I said, there are a few sequences of brilliance. In particular, there’s a scene towards the end when the blob attacks a movie theater. This little piece of fourth-wall-breaking is pure genius. It featured heavily in the film’s original trailer, and whether they thought of that afterwards or filmed the sequence specifically for that purpose is immaterial. To actually have the monster attack people in the theater speaks to any effective horror creature’s innate ability to transcend the screen, follow you home, and keep you up at night. It’s a cleverly shot, perfectly edited little slice of terror.
Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, is the presence of Steve McQueen. 28 was, and still is, kind of late to be catching your first break in Hollywood, but he really made the most of it. Between ’58 and ’59, he racked up several low-budget credits (including this one), enough to get the attention of the right people and land a major role alongside Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven in 1960. Also in 1958, he was cast as the lead on TV’s Wanted: Dead or Alive, which helped make him a household name and an icon of cool. He died of cancer in 1980, but was consistently popular for 20 years until then. McQueen skyrocketed to A-list stardom and then stayed there.
Honestly, it’s kind of hard to believe that The Blob started all that. What was supposed to be a cheap B-movie, released as part of a drive-in double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space, instead outshone, outplayed, and outlived nearly all of its genre. It’s in the Criterion Collection (granted, so is Armageddon, so maybe that’s not a great indication of quality). On top of all the genuine creepiness on offer, The Blob is just a really fun watch, and the perfect way to kick off Octoberween 2021, and get in the holiday spirit.