A second tier entry in Eighties wave of Fifties sci-fi horror remakes, Chuck Russell’s The Blob is an affectionate tribute to the original, while making the most of a superior budget to tackle the source material’s main issue – the silly and non-threatening nature of an amorphous alien that invades a small Californian town.
The basic set up is the same. A meteorite lands in the woods near Arborville, CA, attracting the attention of an elderly bum. The space rock contains a mysterious jelly-like substance, and naturally the thing to do is poke it with a stick. Three high school stereotypes, Rebel Brian (Kevin Dillon, with motorbike and Brando-esque leather jacket), Jock Paul (Donovan Leitch) and Good Girl Megan (Shawnee Smith) discover the stricken hobo with the blob attached to his arm, and rush him to hospital.
At the hospital, the voracious nature of the Blob is revealed – it devours what’s left of the bum and also consumes Paul in a grisly scene, and the menacing muck increases in size. As with all these things, the grown ups and Sheriff’s department don’t believe the kids and are slow to react to the threat, and soon the whole town is in danger.
The special effects, while obviously influenced by John Carpenter’s The Thing earlier in the decade, are still effective and pleasingly gory. Looking like a particularly nasty, fast-growing tumour, the Blob now has the ability to melt its prey, scale walls and ceilings, suck the unwary down plugholes, and its victims can be seen floating inside it like insects trapped in amber.
Tony Gardner’s effects team really goes to town in their reimagining of the original’s famous cinema scene. Where in the original Blob, we just got cinemagoers fleeing from red jelly oozing out of the doors, here they are hunted from above in the dark, snatched into the air by the new and improved Blob’s tentacle-like protrusions.
Co-written by the the director and Frank Darabont, who would later receive an Oscar nomination for The Shawkshank Redemption, The Blob effectively sets up an Eighties version of small town Americana. While inhabiting stereotypes, the cast are likeably down to earth, which makes it more distressing as the film has no qualms about killing off sympathetic characters in a horrible manner.
The Blob follows standard procedure of making the government the real villain, with the revelation that the creature is actually a top secret weapon programme. Later, the town is quarantined and infested by military-types in bio-gear, setting up a rivetting action finale where our heroes have to deal with both the Blob and the nefarious government agents behind the project.
While the original film can be read as one of the most literal Commie-fearing manifestations of the Cold War (regular Americans absorbed by a faceless red menace), the remake fits into the Eighties preoccupation with body horror and distrust of one’s government, a hangover from the previous decade’s Watergate scandal and America’s disastrous defeat in Vietnam.
Deeper reading of The Blob isn’t really necessary, because what we have here is a solid genre entry with enough action and gloopy shock moments to satisfy fans of retro sci-fi horror. Order the pizza and get the beers in, and enjoy The Blob on a Friday night with some like-minded friends. Get absorbed!