Surely there’s no movie more quintessential to the the 50’s monster movie experience than 1958’s The Blob. Essentially an 86 minute collation of every roaming, sci-fi creature trope employed before or since, to watch the technicolor classic now is to experience less of a movie and more of a time capsule style blueprint of how these sort of things usually went down back in the day.
However, once you manage the impossible task of getting that ridiculously catchy theme tune out of your head (good luck with that) and start to take a closer look beyond all the over-familiar cliches, The Blob has some intriguing aspects such as the usual parallels with the Cold War and the growing divide between the youth of America and their elders that lurk within its amorphous, glowing, creeping form.
A meteorite crashes near a small rural town in Pennsylvania and plucky “teenager” Steve Andrews takes time out from from necking with his girlfriend, Jane and decides to check it out – however, he’s pipped to the post by curious local vagrant Barney who decides to poke the thing with a stick and gets a living, corrosive blob attached to his hand for his troubles. Cancelling their planned night of sloppily making out at lovers lane, Steve and Jane take Barney to the local doctors, but the blob eventually dissolves the old man, the doctor and his nurse, growing in size with every victim.
Steve manages to witness the doctor struggling against this voracious mound of vampiric jello and dashes off to tell the cops, but it’s here where things hit a bit of a snag. Due to his habit of drag racing with his friends on the empty town streets, the local police aren’t exactly quick to believe Steve’s tall tales of a wad of slime that phagocytoses its screaming victims and after a search of the doctor’s office provides precisely zero evidence, Lieutenant Dave Barton and Sergeant Jim Bert dismiss this kooky story as just typical, teenager bullshit.
However, as the blob rolls around town, indulging in its own horrific version of the Atkins diet, Steve decides it’s his civic responsibility to try and warn people about this squishy predator and enlists his goof-off friends to help spread the word by setting off the town’s air raid sirens. However, after Steve and Jane managed to get cornered in the walking in freezer at his father’s store by the creature, they start to discover that maybe this thing has a weakness, but to capitalize on it mean they’ll have to once again try to convince the police who have no time for “pranks” by these pesky kids.
Can Steve and his gang finally get the word out before the blob gets completely out of control?
While it’s only natural that 50’s sci-fi flicks such as The Fly, War Of The Worlds and The Thing might feel incredibly dated when placed next to the state of the art technology we’re all used to these days, The Blob seems more dated than most chiefly thanks to its high-concept, low tech baddie. On paper, the blob is a fascinating creature and one that’s quite unique among his invading peers. Shapeless, formless and able to squeeze under locked doors or through bars, this silent killer is a genuinely creepy concept that the movie chooses to realise as a slow, glowing ball of set jelly that rolls toward its victims to devour them whole. Bluntly put, it’s as threatening as an angry gerbil and even though someone offhandly remarks that it’s killed possibly up to 80 people (mostly offscreen) it’s only really a danger if it somehow manages to corner you. But as I said before, you have to look closer and on further inspection, the pulsating people gobbler turns out to be quite possibly the most blatant metaphor for communism in sci-fi cinema history. What else would you use to describe a literal red menace that snares average, decent, hard working Americans and absorbs them into it’s ever growing mass that, if left unchecked, will undoubtedly go on to threaten life in the entire USA?
The other thing that holds up about The Blob (apart from its lush, colourful cinematography) is its central theme involving the endless struggle between teens and grown ups as the greatest advantage the blob seems to have is that no one is prepared to believe the stories of a punk kid purely based on assumptions because of their age. The adults in the movie simply will not accept anything the kids say, no matter what and their youth and exuberance is treated with distrust from the cops to a grumpy old man complained that those damn kids are making too much damn noice in the damn cinema. It’s a classic “boy who cried blob” scenario that exposes the hypocrisy and paranoia that America seemed to have about where it’s own youth was going. After all, it’s an old dude that kicks everything off in the first place thanks to old Barney thinking that prodding a meteor with a stick was the scientific way to go and one of the cops is even convinced that all these stories are being concocted in order to make fun of his war record.
In actuality, it’s the teens who are the responsible ones and its hammered home by the starring debut of one Steve McQueen who plays teenager, was actually twenty eight and yet comfortably looks the wrong side of forty – although, to be fair, most of the “youths” in the flick look at least forty five. His well documented charisma serves him nicely as he tries to warn people about this man-eating scarlet smear to little or no effect which forces him into flexing the hero muscles we would go on to see in Bullitt and The Great Escape.
At the end of the day, the camp nature of the movie is best summed up by the movie’s endearingly silly, lounge-core, theme song which was co-written by none other than Burt Bacharach and while the exemplary 80’s remake realised the blob as a far more lethal killing machine, the original remains hugely influential despite its titular villain being as overtly threatening as a sloppy blancmange.