Silverscreen standards: the blob (1958)
I have a sweet corn sweet tooth when it comes to classic sci-fi movies. I love the wacky B-movie cult classics of 1950s sci-fi, with their low-budget monsters stiff as cardboard cutouts and screaming crowds of hysterical townspeople. the blob (1958) is one of the most iconic creatures of this genre, partly because of Steve McQueen as its heroic human protagonist, but even more because of its muddy, red, jelly-like alien menace bent on absorbing any unfortunate victim that crosses its path . I’ve never had the chance to attend Pennsylvania’s annual Phoenixville Blobfest, which recreates the famous cinematic scene at the Colonial Theater where it was originally filmed, but I love the idea that this film is celebrated by hundreds of screaming fans each year. the blob is justifiably loved by Blobfest-goers and cheesy sci-fi horror fans because it’s just so much fun and its shortcomings as serious cinematic “art” are part of its appeal.
The moment a topic’s rollicking bop starts the show, you know you’re in for some silly fun. No spooky orchestral mood music here! the blob gets its groove thanks to Burt Bacharach and Mack David, who created a musical introduction that makes the alien goo sound like an older killer cousin of Slinky, the stair-climbing plastic toy (the Slinky jingle didn’t actually come out until 1962). Bacharach’s more frequent writing partner was Mack’s brother Hal David, with whom Bacharach wrote over a hundred songs in the 1960s, including hits for Dionne Warwick. The theme’s hip beat is very Bacharach-esque and combines with the enthusiasm for new songs from ’50s hits like Sheb Wooley’s The Purple People Eater, which also premiered in 1958 and was a hit billboard Chart topper.
The film that follows this theme is certainly more novelty than nightmare, with many common tropes of ’50s sci-fi shocker and Steve McQueen, at 28, frighteningly mature for a high school student, but it’s never boring and never expect it from us either. Take this seriously. Conveniently, McQueen plays a character who is also named Steve and might be long overdue for a GED, but still displays that simple charisma that would soon make him a star, and we can understand why his girlfriend Jane (Aneta Corsaut) and the other teenagers in the area follow his example. Corsaut rose to enduring television fame as Helen Crump, the amiable sheriff’s girlfriend The Andy Griffith Show. Aside from the two leads, the cast isn’t star-studded – after all, the blob is the real star – but the actors playing the adults get some funny scenes as they encounter the blob and succumb to his unrelenting appetite. Horror comedy fans can certainly see her influence, especially on later films gremlins (1984), which would be a perfect double play the blob if you’re in the mood to see small town America overrun by bizarre invaders. More recently the legacy of the blob can be seen in Wellington Paranormal Season 3 episode, “Fatberg”, in which a massive mass of clotted fat threatens the residents of the New Zealand community.
Created by Bart Sloane and Valley Forge Films, the special effects hold up surprisingly well, thanks to a hands-on approach that employs simple techniques like stop motion to bring the goosebumps to life. The use of bright DeLuxe Color also pays off; We can see the blob becoming more bloated and crimson as it takes on more townspeople until it rolls over the Downingtown Diner like a giant mass of raspberry jam. More humanoid aliens from 1950’s sci-fi suffer from the limitations of a guy in a suit, but the blob doesn’t have a face, a voice, or any sort of sentience. It’s just a relentless, devouring mass, eating up frightened old men and nurses as eagerly as it devouring entire bars full of patrons. As we reach the climax, local police officer Dave (Earl Rowe) estimates that the slimy alien has killed 40 or 50 people, most of them completely off-screen. We don’t need to see the actual process to understand the fate of those digested by the blob, and the image wisely suggests deaths without attempting to document the gruesome stages at which living people are broken up.
Despite his general sense of fun, the blob ends with a worryingly timely warning, as the mud will only remain safely contained “as long as the Arctic stays cold”. His final message from The End? already inspired a 1972 sequel, Beware! the bloband a more graphic remake from 1988, also called the blob. For more silly 1950s sci-fi horrors, check out some of my other favorites including She! (1954), devil without a face (1958), The Alligator People (1959) and Attack of the giant leeches (1959). Director Irvin Yeaworth, who made mostly religious and educational films, has also churned out a handful of other shockers, including 4D man (1959), but the blob is by far the best known of his films.
— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub
Jennifer Garlen writes our monthly silver screen standards column. You can read all of Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards articles here.
Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English Literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic films on her blog, Virtual Virago, and presents classic film programs for lifelong learning groups and senior communities. She is the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching and its continuation Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watchingand she is also co-editor of two books on the works of Jim Henson.