As we move into October I thought I might use the month to take a look back at some of the "spooky" movies which left a lasting impression on me as a kid.
1958's The Blob.
Joining me on this journey will be my trusty new sidekick Geek Dog!
Are you ready sidekick?
Awww, come on; it's a 53 year-old movie! It won't be THAT bad.
So this one left a lasting impression on me when I saw it at the tender age of about five or six years-old. In fact, it left an "impression" in the form of nightmares for several nights running. My sister had convinced me to join her in watching several monster movies which the local independent TV station was running during the month of October. And yeah, this one scared the bejeebers out of me.
The Plot (for those who have been hiding under a rock for the last 50 years and don't know it) A meteorite crashes to Earth carrying an alien substance. The substance quickly begins to grow as it moves through a small town, consuming people. A small group of teenagers led by Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and his girlfriend Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut)are the only ones aware of the threat...
To this day I still remember the thing that terrified me most about the Blob... it was the fact that there didn't seem to be anywhere "safe" from it. Other monsters -- Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman -- they were more corporeal; you could run into a room and lock a door to keep them out (or at least slow them down) but the Blob? No way. It would ooze under doors and through the cracks in windows and through the grating on heating and air conditioning vents. Nowhere was safe from the Blob. THAT freaked me out.
Also, unlike a lot of other monster movies of that era and afterwards the Blob had no motivation. It wasn't a thinking, sentient thing. It didn't hunt it's victims down it just kind of meandered around and ate what it ran into. It was a predator of opportunity. That made it seem much more random and much harder to defend against. You weren't going to "outthink" it and you weren't going to "reason" with it. It was much more like a force of nature.
So, believe it or not, what with one thing and another.... I never saw this movie again. It scared the crap out of me as a child and while I was young I never wanted to see it again. When I got older I was able to laugh at how silly it was to be scared of the film but it never really crossed my mind to try to watch it again... until now.
So I sat down with a DVD of the film and..... Was genuinely surprised. Did it scare me again? Well, no. But it was a far better film than I had anticipated it to be.
In the intervening years I've seen a lot of 'B' movies from the 1950's and 1960's. And I mean a LOT. The vast majority of them are unintentionally hilarious now and I fully expected The Blob to be like that -- unintentionally hilarious schlock. It's not.
Oh sure, the film has it's problems but it also has it's triumphs. Then 27 year-old McQueen couldn't pass for an 18 year-old if he tried but, hey, this isn't the old film that had that problem. And unlike those other films McQueen actually puts some effort into the film and turns in a surprisingly natural performance with some great nuances. For example, when Steve Andrews sees the town doctor killed by the Blob he reacts with horror and is sickened by it. He is speechless and obviously at a loss for a moment. It is the most human reaction I've ever seen out of a lead character in a horror movie of this era. And this carries through the rest of the film. When Andrews is going back over things -- trying to reassure himself that he really saw what he saw -- McQueen puts a slightly shell-shocked tone into his voice. You really believe this person is struggling to deal with all of this... and that's what you might expect if a young person really were dropped into such a situation. The unfortunate thing is that the 'soaring strings' romantic music kind of ruins the tone of the scene. There is another moment when Andrews tries to convince the police of the danger where he admits that he's scared stiff. Now there's something you just didn't see out of your average heroic lead in monster movies of the day.
There are some other reversals as well that are a lot of fun. For example, the teenagers go around trying to warn people. One couple knocks on the door of a house to warn the inhabitants only to find they are having a loud, raucus, party and all the adults there are drunk off their heads. In other words, the teenagers are being the sober, responsible ones and the adults are behaving like teenagers. In a similar scene, the kids try to warn a bar owner but he belives they're just trying to convince him to serve them. Again, the teens are being responsible and the adults think they're after alcohol. And at the end of the film the high school principal, Jane's father, who has been accusing Andrews of being a bad influence, smashes a window to break into his own school in order to help save his daughter. In essence, he becomes a school vandal -- what he had accused of others.
There are other nice touches as well... one of the cops, instead of being the typical close-minded, "all kids are hooligans" type proves to be fair minded and compassionate. Another cop is found to be playing a chess game over the radio with a dispatcher from the police department in a neighboring town. His fellow officers actually look at him highly for taking up chess instead of ribbing him about trying to get high minded. The scene also speaks quietly to the lonliness and isolation of the small town cops and the quiet nature of the town with so little crime that the cop has time to play chess.
The other thing that surprised me is how few on-screen deaths there actually are. I thought I remembered a number of Blob attacks but really we only see a few on-screen (and not much shown of those), a few off-screen and the rest are just situations where we're allowed to assume the Blob has eaten someone. For example, Andrews finds his father's grocery store unlocked. When he goes inside he trips over the broom of the guy who is supposed to clean-up and lock-up the store. Implication? The Blob ate him. Likewise, one of the cops comes into the station and remarks that he passed by the local bar and found it unlocked with all the lights on, the TV going, the cash register unlocked but no patrons and the bar owner not in sight either. Again, we're led to believe the Blob ate them all.
Also, for a film of this era, the usual trite Cold War metaphors are nearly nowhere to be found. The movie focuses much more on the pull and push of adults vs. teens. A little Cold War creeps in a bit at the end but it doesn't last long enough to ruin the mood of the movie and it's pretty light and easy to gloss over.
So, after all these years, was it worth getting scared over? Kids today probably won't be and adults certainly won't be but that doesn't mean that it isn't a worthwhile film to watch. It retains enough intensity to keep you glued, some truly good performances (but not by the annoying little kid playing Danny. Ugh.), some special effects that still hold up pretty well (and some that don't), and just enough scary stuff that it actually might make a pretty good movie to introduce kids to the concept of "horror" without leaving them in nightmares for nights to come.
Oh, and one more thing.... The movie has the chippiest, boppiest theme song I think I've ever heard to a sci-fi horror movie. I'm not sure if this was an act of genious on the producer's part or if it was simply insane.
Seriously, I feel like dancing to this.
Until next time it's me and Geek Dog signing off.