Monsters! The Blob
Jane, Steve, Blob.
WHAT DOES THE PROTAGONIST WANT? Steve wants nothing more than to get a leg over with his girlfriend Jane. But the Blob won't let him. Young Steve will, in fact, never achieve his goal of making out with Jane -- he will, instead, be thrust into the job of saving the entire world from an ever-growing glob of flesh-eating protoplasm.
WHAT IS THE MONSTER? The Blob, a whatsit from outer space, is an exemplary movie monster -- mindless, soulless, alien, unknowable, capable of mysterious and peculiar actions. Because it has no real characteristics to speak of, other than its desire to consume people (and nothing else), it can be a metaphor for almost anything.
WHAT IS THE WARNING? In times of trouble, we would do well to trust those trying to help us -- even teenagers.
Look: The Blob is not a perfect movie. There are all kinds of weird things about it, starting with its groovy, twist-a-go-go title theme and including a number of pacing problems, cheesy special effects, poor acting and a haphazardly successful screenplay. But it always maintains interest, and there is a strange, off-center elegance to its construction that gives it a charm and appeal absent from many other cheesy 50s horror movies.
Steve, as I say, wants only to make it with his girlfriend Jane. His problem is that Jane is, apparently, a "good girl," and Steve is a "bad boy," but not quite bad enough to take advantage of Jane. He has taken her up to a mountainside parking spot to "watch the shooting stars," and their tender, awkward courtship plays out over a very long, uneventful opening scene, which is brought to a merciful end when a meteor strikes nearby. Steve may be looking for a little action, but if a meteor strikes nearby he's willing to put his lust aside to satisfy his scientific curiosity.
Inside the meteor, we soon learn, is the eponymous Blob. What is the Blob, metaphorically speaking? Well, it's 1958, the Blob could be Communism, nuclear doom, McCarthyism, "crime," the march of war, or any number of small-town-"real America"-threatening-ever-growing menaces. One of the reasons the movie still works today is that the Blob is utterly non-specific -- one is free to place whatever significance one pleases upon it. Why, you could call it "compassionate conservatism" and the story would be, essentially, the same this very day.
The Blob lands, as Blobs will, in the woods near where the Weird Old Hermit lives. That's how it starts with small-town-threatening menaces, they always prey on the most marginal, most oddball figures in society -- the dog-owning hermits. The hermit, investigating the meteor-strike in his front yard, does the reasonable thing and pokes the Blob with a stick. The Blob quickly leaps onto the hermit's arm and begins to devour him.
Along comes Steve and Jane, looking for the meteor but finding only a hermit with a Blob on his arm. Now Steve, who wants only to put his hand up Jane's skirt, but not too far up, now has to deal with an elderly hermit with a flesh-eating Blob on his arm. That is, Steve isn't even married and now he has to deal with hospitalizing a parent figure. This will become a recurring theme in the movie: Steve gets what we routinely think of as "family responsibilities" thrust upon him -- he will have to deal with doctors and children and lost dogs, nosy neighbors and supermarkets, bratty teens and a frightened wife. Steve, in essence, will be forced to "grow up" in The Blob, eventually taking on responsibility for the entire world.
The "any small town" of The Blob is intended to be a microcosm of a society, and The Blob is, at least in part, a dissection of that society. Substantial time is set aside to examine the quirks and pecadilloes, the irks and disappointments of marginal characters. This is, in my opinion, one of The Blob's greatest strengths, when the "monster movie" narrative comes to an abrupt halt and the filmmakers invite us to ponder the lives of its marginal characters, people who show up, tell us about themselves, and then get eaten by a giant spoonful of strawberry jam. We learn that one cop is a WWII vet who hates the disrespect he gets from kids, we are told that another cop is a closet chess-by-radio player, we are let into the interior life of a restless auto mechanic, we are made privy to the ruminations of a paranoid, busybody neighbor and the bitter prejudices of a cranky bartender.
Steve takes the being-eaten hermit into town to see the doctor, who sends Steve out on a vague errand to "see if he can find out more about this thing." On the way, Steve runs afoul of some "teenagers" (that's how they're credited -- "the teenagers"), a group of smirking, hot-rod-driving boys. They look about as dangerous as Pat Boone, but they are apparently a force of source of great dread in this small community. They challenge Steve to a race, and for some reason Steve declines to say "Get out of my way, I'm investigating a crashed meteor that had some kind of flesh-eating Blob inside." No, instead he sits there and patiently accepts their taunting and abuse, and it is some time before he gets around to his investigation. What's Steve's problem? Steve is "in-between" -- he's not a "teenager," but he's not yet an adult. His father has considerable influence in the town (he owns the grocery store), and it seems Steve doesn't have to work. He's intentionally ill-defined -- he's not one thing or the other. And we are reminded that it is often the in-betweener, the individual that doesn't quite fit any specific demographic group, that becomes the leader and savior of the community. We know who "the hermit" is, we know who "the doctor" and "the teenager" and "the cop" are, but Steve is more amorphous in his identity -- almost blob-like, as it were. And so, as much as Steve would like to go Blob-hunting, the challenge from the teenagers is equally important.
While Steve horses around with the teenagers, the Blob makes short work of the hermit, a luckless nurse and the doctor. This is a very strange creature, one that moves with the pace and ferocity of pie-filling, attacks humans at its leisure and leaves no path of destruction, yea verily no clue to its existence.
At the end of Act I, Steve comes back to the doctor's office just in time to see the doctor devoured alive. And so, in Act II, Steve goes from being Innocent Bystander to Detective. Taking responsibility, he brings in the police to investigate the Case of the Eaten Doctor and is met with only skepticism. And here The Blob begins to advance its sociological agenda -- Steve, as a "teenager," is automatically an object of suspicion. Teens, back in the day, were seen as a genuine problem in the US -- disaffected, irresponsible and dangerous. Steve is a "good kid," but is branded by his demographic. He Knows Something Is Wrong in this small town, but cannot get anyone to listen to him -- because he's a member of the "out group." If The Blob is Compassionate Conservatism, Steve would be a liberal blogger in October 2001, trying to get someone, anyone to take him seriously when he insists that Bush is a dangerous, irresponsible moron.
Steve is arrested for his trouble (as the Blob eats a local mechanic) and is sent home with his father. He sneaks out -- now he really is "bad," and meets up with Jane, who is now "bad" as well. He meets up with the teenagers, who have gone to see a "spook show" (whatever the Blob is supposed to represent, media in this society is gently ribbed for its unhealthy influence -- moviegoers are shown guffawing at movies about demons destroying souls, and "the TV" is disparaged as a nuisance -- "they're always shooting and blowing things up"). He gets the teenagers to go out looking for the Blob while he and Jane head down to the supermarket. The teenagers try to warn a party of drunk, swinging parents and that cranky bartender and get nowhere. And so we see that when the amorphous menace attacks a society, it is the young, and only the young, who are able to perceive the danger -- the adults are too wrapped up in the status quo (and their own flaws) to maintain vigilance against an ill-defined threat.
Act II, the "detective" act, climaxes with Steve and Jane getting trapped in a meat locker -- which counts as both the Act II low-point and The Clue That Eventually Helps Save The Day.
As Act II moves into Act III, Steve goes from Detective to Paul Revere -- he sets off fire alarms, has all the teens honk their car horns, and even sounds the air raid siren, all to warn society of the imminent danger. The Blob, of course, does not show, and the police's response is to, of course, tell everyone to go back to their homes -- to "restore order."
In short order, the movie enters into its "all hell breaks loose" climax, where the Blob devours dozens of people at the "spook show" and then rampages -- er, well, maybe "rampages" is too strong a word -- out into the street. Steve and Jane and Jane's little brother are trapped in a diner as the Blob, enormous now, bloated with the corpses of the townspeople, covers the diner and tries to get inside.
Trapped in the basement to face their doom (a recurrant atomic-era nightmare scenario), Steve solidifies into a patriarch -- he's got Jane, his erzatz wife, and her little brother Danny, who becomes his ersatz son. Plus a couple of diner employees we've never met before. In spite of all the townspeople flooding the street, the Blob remains intent on getting inside the diner to devour Steve. The Blob, Steve learns, cannot be destroyed, but it can be stopped, and he sends people out to get fire extinguishers. The movie's social commentary reaches its climax when Jane's father, that vague threat of parental disapproval from Act II, takes up a rock to smash a window at the high school -- in order to nab the precious, precious fire extinguishers within. Steve has not gotten his nookie from Jane, but he has succeeded in turning her father -- the high-school principal, no less -- into a vandal. And so we see that the danger to society cannot be fought by policemen or doctors, not by the drunk middle class or the booze-pushing merchants, not by the marketplace or entertainment industry, but by the youth -- and by sympathetic educators.
Alas, as The Blob rushes to its question-mark ending, we abandon Steve and Jane and never find out if he ever gets any. But if the question is "Can you young people save society from an amoral, amorphous threat?" the answer is, resoundingly, "Yes we can."