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05 November 2008 @ 10:33 pm
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.free stats

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."

johnnycrulez on November 6th, 2008 09:58 am (UTC)
After reading this, it seems like the only reasonable adult in the first half of the movie is the guy with the stick.

After seeing the movie, I still feel that way.
mcboing_boingmcboing_boing on November 6th, 2008 01:03 pm (UTC)
C'mon- Steve not get any?
He's Steve!
If he can't get it from Jane, he'll get it from the Blob...

I haven't seen The Blob in a very long time- and I think I'll keep it that way...
but you gotta love the ginchy theme song!
The Knight in Shining Skull T-shirtgillan on November 6th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
Oooh, you meant THIS Blob. I was thinking of the gorefest 80's remake.
stormwyvernstormwyvern on November 6th, 2008 01:33 pm (UTC)
Taking just the theme song into account, I get the impression that the Blob is less a terrifying extra-terrestrial life form threatening to devour placid Anytown, USA than something akin to a pet that has decided to vomit all over your house, more of a pain to clean up after than anything.

At the time we saw this film, we had been watching a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and compared to mosy of the films mocked on that show, The Blob seems like a work of genius. I agree with your assessment; this is not a great film, but it has a likable quirkiness and enough enjoyable aspects to make it a fun watch, if nothing else.
Curtis Holman: Lobbycurt_holman on November 6th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC)
Next year's cgi feature from DreamWorks, Monsters vs. Aliens, features parodies of several classic movie creatures, including The Blob, The Fly, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the 50-Foot Woman.

The last scene in the trailer reminds me of a scene from a previous Dreamworks animated feature -- what was the name of it? Auntz?

Note: this may get taken down.
marcochacon on November 6th, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
Excellent. I think the blob is best understood as being raw consumption--today it might be consumer consumption--but the Red Menace would certainly have gobbled us up too, right?

Also: I have it on good authority that it's Stephen McCquee.

thevoiceoffate on November 6th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
You know, there are some parallels between the blob and zombies now that I think about it.
Benjaminsamedietc on November 6th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
but by the youth -- and by sympathetic educators.

And a sympathetic cop--Lt. Dave, with his "it's not illegal to be young" speech, emphasized by anti-teenage Officer Bert with his "every criminal was a kid once" speech. (The first-name last-name thing for these cops kind of kills me.)

Like many a classic 50s sf-horror film, against the image of collective horror (swarm of giant ants, amorphous/absorptive blob, invasion of body snatchers, an intelligent and very procreative carrot), it offers, as an image of salvation, people working together in a carefully coordinated way.

As if someone said, "hey, against this threat of compassionate conservatism's consuming blob, we need a blob of conservative compassionism!"
craigjclarkcraigjclark on November 6th, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
When I was still living in South Jersey, I once trekked out to the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville (seen in the photo on the right) to see a screening of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. The theater apparently has a Blob-fest every year, but I've never been.
Jenbugmitejen on November 6th, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
Fascinating write-up. . .I like how the Blob starts by consuming the weird old guy who lives by himself--'Remember kids, if you don't stay with the herd, the predators will inevitably pick you off.'

When I was little I was FASCINATED with reading about old horror movies, I got these books from my library that had black, white and orange covers and were about all the Old Guard in their various incarnations: Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Godzilla, The Praying Mantis, The Invisible Man, etc. They were printed in the 70's and definitely for children's consumption because they didn't have anything about the slasher genre in the series, but how I loved them. Anyway, they had one about The Blob and just READING it terrified me beyond words. I stayed up nights waiting for the corner of the thing to appear in my bedroom doorway, expecting the awful realization to hit me at any moment that it had eaten my parents, and now it was coming for me, too!.

I think beyond anything the reason it scared me so much was because of how implacable it was--it would eventually get you, and you couldn't fight it off in anyway. If you hit it with a stick it'd just travel up your arm, and if you shot it there was no effect. Their method of dealing with it seemed so incredibly irresponsible to me: freeze it and dump it in the ocean?

What a great new argument to stop global warming!

Curtis Holmancurt_holman on November 6th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
"the spook show"
"When I was little I was FASCINATED with reading about old horror movies, I got these books from my library that had black, white and orange covers and were about all the Old Guard in their various incarnations"

Me too. I saw an interview once with Martin Scorsese who said that part of his fascination with film evolved from reading books about films and staring at the still photos. He was referring to photos of all kinds of important films, tho, and not just horror movies.

I remember how back in the days before VCRs, stills of monster movies in books or magazines like 'Famous Monsters of Film Land' would have a kind of totemic power and mystery -- the movie you imagined was usually better than the real thing.

Sometimes I'm nostalgic for those days, although it's much better that the Netflix era gives viewers access to an enormous wealth of movies that, before the 1980s, people could only see at repertory cinemas, museums and on UHF channels at odd hours.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on November 6th, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC)
Re: "the spook show"
It's funny you mention Scorsese, the very first shot of The Blob, an image of Steve and Jane kissing, has a very Scorsese-esque camera movement to it, an elegant, semi-circular tracking shot, utterly unnecessary to telling the story, which nevertheless gives the scene an elegance and urgency. I wonder if Scorsese ever intentionally swiped it.
Jenbugmitejen on November 6th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
Re: "the spook show"
stills of monster movies in books or magazines like 'Famous Monsters of Film Land' would have a kind of totemic power and mystery -- the movie you imagined was usually better than the real thing.

YES. I still do that unintentionally, see a still from a film, learn just the basics of what it's about, and go from there before i've even seen it. I've ruined a lot of good films that way, but I've also had some nice surprises.

I came across an old b&w of Caesar, the sleepwalker from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 6th grade, and I showed it to my friend because we were both into Edward Scissorhands at that point and the picture was incredibly similar, and it was this weird moment where we both realized that films were more than something to do on a Saturday afternoon. They were a shared heritage, of sorts, a magic window to other people's imaginations.

Sometimes I'm nostalgic for those days, although it's much better that the Netflix era gives viewers access to an enormous wealth of movies that, before the 1980s, people could only see at repertory cinemas, museums and on UHF channels at odd hours.

I have the same conflicted feelings towards Netflix: there are no 'legends' because instead of a garbled version of some obscure film that you might never be able to find, you can just go see it (usually, my search for Fright Night Pt 2 has been largely fruitless).
Jenbugmitejen on November 6th, 2008 11:09 pm (UTC)
Re: "the spook show"
Oh wow, we have a lot of friends in common, do you mind if I add you?
Curtis Holmancurt_holman on November 7th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
Re: "the spook show"
By all means. And you can knock my "mutual friends" number back up to 150. (Someone unfriended me without warning last week, so it went to 149.) Cool.
noskilznoskilz on November 8th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC)
Re: "the spook show"
I don't - I remember those days of flipping through Famous Monsters and thinking I'm never going to see this or that movie because I'm at the mercy of whatever the late night movie fates have in the pipeline. Although the ready availability of horror, sf and fantasy films does provide me with one annoyance: the irritating suspicion that recent low-budget genre filmdom is infested with cinematic cargo cultists - they've seen it done, but don't seem to have much grasp of what it is they're trying to do. Maybe I'm being terribly unfair, but when anyone who cares to make the effort can get a fairly comprehensive view of just about any genre, it seems like one should be able to expect a slightly better end product than often is the case. Since films like Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster and Night of the Blood Beast don't phase me, it's suggestive that I find the majority of the sci-fi original pictures level genre flicks to be completely unwatchable(and that I probably have rather questionable tastes in movies)

I'm sure even making a horrible low-budget movie still takes a fair amount of time, effort, and expense, but I often get the impression whoever made a given just didn't care enough to put a good faith effort into the matter.

It's not all bad: genre films from everywhere and everywhen are easily had, some nifty low-budget stuff still turns up, and genre stuff basically has the run of the blockbuster end of things(b-movies took over, perhaps) Maybe I'm just a little disappointed that the ready availability of examples to draw on for a genre often criticized for being formulaic and imitative hasn't tended to result in a better product at the low end.
Curtis Holmancurt_holman on November 8th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
Re: "the spook show"
I heard an interview about bad movies with John Waters once, and the interviewer broached the subject of new movies that go straight to DVD, and John Waters said, if memory serves me right, "No one ever sees those." He didn't say it in a haughty way; something about his tone suggested (to me) that bad films used to have a little mystique just because they were made for people to see in theaters, where people would actually see them. Something ineffable seems to get lost in straight-to-video product, but I don't think I have the words.

Even though it's theoretically easier than ever to make movies, I'm still waiting for the wave of new genre movies on the level of Primer or even The Blair Witch Project.
Stephen Herronnearside on November 6th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
Respice finemmalsperanza on November 6th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
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.

This is interesting. The monsters of the 1950s are usually more definite: Mindless Pod People Who Look Just Like Us = Communism. Or Nature Perverted by Nucular Poison = Secular Science Instead of Faith. Or Gargantuan Prehistoric Creature = Old World (Europe/Asia) Striking New World (America).

But the Blob is so completely nonspecific (and drained of vividness or energy) that it seems to me to represent the absolute lack of any real danger in Happy 1950s America. Danger can't even be taken seriously by the Hollywood's tropemasters. It's jello, or snot, or the goop that accumulates in your car's oil pump. In a way, the movie (as best I remember it) is all about the complete defusing of any sense of continuing postwar peril in America. The whole trope reduces itself to trivial parody. Sadly, it's view of teenagers is that they are also trivial.

The only other way I can read the Blob is as a monster that simply represents Fear Itself. But it's too material for that.

Todd Alcotttoddalcott on November 6th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
There was plenty of cold-war dread in the air in 1958, and The Blob draws on a lot of it. The idea of a thing coming down out of the sky and annihilating a small town was a pretty literal fear at that point, although I'd be willing to guess that the notion of "creeping communism" was pretty out-of-date at that point.

It's probably wildly beside the point, but Beckett's Endgame, like The Blob, also puts an ersatz "family" in an underground location dreading whatever is coming for them from above (as does Night of the Living Dead, and "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," to name only a few cold-war-era works off the top of my head). Fallout shelters and the whole "how will we die in this strange new world" question was uppermost in a lot of people's minds in 1958.
mhacdebhandiamhacdebhandia on November 6th, 2008 10:55 pm (UTC)
Actually - having watched it myself for the first time lats week - all of the action in "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" takes place out on the eponymous street itself. They talk about a radio one of the men is building in his basement, but no-one goes down there; everyone's either in the street or watching each other suspiciously from their front porches.

Perhaps the remake in the 2002-2003 series did it differently.
Todd Alcotttoddalcott on November 6th, 2008 11:27 pm (UTC)
I may be thinking of another story: isn't there one set in a fallout shelter, where the threat is coming and the patriarch has to decide who among his neighbors lives or dies?
Curtis Holmancurt_holman on November 7th, 2008 02:56 am (UTC)
I've got a hunch this is the one you're thinking about:
Respice finemmalsperanza on November 7th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
I like the link to Engame, tenuous though it may be. For me Endgame is all about claustrophobia, being trapped in a tomblike stasis, trying to escape. And certainly a lot of 1950s stories have that sense of oppressive, entrapping family, or culture. The monster (if there is one) is That Which Is Even Worse than the stasis of everyday life. We stay inside, fearful, hiding, bound, because outside there is Something Terrible.

I guess I feel that the equation of Monsters with Communism is sometimes a little too easily applied. It works in Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, to be sure. But the Cold War dread you mention is sometimes about the atomic bomb, which was dropped by the good guys (a fact 1950s movies acknowledge more readily than their 1980s offshoots, like Red Dawn).

But the other way in which the connection to Beckett resonates is the farcical aspect. The Blob scarcely even pretends to be a serious horror movie. It's silly, and knows it. (Same is true of It, I think, and some others.) The perversity of the humor in Beckett is what makes his plays so funny; conversely, the fact that they are so funny is what makes them so perverse. Without pretending to elevate The Blob to Beckett level, I think it's fair to say that it works best as a farce--which is to say, it very nearly works, if viewed as a farce.

I'm reminded of a favorite book, James Thurber's Gothick fairy tale The 13 Clocks (1950), which has a terrifying character called the Todal, a creature that "looks like a blob of glup, [...] makes a sound like rabbits screaming and smells of old unopened rooms [...] an agent of the Devil, sent to punish evildoers for having done less evil than they should."

Movies like The Blob are moral tales, aren't they? Warnings that small-town complacency, the sin of obliviousness and smugness, may be punished.
thevoiceoffate on November 10th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
Any chance you'll review the 80s remake of THE BLOB?

I've always appreciated that film for 1). screwing with movie tropes, and 2). the novelization which charmingly described a buxom girl as someone who "if she ever posed for Playboy, they'd need an L-shaped centerfold."
(Anonymous) on January 28th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
What was the real name of the bartender
Can anyone help me what was the real name of the bartender in the blob?