Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Blob (1988)

(Movie Review)

In one of my previous posts on horror movies, I said that I was always kind of fascinated with them as a boy despite the fact that I couldn't logically explain to you their appeal. And a couple of you commented to say that you felt the same way.

Every now and then I still do wonder, "Really, why do I like this trash? What is the appeal of watching something designed to scare me?" Like all guilty pleasures, it can't be logically explained. But there's no denying it taps into something in the human nature. Hollywood has been making money off of horror movies for decades now, and before that there were Victorian Gothic novels and campfire stories.

Anyway, when I was in 5th grade, this movie was everywhere. I remember seeing commercials for the VHS when I was watching "Star Trek" that showed a man trying to unplug a sink, sticking his hand down, and getting sucked down the drain by the blob. (It wasn't the same scene from the movie, but a somewhat more comical safe-for-TV remake--I don't know if anyone else remembers it).

[Short digression: I saw a lot of commercials for horror movies in the late 80s while watching "Star Trek". It doesn't seem like you see as much of these nowadays. Was there some new law passed since then about advertising for horror movies on daytime TV, or is it just my imagination?]

In fact, my 5th grade science textbook even made a reference to "The Blob". They cited the movie, and the scientists quest to find out if the blob was living or not, as the introduction to the definition of life.

[Another short digression: I understand they're just trying to get kids interested in science by citing popular culture, but it's just cruel to tantalize kids with a movie they're not allowed to see. But so much of childhood is like this, isn't it? When I was in 6th grade, we went on a youth group retreat where they showed us clips of movies like "Alien" and "Top Gun" (movies I desperately wanted to see, but wasn't allowed to) and then would stop the movie just before the most exciting parts to explain why we shouldn't be watching these kind of movies. How much of a tease is that?]

I was fascinated with the concept as a child. I don't know why, but there's something horrifying about the idea of a blob that just absorbs you.
Perhaps from an Darwinian perspective it taps into a primeval fear still lurking in our evolutionary subconscious of being swallowed and absorbed by a larger animal.

Since I wasn't allowed to see the movie, I lived off of reports from classmates who had seen it.
Also somewhere around that time I got my hands on a copy of "Slime" by Joseph Payne Brennan (W) in an anthology of scary stories, which I found delightfully horrifying.
(In fact in retrospect, although it's been years since I read it, I think the short story "Slime" was probably much better and scarier than any of the cinematic outings "The Blob" has had, but at the time I regarded it as just something to hold me over until I could see the movie).

Around middle school I had worn my parents down to the point that I could see almost any horror movie as long as it pre-dated 1960. And with cable TV and classic film channels available, I made full use of this. Which is why to this day I know much more about classic horror movies than anyone my age should.

And so of course I saw the classic Steve McQueen 1958 "The Blob" movie.
This movie is in no way the least bit scary, even for a middle school student. But I loved it anyway. It's just a classic piece of 1950s Americana.
If you haven't seen it yet, you should definitely check it out. But don't watch it as a horror movie. Think of it as a 1950s teen-movie. This is supposed to be one of the first horror movies in which the adults are all clueless, and the teenagers have to save the world. And when you're 14, that kind of story seems about right to you.

After this, I largely forgot about "The Blob". Until the other day when I was wasting time on the internet.
I should have been studying, but I was procrastinating again, and watching amateur movie reviews off of the cite cinemassacre. Where I found this review comparing the 1950s version of "The Blob" to the 1980s version.

Unfortunately wasting time on-line often leads to more wasting time. I remembered that I had wanted to see that movie once, and never gotten around to it. I checked my local video store, but when they didn't have a copy, I thought I would check and see if there was anything on youtube.

Of course there was. Both versions are up on youtube actually. As of this writing, the complete 1958 movie can be found here. The 1988 version can be found here in its entirety here.

Alright, so after all that build-up, what did I think?
The movie seems to suffer from a lot of lazy writing. But it's difficult to know how hard you can be on the movie, because the movie doesn't even seem to take itself that seriously.

For example, there's a scene with a couple of teenagers parked at an overlook of the city making out in the car all alone. The guy is moving kind of fast, the girl is resisting his advances, and then the monster attacks.
It's the most obvious cliche imaginable for this kind of movie. But is it really recycling a cliche, or is it more of a tongue in cheek tribute to the genre?

The blob itself does a remarkable job of showing up and disappearing again only at times convenient to the plot. It also absorbs characters or lets them go by the same logic.
For instance in most scenes it is shown as an insatiable eating machine, absorbing anyone in its path. But when our main heroine faints right in front of it, it crawls off without molesting her at all.
But could this also be partly explained as a parody of the genre?

And then there's a lot of the comic relief in this movie, which also seems a bit cliched. For example, you remember that old urban legend about the guy who buys a condom at a drug store, and then it turns out that the drugstore clerk is his date's father? Well guess what, that scene is in this movie as well.
Maybe you could make excuses for this also, but enough! When even the jokes are cliched, I think we can safely say the writers of this movie were just out to lunch, and were just phoning in the all laziest cliches they could think of.

On the plus side...
Increased special effects means that in the remake you can actually see the Blob devour people. (In the 1950s version, people would just scream when the blob got close to them, and then they got eaten up off-screen). This makes the film a lot more horrifying. Especially when you can see the horrified look of the actors trying to scream underneath the blob as their body slowly melts away.
And (spoiler alert) the film does throw a few curve balls. In the first half of the film, a few of the characters who you think are going to be the main characters are among the first devoured.

There's a lot more gore in this film as well, a subject I'm somewhat neutral on. I'm old and jaded enough, and well past the age where this kind of thing would freak me out. But at the same time, it did seem kind of pointless. Wasn't the point of the blob that he devoured people whole and didn't leave a trace? What was the point of it just devouring half a person, other than gratuitous gore scenes?
Still, all in all, a pretty entertaining movie, even if it does require you to turn your brain off for some of it.

Link of the Day
Chomsky at West Point on "Just War Theory"
and Healthcare and the free market: Doctor Hand takes a closer look -- at your wallet!
and Darwin Meets Health Care

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