Starring Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland, Stephen Chase, John Benson, George Karas, Lee Payton, Elbert Smith, Hugh Graham
Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
Expectations: High. Genre movies don’t get Criterion editions too often.
I expected The Blob to be about a slow-moving, unstoppable alien blob terrorizing a small town. What I wasn’t expecting was how well the film also integrates the ’50s juvenile delinquency film genre in with its horror, resulting in a film that works on both levels and entertains throughout. It seems pretty clear how this one gained such a big reputation, the genre crossover must have made it resonate incredibly well with kids who had a hard time getting their parents to listen to them. So basically: come for the killer blob, stay for the frustrated youths that you’ll probably relate to.
I’m not sure that a plot synopsis is necessary here, it’s The Blob. It’s kinda all right there. Well, not as much as it’s all right there in the title of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but how many things could a movie called The Blob be about? A stain on a shirt? That fat guy in the X-Men comics? … That’s all I got, and this movie isn’t about either of those. Y’see Steve (Steve McQueen) and Jane (Aneta Corsaut, The Andy Griffith Show‘s Helen Crump) are out smoochin’ under the stars when a shooting star bursts through the sky and lands somewhere close. Steve’s something of a stargazer, so off they drive in search of the rock from outer space.
They aren’t the first there, though, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie. No, first on the scene is an old man who lives in a cabin in the woods. He moseys on out to see what all the commotion is about, and when he finds a small crater with a smoking rock in the center, he does what every person should always do if they ever encounter a small crater with a smoking rock in it while on their evening walk… he pokes it with a stick. Needless to say, things get bad for him real quick.
The blob FX are fantastic, and they sell themselves very well to the audience. You’d probably never guess this was a low-budget, independent genre film, because it looks like no expense was spared on the blob FX. It was 1958, though, so you can definitely see through a lot of the illusions. But this never really matters because the blob is such a strange, unique, otherworldly character that it’s inherently more believable than something known (such as a giant ant from Them!). It also helps that they make it a habit to only cut to the blob in quick, crucial moments, the rest of the time focusing on the humans and their interpersonal struggles.
While this kind of focus might usually sink a genre picture, The Blob actually pulls it off rather well. My first clue that the film was heading into juvenile delinquency territory was the Rebel Without a Cause-esque confrontation that happens when Steve and Jane are leaving the doctor’s house a few minutes into the film. At that point I merely thought it was something of a rip-off, something common to low-budget films. But as the next few minutes went by focusing solely on the kids racing with each other (all while they should have been helping the doctor), I couldn’t help but notice how brazen they were with the task the doctor had given them. A man’s life was perhaps in the balance, but yet these kids had time to street race and test their machismo. The urgency of the situation means nothing to them, but teenage posturing… that’s a different story.
So it’s no surprise that later in the film no one listens to them when they’re the urgent ones, desperately trying to get the adults to listen to their stories of the killer alien blob. The only one that believes them outright is Jane’s kid brother. Horror has something of a tradition with kids being able to understand or witness supernatural forces which adults cannot, and Jane’s brother is yet another, minor example. But he also figures into the delinquency storyline as well. As a kid, the brother exists outside both the adult and teenage realms that clash in The Blob. The teens and the adults have a hard time communicating to each other, but the young kids are still malleable and open to all influences. Only when the entire town adopts this mentality do things begin to turn around in the struggle against the blob, with the school’s principal physically (and symbolically) smashing a school window with a rock.
I was always surprised to see The Blob among the ranks of Criterion’s releases, but after seeing it I easily understand why. ’50s creature features and ’50s juvenile delinquency films make for quite a team in The Blob, and I highly recommend all film fans check it out for a fun little 82 minutes. (I also highly recommend the ’80s remake, which delivers all the nasty, gory blob FX this version couldn’t.)