Tuesday, October 13, 2020

13 Days of First-Time Frights: The Blob

13 Days of First-Time Frights is a series of reviews where Douglas Laman, in the spirit of Halloween, watches and writes about thirteen horror first-time watches These reviews will be posted each Tuesday and Thursday, as well as the three Wednesdays and a Friday, throughout October 2020.

Entry #17: The Blob

Like a lot of influential horror movies, The Blob was not beloved upon its initial release. In fact, critics seemed to be mostly dismissive of the project. Amusingly, even the visual effects were widely-panned back in 1958. The New York Times even outright called the visual effects "phony-looking". The film proved a hit with audiences, though, and helped to usher in a new horror movie monster mainstay in the form of blob-like creatures. Oh, and that Steve McQueen guy, he ended up doing one or two movies you might have heard of. 

The plot of The Blob begins with sweethearts Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut) watching the stars together. However, they spy something out falling right out of the sky into a nearby field. At the same time, a local farmer goes to investigate this object and finds a slimy being inside. This being, the initial form of that Blob, latches itself to the farmer's arm and Steve and Jane proceed to take the farmer to the hospital. Here, the Blob begins to consume more people and grow in size. As Steve tries to convince the local townspeople, particularly the dubious police, that something nefarious is gobbling up their neighbors, the Blob begins to eat and eat and grow and grow.

The Blob is a B-movie from the 1950s. That right there should tell you what you're getting into here. Expect a lot of vapid teenage characters who are mostly just middle-aged people's conceptions of what "today's youth" is like. Expect some romance between the principal male and female characters that's about as romantically compelling as two mannequins toppling over each other. Also expect the runtime to be dedicated mostly to lengthy conversations. After all, those are cheaper to film than the eye-catching VFX-wizardry on the movies poster. These are all as ingrained into the genre as songs are into musicals or fight scenes are into kung-fu movies.

How does The Blob fare as an entry in this genre? Better than usual, certainly. Despite complaints from initial release reviews about the VFX used for the Blob, I actually found any set pieces involving this entity to be the most engaging parts of The Blob. The decision to eschew any anthropomorphized features for this creature really lends an eerie quality to the Blob. Much like the similarly sparsely-designed alien in Dark Star, there are no shortcuts to tell what's going on inside the head of the Blob. The lack of sound as the Blob squelches into a room also proves appropriately unsettling. The idea of this unstoppable being capable of just going into any room without making so much as a whisper, sixty years later that's still effective at jostling your nerves.

On the other hand, human-centric scenes in The Blob are more meandering than suspenseful. Throwaway characters like a doctor's landlord or a grouchy police officer blabber on for what seems like eons as director Irvin Yeaworth tries to eat up minutes in the films already short 82-minute runtime. Though Yeaworth proves successful in boosting the runtime, this effort undercuts any sense of tension in the film. The decision to film these dialogue-heavy sequences in extended one-takes further compounds their sense of listlessness. The performances from the actors also don't help, but they're adhering to the traditional acting style seen in these drive-in B-movies, so it's hard to fault the cast for just following what amounts to basic protocol.

In his first lead role, Steve McQueen lends a sense of commitment to his role as a teenager dying to be taken seriously by the dubious adults around him. McQueen can't make the dialogue of The Blob organic. I doubt anyone could. However, his soon-to-be-iconic charisma does lend a greater level of watchability to his performance compared to other B-movie lead performances. McQueen, the visual effects and a third-act that admirably embraces taking the Blob creature to its greatest extreme render The Blob an above-average effort in the halls of 50s B-movies. It also gets bonus points for how its final line ("Just so long as the Arctic doesn't run out of ice!") now registers as unintentionally ominous in 2020.

No comments:

Post a Comment