Every so often I wonder about the creative process that goes into a movie. Monster movies in particular can raise some interesting questions. In the case of the 1958 film The Blob (which would later gain a sequel — 1972’s Beware! The Blob — and a remake in 1988), I can speculate, though of course my speculation is only wild guessing. I wonder, though, if maybe it was an attempt to have a monster movie where the monster really and truly was inhuman. After all, many of the classic monsters are really human in one way or another. Vampires? Humans with pointy teeth and bad complexions. The Wolf Man? It’s right there in his name. Wolf Man. (And “were” is just an old word for man, so “werewolf” doesn’t change this.) All sorts of creatures, whether from the black lagoon or from beyond the stars, are just humanoid figures. Godzilla came out a few years prior to The Blob, but even the big lizard is just a man in a rubber suit. What does a monster movie look like if the monster is as inhuman as possible?
I don’t know if The Blob was created as an answer to such a question. But I do know it serves very well as an answer.
What if the monster looks like strawberry gelatin?
The story is a fairly standard one for monster movies. A pair of teenagers — Steve McQueen as Steve Andrews and Aneta Corsaut as his girlfriend Jane — see a meteorite crash nearby. An old man (Olin Howland in his final film performance) finds the meteorite, and discovers it has cracked open, revealing a strange oozing substance. Steve and Jane soon find the old man running and screaming on the road, with his hand covered by the blob, which is slowly consuming him. They take him to the doctor, and Dr. Hallen (Stephen Chase) does his best to treat the patient, but soon the blob has grown, consumed him, and is moving on to further prey. What ensues is a night of the blob consuming victim after victim, with Steve and Jane trying desperately to convince the police of what’s going on. Unusually, they do have a sympathetic ear in Lt. Dave (Earl Rowe), but the standard stubborn skeptic cop role is also in force with Sgt. Bert (John Benson).
As might be expected, there’s a certain degree of camp involved in a movie in which a mobile mass of slime goes around eating people. This is highlighted in the opening sequence of the film, which features an inappropriately upbeat and catchy theme song by Burt Bacharach and Mack David. But though this is a film which isn’t likely to frighten anybody over the age of seven, it still does a reasonable job of selling the idea that this is a frightening experience for the characters. A lot of this is down to director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.’s decision to stick to traditional suspense techniques, keeping the blob off screen for much of the time. With the teenagers having to hunt for the blob, looking for proof to bring back to the police, while having to avoid becoming its next victims, it adds a bit of tension that might not be there if it was just minute after minute of the blob absorbing people.
“I’m gonna use this on something so you’d better be telling the truth.”
While most of the actors don’t really stand out as great performances, neither do they stand out as poor ones. The teenagers may be played by people in their mid-20s, but they’re still convincing as young adults while not being the ridiculously-reckless types that populate slasher films (you know, the ones the audience hopes get killed.) Steve McQueen is the obvious highlight of the performers, though. It’s his first leading role, and he hasn’t quite developed into full-on Steve McQueen mode yet, so his performance isn’t quite as intense as it might have been later in his career. Even so, it’s still possible to see how he would eventually develop that level of intensity, and he’s still a cut above his co-stars in this picture. I don’t think the film would have been nearly as successful at portraying the blob as a serious threat if it weren’t for McQueen’s performance. He is very convincing as a man who is very frightened but still maintaining control over himself.
The Blob is regarded as a monster movie classic, and in addition to its sequel and remake (which, no doubt won’t be the last — my money’s on 2018), it has gone on to be referenced by any number of movies and television shows, often comedic, from The Simpsons to Monsters vs. Aliens. And it’s a film that deserves that level of recognition. It may not be frightening, especially to a modern audience, but few monster movies and horror films truly are. What it does do, however, is provide a convincing portrayal of people frightened by an inhuman, ineffable, apparently unstoppable monster. It’s a seriously fun little monster movie, and worthy of its status in pop culture.