For 2012’s Halloween Haunters, I started off with the 1958 version of The Blob. A few weeks after I posted my review, the 1988 remake became available for viewing on Crackle. Had the timing of the two films been a bit more coincident, I might have watched and reviewed the two together for a Version vs. Version entry. But even with that not being a direct option, there was no chance I was going to pass up the opportunity to view the remake while the original was still fresh in my memory.
The remake is directed by Chuck Russell, whose prior directorial work was the third Nightmare on Elm Street movie, and who has gone on to direct The Mask, Eraser, and The Scorpion King. It’s actually a fairly impressive B-movie resume. That particular set of talents is on display in The Blob, which is an entertaining monster movie which feels very similar to the original while still being its own film.
The special effects didn’t change much in 30 years. That’s not really a knock on the 80s film; there just aren’t a lot of ways to make a blob.
As with the original film, there’s a degree of camp here, but in both cases, it’s the camp of their generation. Where the original was 1950s sci-fi camp, with people running from something beyond their ken, the remake is 1980s camp, with more overt terror and some action movie moments thrown in. It makes for a different take on the subject, which is important for a remake. The action sequences go a long way to making The Blob an enjoyable film, with a believable degree of tension as people make their escapes or try to make a proactive stand against the blob.
A great many films can benefit from the addition of a young woman with military-grade weaponry.
As with the original, the main characters are teenagers. Taking the place of Steve McQueen as the male lead is Kevin Dillon, playing Brian Flagg, reckless troublemaker. Dillon doesn’t have anywhere near the screen presence of McQueen — few do — but he’s helped out considerably by the script giving his character more depth and more to do. And yet for all that, he’s not really the main character; that honor goes to Shawnee Smith as Meg Penny, a high school cheerleader who witnesses the first two killings the blob commits. As the movie progresses, the audience gets to see Meg progress from a young woman who would passively sit in a waiting room to, well, the type of girl who would pick up a machine gun and use it as a distraction. Also of note is Joe Seneca as Doctor Meddows, a scientist who arrives to study the blob and quarantine the area. Seneca’s kindly demeanor provides a sharp contrast to the actions the doctor finds himself taking.
Like a lot of 1980s horror films, there are some humorous moments early on before the danger becomes apparent. Knowing winks are given to the audience several times with references to various strawberry-flavored semi-solids, from Jello to jam. There’s a great moment when Meg’s boyfriend meets her father (Donovan Leitch and Art LaFleur respectively) that’s set up quite a bit earlier as Leitch’s character and a friend prepare for their dates. It’s important in a horror movie to have something interesting going on before the killings start — otherwise it just feels like the film is just killing time — and the social lives of the teenagers and townsfolk are actually moderately entertaining and don’t cause the audience to root for the deaths of the characters, in stark contrast with a lot of horror films. Of course, there is a lot of death, and this version of The Blob doesn’t pull any punches on that front. The deaths are often fairly gory (though occasionally campy) and the film does its best to ensure the feeling that nobody is truly safe.
The 1988 version of The Blob is a good example of how a horror remake should be handled. It’s updated for its time, and tells its own story, while still paying homage to the original film. It has the right kinds of similarities and differences. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s done reasonably well. I don’t think it’s really all that more likely to frighten anybody than the original — we’re still talking about a mobile pile of goo here — but it’s a film that takes the concept from the original 1950s horror film and successfully transplants it into the style of a 1980s horror film.