In movies, the effect of a meteorite hitting the Earth will most likely consist of one or two things: either we will see widespread catastrophic damage — tidal waves sweeping across major cities — or, if the meteorite in question is of a smaller scale, it will have undoubtedly brought an alien threat from outer space. In the case of 1988’s The Blob, we not only get an excellent example of the latter, but one of the rare horror movie remakes that even manages to surpass what the original had done.
Directed by Chuck Russell, and co-written with his friend Frank Darabont, this remake of the 1958 science fiction/horror movie The Blob takes the implied horror of the original (whose extremely low budget barely allowed the Blob to appear on camera), and gives us a balls-to-the-wall action-horror film that not only doesn’t stint on the required monster moments but also ratchets the gore up to eleven. The plot is the same basic structure as the original; a meteorite carrying a nasty organism lands near a small town, an old man investigates said meteorite and soon has a corrosive creature on his hand; teens encounter the stricken old man and bring him to the local doctor — though here it’s a hospital, not a private practice — and as the creature eats, it gets bigger and bigger until it threatens the whole town. The creature’s vulnerability to cold is also retained, as is the attack at the town’s midnight movie marathon, but the gore and the body count in this remake are much greater. Most of the deaths in the 1952 movie happen off-screen or in the shadows, while the remake hides nothing.
A bigger budget and improved visual effects weren’t all that Russell and company brought to this story — Note: Russell didn’t have all that big a budget compared to his contemporaries — because in this film we get a story that loves to subvert audiences’ expectations at every turn. In the original, we had Steve McQueen as the hero, who along with his girlfriend and a trio of fellow “teens” tried to warn the townsfolk of the horrific threat the Blob held, but in this remake, the roles are rather turned on their heads. We are introduced to Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch Jr.), Arborville’s high school football hero, who is in love with cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) — whose decision to wear pearls on a first date must be a nod to her character from the original — and instead of a trio of possible teen delinquents, this film gives us Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon), a leather-jacket-wearing biker who has no respect for authority, but unlike the original, things don’t go well for the All-American boy.
It’s clear that the Paul Taylor character was set up to be the Steve McQueen analogue, but instead, he becomes the second victim of the Blob. The Old Man (Billy Beck), who pokes the contents of a meteorite with a stick, is retained as the Blob’s first victim, and when parental figures and the police fail to believe what Meg witnessed, that of her boyfriend being dissolved alive by some creature, she becomes the film’s de facto hero and is forced to turn to town’s bad-boy Flagg for help. The death of Paul, a mere thirty minutes into the film, tells the viewer that no one is safe, that all bets are off, and this all goes towards making the movie more suspenseful and terrifying. Earlier, the film set up a cute romance between Sheriff Herb Geller (Jeffrey DeMunn) and sweet Fran Hewitt (Candy Clark), who owns the town’s diner, but their romance is cut dramatically short after the Blob makes a surprise late-night call.
Still, Russell and Darabont weren’t just relying on shocking audiences to justify remaking a horror classic by playing around with who dies and how gory they can make it, they also added to the original film’s anti-authority message. In the original film, Steve McQueen and company were either condescended to or ignored by the adults, even the kindly understanding Sheriff of that film wasn’t about to believe an oozing monster was dissolving the citizens of his fair town, but as this remake was a product of the 80s, we get the added bonus of government conspiracy. No longer is the Blob some alien menace from another world, a mindless creature whose sole goal is to eat and get larger, in this movie, our heroes discover that the Blob was a biological warfare experiment created during the Cold War, and the lead scientist Dr. Meadows (Joe Seneca) is all about capturing this amazing weapon without care for collateral damage.
Movie Note: In countless films that involve people wearing various helmets, from diving gear to hazmat suits, the filmmakers often tend to put lights inside so as to illuminate the actor’s face, which in a night setting would basically blind the occupant.
• Meg’s parents and the police do not believe her story about Paul being dissolved by a big pink amorphous blob, but they offer no other explanation for the half-dissolved old man or the gooey severed arm that once belonged to Paul.
• The Blob is shown to be very corrosive, it even drips acid at times, but somehow this doesn’t result in a destructive trail in its wake, one that should be easy to follow.
• Meg’s brother is forced to wear a jacket, even after he comments that it’s too warm out, which is a set-up for the jacket zipper to stick while trying to escape the Blob, but if it’s too warm outside for a jacket, why in the Hell did the kid zip it up in the first place?
• The government villain’s plan to seal off the two exits to the town’s sewers, thus containing the Blob within, kind of ignores the fact that sewers are connected to the town’s plumbing. Did they also plan on plugging up every toilet and sink in town?
• Meg is one of the best examples of the “Hero Death Exemption” that is found in many movies; she either manages to run away from the Blob, despite the great speed it moves at in many scenes, or it completely ignores her. When Paul is eaten she faints right in front of the creature, but the Blob doesn’t bother to eat her for some reason.
Despite being outfitted with some truly amazing plot armour, the character of Meg Penny is still one of the more outstanding elements of this movie; she isn’t the damsel in distress of the original film, nor is she around just to provide a pretty face. Meg is the instigator of the plot as she refuses to be condescended to or ignored, and Brian Flagg, who has to be almost pushed into the role of hero, is kind of her second banana. Meg is pretty much filling in for the Steve McQueen character here, she’s also the one who figures out that cold is the monster’s weakness, and though Flagg does save her from the clutches of the Blob at times if one were to count rescues, she saves his ass more than he saves hers. A central female protagonist who is a bit of a badass was not something commonly seen in 1980s cinema and predates the likes of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
The 1980s were a great time for horror remakes as we were treated to John Carpenter’s Thing in 1982 and David Cronenberg’s The Fly in 1986, and though Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob was not met with much financial or critical acclaim at the time, as was the case with Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, it has since gone on to be recognized as one of the best horror remakes and has developed a huge cult following.
With this take on The Blob, Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont wonderfully expanded on what was a fairly thin premise and then populated their story with a variety of engaging characters — Steve McQueen’s charisma the only thing salvaging his paper-thin character in the original — and the practical effects and make-up developed for this film holds up extremely well. If you haven’t seen this remake, and if you tend to enjoy some fun gore with your action, this version of The Blob is well worth checking out.
Note: The film ends with an epilogue showing the town’s Reverend (Del Close) had spirited away a small portion of the Blob, which he intends to use in bringing forth a biblical apocalypse, a hint at a sequel we never got, but interesting enough, Del Close had a small part in the 1972 sequel Beware! The Blob.
The Blob (1988) – Review
Movie Rank - 7.5/10
Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob may have a few hinky story elements – characters with insane levels of Plot Armor – but overall it is an insanely fun horror film that has stood the test of time and one of the few good horror remakes.