A horror film though and through, The Blob pulls it’s storyline from the popularity of science-fiction and horror films of the late 1950s.
From the breakout role of actor Steve McQueen to the pandering of the youth culture of 1958, The Blob breaks convention, tingles the spine and sets a precedent for future sci-fi and horror films.
Seeing this trailer in the late 1950s must have been absolutely horrifying, given the scenes of the Blob coming into a movie theater. The trailer also sets up the menace very well, with Steve McQueen’s character “Steve” explaining what this thing is. The Blob crawls, creeps and eats you alive! It’s definitely a horror film, starring Steve McQueen “and a cast of exciting young people!”
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
The Blob is certainly a horror film, but with nods to sci-fi elements. While on a date up on lover’s lane, Steve (Steve McQueen) and Jane (Aneta Corsaut) observe a shooting star that lands near them. They hop into the car and drive off to look for it. An old man (Olin Howland) sees it fall near his cabin as well. He pokes the meteorite with a stick, getting some sort of gelatinous ooze on the branch. The goop slides up the stick to wrap around his hand, as he cries out in pain. Steve pulls off the road, as the old man stumbles into his headlights, visibly shaken.
The two youth take the man to see Dr. Hallen (Stephen Chase), who was just about to leave town for a convention. He promises to look after the man, if Steve will go back to where they found him and look for any other clues. Steve is held up by his friends Mooch, Tony and Al (James Bonnet, Robert Fields, & Antony Franke) who dare him into a quick backwards drag-race, that is just as quickly broken up by Officer Dave (Earl Rowe). The quintet of kids then return to the location of the meteorite crash.
The doc realizes that the ooze is consuming the body, and getting larger, so he calls his nurse Kate (Lee Payton) to assist. The power in the office goes out when she accidentally knocks over a lamp, having been startled by the gelatinous mass that has fully consumed the old man. Doc Hallen fires his gun at the blob, but it does no good and both he and nurse Kate are consumed as well.
Steve and Jane report the murders to the police, but due to their age, and a recent string of pranks they’re not believed. Their parents take them home but the two sneak out later to enlist the aid of their friends, who are all at the midnight movie. Narrowly avoiding getting eaten by the blob in Steve’s fathers grocery store, the kids manage to wake the town and get the adults to pay some attention to them. Again Officer Dave is not believing the kids, especially when the more cynical Officer Bert (John Benson) proves that there’s nothing in the supermarket.
At that moment dozens of screaming citizens come around a corner. They are streaming out of the local movie theater where the blob is oozing out of the projectionist booth. It has now grown to the size of a house and manages to trap Steve, Jane, Jane’s little brother Danny and the employees of the local diner in the basement of the establishment. The police drop an electrical line on the monster, but that only starts a fire in the diner. Steve realizes that using CO2 fire extinguishers causes parts of the beast to be frozen.
Citizens scour the buildings for more fire extinguishers, using them to freeze the blob solid. Steve, Jane and Danny escape just as Officer Dave gets word from the military that they are sending in a plane to move the frozen blob to the Arctic. Steve says it will be safe there, at least as long as the Arctic stays cold. The film ends with an emphatic “The End,” that quickly morphs into a question mark!
“Just because some kid smacks into your wife on the turnpike doesn’t make it a crime to be 17 years old.” – Officer Dave
History in the Making
By the time the end of the 50s rolled around, the majority of sci-fi related films has morphed into horror films with sci-fi themes. Granted there were still super-low-budget movies that were spacemen and rockets, but so many films were pushing the envelope of horror. Several have been explored here with Not of This Earth, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, but there were many others such as The Fly (1958), It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), The Brain from Planet Arous (1957) and The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959).
The Blob is also a horror film, with sci-fi roots. It was considered a B-film of a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space, but soon became the feature attraction. The term B-film or B-movie, comes from the lower budget, second feature of a double feature. Unfortunately in this case, The Blob was the more popular and enduring film between the two. It is probably due to the charisma of the lead actor, Steve McQueen.
Steve McQueen had been in a couple uncredited films, prior to The Blob, but this was his breakout role. Playing the character of “Steve,” McQueen gives a fresh take on the youth genre and plays a less than macho lead. His earnestness and honesty creates an intriguing character that audiences can root for, regardless of age.
What The Blob does better than many other sci-fi/horror films from the time, is create a monster that is unique, original and has endured for many decades. A mysterious rock from from space delivers a creature that runs on instinct alone, and cannot be reasoned with. This is a formula for many monster and sci-fi films to come. Critters (1986), Creepshow (1982 – specifically “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”), Slither (2006), Life (2017), and Night of the Creeps (1986) all feature strange beings from outer space that attack humanity only for their survival.
It’s influence is also felt in films such as the remake from 1988, and Monsters vs Aliens (2009), which has a blob like character called BOB. I would even argue that the acidic nature of the blob, in the way it can dissolve and consume flesh, was an inspiration in some fashion for the blood of the xenomorph in Alien (1979).
The other element that this film highlights is the use of teenagers fighting a monster. The 70s and 80s gave rise to many horror films where the main victims of monsters were teenagers, but there have been equally as many films where youngsters fight the monsters and win. Night of the Comet (1984), Stranger Things (2016), and The Faculty (1998) are a few examples. Rather than succumb to the dangers of the monster (as in the Friday the 13th series), the youth in these films show willingness and smarts in order to defeat something that adults, the government, and the military seem incapable of handling.
Besides sci-fi, and horror films, youth films were also popular in the 1950s. Many times it was troublesome or rebellious youths such as The Wild One (1953) or Blackboard Jungle (1955). But the most prominent film of this era, that seems to have the most effect on The Blob is certainly Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Steve McQueen adopts the air of the disinterested youth, who is frowned on by at least one character.
Officer Bert is very down on the youth of 1958. He seems to think that they’re “trying to break him down,” having heard something about his war service record. The kids recognize his bias towards them, and the film shows him grousing about the “lies,” as he puts it, that Steve is spouting. He never actually does anything mean to them, that is shown. But he’s pretty soured on kids. Officer Dave seems to be able to keep him calm, and points out, as with the quote above, that it’s no crime to be 17. That seems as if it may have been the attitude of a large number of adults in the 50s given the subject matter from films of that time.
Not all adults are against the kids however. Doc Hallen appears to be a very nice guy, choosing to help Steve out when he shows up with the old man. Officer Dave understands that kids will be kids, and attempts to keep the peace, while trying to teach young drag racers right from wrong. He doesn’t want to lock anyone up unnecessarily. Finally Jane’s father, who is the principal of the school, readily believes the kids and goes out of his way to help. There’s a moment when they need to get into the school to get fire extinguishers, but his key won’t work. He grabs a rock to smash the window, and pauses – presumably thinking about the example of vandalism he’s about to present to these kids. But he does it anyway, almost in solidarity with the youth.
The Science in The Fiction
There’s no real science in this film to speak of. But Doc Hallen does try to run some tests and understand what this amorphous blob may be. He believes that a type of acid in his office may repel the monster. Unfortunately splashing it on the blob doesn’t do anything.
The characters do try to use logical decisions about ways to defeat the blob. Acid, guns, electricity are all tried but don’t stop the monster. It’s only the accidental application of cold that appears to affect it in any way. That would make sense that floating around in space the blob would be mostly inert, due to the lack of heat, but landing on a planet would heat it up, and it would definitely be hungry!
The Final Frontier
The blob kills six characters that we see or know of (the Old Man, Kate, Doc Hallen, the mechanic, the janitor at the grocery store, and the projectionist), plus we’re told of the missing patrons of the Bar on Second Street. It appears to kill a dog, off screen, but a short while later the audience is told that the dog was seen running off. Obviously it must have eaten more than just a dozen or so characters to get to the size it reaches by the end of the film, but this movie is not about the deaths of these characters. The Blob provides just enough death to show the menace of the creature, without getting overly graphic (as the remake does).
One of the best, and strangest parts of the film is the Theme Song by Burt Bacharach. Best known for his hits “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969), “(They Long to Be) Close to You” (1970), and “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” (from Arthur, 1981), as well as the themes for numerous other TV shows and movies, Bacharach provides a bossa nova influenced pop-hit called “Beware of the Blob.” The upbeat number was obviously an attempt to create a pop song to help sell the film. While not of the same caliber as his Oscar winning songs, this ditty has enjoyed minimal cult success, especially with the Dr. Demento radio show.
As with films today, producers didn’t like to give free publicity to other peoples movies. The films being shown at the theater are listed as Daughter of Horror, and The Vampire and the Robot. These are fake names that were created to provide something for the marquee to advertise. The footage that is shown from Daughter of Horror is a 1955 film called Dementia, while the poster for The Vampire and the Robot is obviously reused from 1956s Forbidden Planet.
The Blob is a low-budget film that doesn’t think it’s a low-budget film. It’s forward thinking ability to create a unique creature, and being set in a small town, with normal teenage heroes sets it apart from the other films of the day, and allows it to continued to be remembered today in the 21st Century.
Coming Next Week
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.