The Blob (1988)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: October 29th, 2019
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
History and pop culture have grown to fondly remember the 80s as a carefree decade of excess. Big hair, bouncy tunes, and a wistful sense of innocence and naivety have become some of our most common cultural markers for an era largely defined by its fun times. Much of its contemporary entertainmentóparticularly in the horror genreódoes little to disavow us of this notion: to this day, most recall this to be the decade full of slasher films and other splattery nonsense. Itís all nonsense of course; as is the case with any time period, a latent darkness lurked beneath this shimmering, neon-splashed faÁade. While itís the slashers that have largely lingered in our cultural memory, Iíve found that three of the decadeís most enduring horror efforts captured this looming darkness better than most of their contemporaries.
Whatís more, each is a reimagining of horror classics from the 50s, another decade whose latent darkness occasionally crept through an otherwise gilded faÁade of Americana through paranoiac films like The Thing From Another World, The Fly, and The Blob. In the discussion surrounding these filmsí 80s counterparts, the former two have dominated the conversation, leaving Chuck Russellís rad interpretation of The Blob as something of an afterthought. Perhaps itís fair to say itís gained its legion of followers over the years, but Iím still not quite sure itís ascended all the way to the status of Carpenter and Cronenbergís remakes. Maybe thatís fair, too; Iím not sure I could argue it deserves such lofty praise myself; however, I will make the argument that itís the most interesting of the trio in the way it intersects with and plays off of its era.
Thatís perhaps surprising given how timeless and Rockwellian it appears to be at the outset. Arborville, CA has a sleepy, Anytown, USA vibe to it. As the autumn leaves begin to litter the streets in October, the local high school dominates its competition with star quarterback Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch) as head cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) looks on. A cozy diner lurks around the corner from the stadium, just waiting to welcome in the post-game crowd. Just down the street is a vintage theater with classic matinee signage, not unlike the one seen in the 1958 film. Something sinister also lurks on the outskirts of town in the form of an amorphous blob that will upend this picturesque portrait of Americana.
Try as they might, Paul, Meg, and town rebel Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) can do little to stop it: after encountering an old man being consumed by the slimy substance, they take him to the hospital, only to discover that this material may hail from another world altogether. By the end of the ordeal, The Blob begins to consume Paulís entire body, leaving a helpless, horrified Meg to free him. She only succeeds in pulling his arm clean off, leaving both Meg and the audience with the distinct feeling that everything is fucked. In an era where slasher movies especially were somewhat formulaic, The Blob dares to upend convention by offing our apparent hero before first reel is done. Whatís more, it leaves the heroine in the company of no-good, leather-clad, motorcycle-riding bad boy who couldnít possibly be anything but bad news.
Itís hardly an unsubtle upending, and it foreshadows how Russell and Frank Darabountís script will further subvert expectations when the film reveals its true menace: a shady government operation that developed this blob as a biological weapon that has gone haywire and grown beyond its control. Where the original film exploited the vague notion of a terror from beyond, this take points the finger directly at the clandestine domestic forces prowling about, preying upon an unsuspecting citizenry.
For 50s audiences, the sight of an amorphous (and pointedly red) blob was an obvious metaphor for the impure, corrupted forces threatening to destroy the sanctity of Western civilization; a more cynical 80s audience, on the other hand, recognizes this culture as rotting from within, rent apart by the same government agencies meant to provide protection and stability. Ghosts of Watergate and Vietnam linger alongside the growing distrust of the Reagan-Bush administration, creating a vision of a cozy Americana under siege by a haywire, Frankenstein monster military-industrial complex. Itís some pretty radical shit for what appears to be an innocuous 80s monster movie that initially looks to have more in common with its splattery contemporaries; by the end, however, it finds the same paranoiac wavelength as Escape from New York, Society, The Stuff, They Live, and The Thing.
Russell isnít afraid to indulge those splattery impulses, though. He might gently needle the slasher genre with the Garden Tool Massacre parody that unfolds on the theater screen within the movie here, but his heart is at least partially in the same place. Sporting some of the decadeís most astoundingly gruesome effects, The Blob remains a seminal gross-out movie that generously ladles blood and guts onto the screen. The climax especially is a marvel of monster movie mayhem, as whatís left of the cast is left to do battle with the increasingly destructive blob. While itís notable that The Blob has more on its mind than this, itís still tremendously exciting that it doesnít forego ample opportunities to absolutely mangle its cast and thrill audiences with rousing set pieces.
In this respect, The Blob does what any sensible remake should do: take advantage of advances in technology to update the original material for its new era. Itís only logical that this take on The Blob would merge 50s B-movie thrills with 80s gore outbursts. That it also taps into the originalís paranoiac vibes and turns them inside-out to capture some specifically 80s anxieties arguably makes it an even better film than its predecessor. Some remakes do one or the other in terms of reimagining style or theme; very few do both, and even fewer do so with the effectiveness of The Blob. Iíve always thought it was a shame that Hollywood didnít continually revisit this title the same way it has Invasion of the Body Snatchers over the years. The premise is fittingly amorphous, just waiting to be remolded in the image of each new era. Russellís vision proved as much, though this is the part where Iíll kindly ask you not to bring up Larry Hagmanís Beware! The Blob, a title that rightfully doubles as a warning against itself.
I suppose the lukewarm reception to Russellís film hasnít helped matters: while this one became a video store staple and has gone on to become a cult favorite, audiences and critics ignored and/or dismissed it in í88, once again proving that even brilliant efforts like this one go unnoticed without the proper marketing or timing. 30 years later, itís finally receiving its due on Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory, who have taken over the reins from Twilight Time. And while that release from a few years back was excellent, its limited availability made it difficult for all fans to partake. Iím still not sure just what Sony was thinking when it licensed out this, Fright Night, and Saviniís Night of the Living Dead out for such limited runs, but Iím glad at least some of these wrongs are beginning to be set right.
The Blob is being righted in a big way: the disc carries over the already sterling transfer from the Twilight Time release along with lossless DTS surround and stereo tracks. Anyone solely worried about presentation wonít find much of a reason to upgrade. However, if youíre a fiend for special features, Scream Factory has stuffed the disc with an imposing number of commentaries, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and promotional material.
My rough math estimates that there are nearly 4 hours of interviews alone, including two separate on-camera chats with Russell himself. One interview covers his career up to The Blob, wherein he obviously discusses his work on Dream Warriors; the other interview is dedicated to The Blob itself, particularly his motivation for his and Darabountís motivations for updating it. Leitch, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Candy Clark also appear in separate interviews to discuss their careers and share anecdotes about The Blob. Even Bill Moseleyówho appears in a bit role as a soldieróappears in an interview that accounts for his participation here.
The filmís behind-the-scenes crew get their due as well, as interviews with DP Mark Irwin, effects artist Tony Gardner, effects supervisor Christopher Gilman, production designer Craig Stearns, mechanical designer Mark Setrakin, and blob mechanic Peter Abrahamson offer various insights to these particular aspects of the production. Like many of these interviews on Scream releases, they donít just cover The Blob exclusively, as the participants are eager to discuss their backgrounds and share stories from throughout their careers. About 30 minutes of vintage behind-the-scenes VHS footage provide an intimate, fly-on-the-wall look at Gardnerís crew tinkering with The Blob effects.
Russell, Gardner, and Irwin also feature on a new commentary track moderated by Joe Lynch, which joins a newly-recorded track with Shawnee Smith and an unnamed moderator. The previously recorded track with Russell and Ryan Turek is also ported over from the Twilight Time release.
Some TV spots, trailers, and stills gallery make up the assorted odds and ends; it should be noted that this release doesnít carry over the isolated score, Cinefamily Q&A, or liner notes from the Twilight Time release, so it technically isnít comprehensive. It is, however, quite impressive, and itís hard to imagine die-hard fans being too displeased with it. Personally, my only ďgripeĒ is that they didnít find a way to include the original VHS art that haunted me as a child on the shelves of my local video store. Of course, if thatís all I can reasonably come up with, itís a sign that Scream Factory has delivered yet again. In fact, in terms of sheer volume, The Blob has to be in the upper echelon of Collectorís Edition releases for the label considering it would consume an entire day to watch every single supplement and listen to each commentary track.
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