Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Remake Comparison Project - Horror Creeps from the Molten Meteor

Cody and Priscilla chill with The Blob, 1958 and 1988.

When Priscilla and I started the Remake Comparison Project, one of the original/remake pairings I was most looking forward to covering was The Blob. My anticipation was enhanced when I found out that she hadn't seen the movies before, or at least couldn't recall watching them, and so not only was I excited to write about them, I was excited to see how she would react to them...

THE BLOB (1958)

Ten years before a young filmmaker named George A. Romero got together with some business associates and friends in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to make an independent feature that would have a massive impact on the horror genre (Night of the Living Dead), Pennsylvania native Jack H. Harris made his own immortal contribution to horror/sci-fi genre pop culture when he decided to produce an independent movie in his home state.

Harris wanted to make a monster movie, and he went to a man named Irvine H. Millgate to come up with the idea for a unique monster that had never been done before. Inspired by a 1950 police report about some kind of pulsating, glowing purple glob that had fallen from the sky near Philadelphia and evaporated as a group of officers looked on, Millgate came up with a story idea called The Molten Meteor, featuring a monster that was referred to as "the mass" and "the glob" before finally being christened The Blob. Millgate's idea was turned into a screenplay by Kate Phillips (a.k.a. Kay Linaker) and Theodore Simonson, and Harris signed local filmmaker Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. to direct the film. Yeaworth was a very religious man, he wanted to make religious movies, and he took a chance on The Blob hoping it would help out his dreams of a cinematic ministry. He ultimately wasn't proud of getting into the monster movie business, but it's for The Blob that he will always be remembered by audiences.

The film begins with an object falling from the sky and smashing into the ground somewhere in the wooded hills of Pennsylvania as two people look on. Unlike in the real life situation that inspired the story idea, the people who witness this event are not a pair of police officers, but a teenage couple who were parking on a lookout point, watching for shooting stars. This star came much closer than they expected - landing so close that they even decide to drive around the countryside to see if they can find where it landed.

The relationship between this young couple is clearly new and sort of awkward. Jane (do not call her "Janey girl") is a good girl, the very prim and proper daughter of their high school's principal, while her boyfriend Steve is a bit of a bad boy who hangs out with a fun-loving crowd that often runs into trouble with their small town's police force due to the pranks they play on each other and the drag racing they do - racing on town streets both forward and backward.

As in a lot movies, the teenagers in this movie are played by actors who are clearly much older than their characters. Steve is famously played by future superstar of coolness Steve McQueen in his first starring role. McQueen was in his late twenties at this point, and is wearing every minute of his life on his face, with maybe some extra to grow on.

Even trying to play cool, fun and funny, McQueen's face already had that serious vibe/look to it that only comes with age. The scenes that show him interacting with local police officer Lt. Dave show it the most. Even though they were born ten years apart, I couldn't see much difference between them in age. I guess Earl Rowe (Lt. Dave) aged well and Steve McQueen didn't. McQueen was great though, like everyone else who has a March 24 birthday.

I always knew Steve McQueen and Priscilla were both extremely cool, but I didn't realize the two were connected in so many ways. Not only did he have the same birthday as her, he also passed away the year she was born.

The meteor fell on the property of an old, shack-dwelling hermit, who goes out to investigate the loud crash-boom of its impact. Following a strange sort of bubbling noise out into the darkness, the old man finds its source in a small crater in his yard. A little, steaming space rock.

The opening scenes make me think of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, with the couple seeing a "shooting star" and the old man with the dog going out to check it. It feels very similar to me.

The Blob was definitely a huge influence on Klowns, although their alien lifeforms are very different.

Prodding the rock with a stick, the old man causes it to crack open and reveal a little, slimy blob within, which he also pokes with the stick, getting some on it for closer inspection. As the old man examines the slime on his stick, it oozes down toward his hand... he turns the stick upside down so the slime won't touch his skin. But this is no ordinary slime, this stuff is some sort of living being, and rather than oozing back down the stick, it leaps forward and attaches itself to his hand.

I can just imagine 1958 audiences screaming when they first saw this slime move on its own and attack the old man.

Watching the movie now, or probably even a few years after its release, is not as effective as it was back then, for obvious reasons. I wish I knew someone who watched this back then. I'm always curious to know how it felt to watch older horror movies and what the reactions to them were like when they first came out, and with this movie I'm sure there were a lot of very freaked out people. Some of the scenes are pretty creepy, especially for back then.

In their search for the meteor's landing spot, Steve and Jane come across the old man stumbling in the road with the blob stuck on his hand. Whatever this slimy stuff is, it's clearly very painful to the man, and it's spreading further and further up his arm, changing color from clear to red as it goes. The teens take the old man to an emergency visit with the local doctor, interrupting him when he's just about to take a trip out of town. While the doc does his best to figure out what's going on he sends Steve and Jane (who also enlist the help of Steve's pals) back out to see if they can find where and how this thing got on the man's hand.

The doctor is able to deduce that the blob is absorbing the man's flesh, growing larger as it eats the old man alive. By the time Steve and Jane get back to the doctor's office after having found the empty space rock on the old man's property, the old man, the doctor, and his nurse have all been consumed by the blob, which escapes out into their town to continue digesting every living thing that crosses its path, growing bigger and bigger as it goes.

The part when Jane and Steve convince Lt. Dave to go to Doctor Hallen's office is one of my favorites because of the old woman who was supposed to be watching the place while the doctor was away. It shows how times have changed when she's all worried about cleaning up the place, even if it means messing up a crime scene. She wants to "dust around the fingerprints" and I find it adorable and hilarious at the same time.

With parents, adults, and authority figures waving off their claims of an all-consuming monster creeping through the streets, the teens struggle to get their fellow residents of Downingtown to believe them before it's too late. At the rate the blob is eating and growing, it's not hard to imagine that this whole town could be wiped out before too long if it's not stopped... But how do you stop something that is just a big blob of sentient slime?

The production of The Blob was quite limited, given that it was made on a budget of just over $100,000, so the gelatinous monster's rampage isn't incredibly spectacular, but the filmmakers do their best to deliver interesting setpieces for the viewer. Characters are stalked through the aisles of a supermarket and chased into the freezer, the blob wraps itself around a burning diner with people trapped inside of it, and in the most popular scene, the blob comes seeping through the projection booth windows in a movie theatre, interrupting the good time the audience is having at the midnight spookshow.

The attack on the movie theatre is both the film's most famous scene and my favorite moment in it. I'm sure audiences who caught theatrical screenings of The Blob at the time got a kick out of watching the monster on the screen ooze its way into a theatre much like the one they were sitting in.

That scene is extremely cool. I wonder if it made people walk out of the theatres back then for real.

The movie that gets interrupted is the experimental cheapie/horror host show regular Daughter of Horror, which producer Jack H. Harris had picked up for distribution a few years earlier. Although the shots of the blob were done in miniature, the interior of the auditorium and the exterior of the theatre were shot at the ("healthfully air conditioned") Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. For the last several summers, Phoenixville has hosted a three-day Blobfest that's centered around the Colonial Theatre, where The Blob and other horror movies are shown and the crowd re-enacts the moment where the frightened audience comes streaming out of the theatre.

The Blob is a very intriguing concept for a monster and it features in a movie that is very enjoyable and charming. The film wears both its low budgetness and its '50s-ness on its sleeve, these things are very obvious when you watch it. It has issues, it's clunky at times, but I still find it to be highly entertaining.

The movie takes itself seriously, but not too seriously to the point where that aspect affects it in a bad way. And every now and then there are light scenes and amusing dialogue... so, as a whole, it works.

Most people didn't expect much from this little production, and distributor Paramount originally purchased it as a B-movie for double features, but it quickly caught on with audiences and gained in popularity, becoming an A-picture that still has legions of fans fifty-six years later. I can see why, and I am one of those fans, I have been ever since I was a little kid. I used to catch airings of this movie regularly on television when I was young, I have fond memories of watching it several times with my maternal grandmother. I watched a lot of monster movies when I was growing up, and The Blob was always one of my favorites.

I must have watched The Blob as a kid, but I have no memories of it. I'm only now watching and remembering, and I can't say I'm a huge fan, at least not yet. Maybe I'll become one with more viewings. I do like it and find it very fun and cool, but it gets a tiny bit slow at times, like some older movies do. I enjoy it, and will watch it occasionally, but I can't say it's one of my favorites yet.

The characters and their dialogue aren't the best, but Steve McQueen is always a captivating actor to watch, even if he was a decade too old for his role. Aneta Corsaut makes for a good heroine, although the character can be a bit bland at times.

Jane is bland like most female characters from movies from around that time. The scene where her father goes to the police station to pick her up sums it up perfectly... he's worried about what people are going to say. Girls are supposed to be perfect ladies, preferably without their own opinions. Even then Jane stood by Steve's side all the way and helped him throughout, so that's something.

There are fun moments with side characters, like when Jane's little brother tries to fend off the blob by firing his toy gun at it (and then tossing the gun at it when he runs out of caps), or the elderly town volunteer who can't figure out what uniform to put on when all of the town's sirens are going off at once, and the (literal) breakthrough moment when Jane's stuffy father has to vandalize his own school to help save his children and the town.

The old couple sleeping in separate beds is something else that shows how times have changed. I always find that weird when I see it in movies from a handful of decades ago.

Jane's little brother Danny is my favorite. What a cute little kid, he's so sweet it makes me want to squeeze his cheeks. Too bad he couldn't get a dog... at least not the one Jane was going to bring him. 

The hermit's dog is a loose thread in the movie. Jane brings it to town, promises it to Danny, but it gets loose and disappears. Characters let Jane know it ran away and wasn't eaten by the blob, as she fears it was, but we still never see it again.

The Blob itself was brought to life through the use of balloons, miniatures, photographs, reverse photography, and primarily silicone gel. Some of that gel still survives to this day. A fan named Wes Shank has a bucketful of it, and often takes the remnants of The Blob around for convention appearances.

No write-up of The Blob is complete without making mention of the film's jaunty theme song, which was performed by a group formed specifically to record this tune and was headed up by Burt Bacharach. This song was added by Paramount after they bought the movie, and even though it's ridiculous, it is undeniably fun. It's the sort of song that instantly becomes stuck in your head forever. Fair warning: if you're going to watch this movie, be prepared to find yourself singing "Beware of The Blob, it creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor..." to yourself at random moments for the rest of your life.

The happy and fun tone of the theme song shouldn't go with the movie at all, but it does. And it's something that I was a little "uh...what?" about, watching the movie for the first time, but at the end of the day, it is a fun movie. I don't know if it was meant to be so much more fun than scary, but it is.

THE BLOB (1988)

After its fellow '50s sci-fi horrors The Thing from Another World and The Fly were remade into John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing and David Cronenberg's 1986 The Fly, it makes sense that The Blob would be in line for the '80s revival treatment. Tasked with the job of bringing the monster back to the screen just in time for its 30th anniversary were the team of director Chuck Russell and his co-writer Frank Darabont, a hire that made a great deal of sense given the success that pair had in the horror genre with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors in 1986.

Russell and Darabont moved the setting from Downingtown, Pennsylvania to Arborville, California, a ski resort town that has been hit by a lack of snow the last couple years. Rather than start the film out with the blob-bringing meteor streaking across the night sky in the first scene, as the original film did, the remake takes some time to establish some characters and its location first.

The opening has a dreary feeling to it with the almost somber score and empty town. It looks like a ghost town, where some catastrophe happened and took away all of the people who lived there. Turns out they were all at the high school football game.

I prefer the way the original starts, the more romantic, mysterious and yet cut to the chase aspect of it is more appealing to me, even though I understand they wanted to show a little more of the place and main characters before anything else happened in the remake. 

Among the characters we're introduced to in the film's early scenes are football player Paul Taylor, who asks cheerleader Meg Penny out on a date after he gets flattened on the field; Sheriff Herb Geller, who has a romantic interest of his own in diner proprietor Fran Hewitt; and teenage troublemaker Brian Flagg, who's out smoking, drinking, and riding his motorcycle in the mountains while his peers are at the football game.

Flagg is pals with mechanic Moss Woodley, who is getting some snowmaker trucks ready for the city in preparation for the tourist season, despite the unseasonably warm weather pointing to this being another disappointing year for the skiing business.

Another character we meet is a homeless man, credited as the Can Man, who roams the outskirts of town collecting aluminum cans and appears to reside in the local junkyard.

Before ushering the comic book adaptation The Walking Dead onto television screens, Frank Darabont was best known for his Stephen King adaptations: The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, The Green Mile. Darabont made his writing/directing debut with the 1983 short film King adaptation The Woman in the Room, and even though The Blob has nothing to do with Stephen King, Darabont still worked in some references to the author's work, specifically references to the novel The Stand. Flagg is a name from The Stand, and the Can Man name is a variation on a King character called the Trashcan Man.

Speaking of The Walking Dead, I liked seeing Dale/Jeffrey DeMunn as the sheriff. His "face" in the phone booth scene is terrifying.

Once night falls, it's the Can Man who is nearby when the blob-carrying meteor comes crashing down to the ground. Like the ill-fated hermit in the 1958 Blob, the Can Man goes to investigate the landing site. Within a crater, the Can Man finds a large, steaming rock that has cracked open to reveal that it's filled with some kind of rolling, bubbling goo. The Can Man prods a stick into the rock, and some of the clear, slimy substance wraps itself around the end of the stick. He lifts the stick up out of the crater to give the slime a closer inspection... and the slime leaps up the stick, attaching itself to his hand and causing the Can Man to scream out in pain.

I think the blob moving up the stick was more effective in the original film, even though the effect looks better in the remake.

The effect is better made in the remake, but I think it looks and works better in the original.

The blob is so painful that Can Man even attempts to hack off his own hand with a hatchet to be rid of it, but as soon as the hatchet blade has broken the skin, the blob moves further up Can Man's arm to slurp up that yummy blood.

When Paul's friend Scott is caught buying ribbed condoms at the pharmacy by his church leader Reverend Meeker, Scott blames the purchase on Paul and makes him out to be some kind of lascivious predator. So Paul and Meg's date gets off to a bumpy start when the pharmacist turned out to be her father.

That is the funniest part and one of my favorites. What a friend Scott turns out to be! Poor Paul, all innocent, has no idea what's going on in Scott's conversation over there with the pharmacist and the Reverend.

The pair manages to work their way through that misunderstanding, but their date is really ruined when Can Man runs out into the road in front of Paul's car with the blob eating away at his hand.

Flagg is also on the scene, trying to help Can Man, but his reputation causes Paul to blame him for the situation. Paul, Meg, and Flagg take Can Man to the local hospital. In The Blob '58, Downingtown was served by a single doctor with a small office, so the blob-handed hermit got the doc's full attention. Arborville's hospital is much larger, its staff much less attentive. The blob has consumed half of Can Man's body before a doctor even sees him.

While the original blob merely enveloped and absorbed its victims, the '88 blob has acidic qualities, it's corrosive. It leaves the remains of Can Man's body steaming, his bodily fluids so warm that they're bubbling. After seeing Can Man's body, Paul goes into an office to call the police, not knowing that the blob is crawling up onto the ceiling of the room. It drips slime that falls onto the desk, bubbling and eating away at the wood.

Since they're in a similar situation, viewers may expect Paul and Meg to be this film's version of the characters Steve and Jane, the new young couple who became the hero and heroine of The Blob '58 after their date was interrupted by the arrival of the space creature. Russell and Darabont throw a twist in when Paul is attacked by the blob in the hospital and fully devoured in front of Meg's eyes. (Well, the blob does leave behind his right arm.) Actor Donovan Leitch was not this film's Steve McQueen after all.

It was a shock to see Paul being killed off so fast, and at all, really. I might be biased, because I adore Donovan Leitch, and he's in one of my favorite movies ever. Not a lot of people have seen it, but The In Crowd has been a dear movie to me ever since I first watched it, when I was 7 or 8 years old. So, in my opinion, Donovan should've played Brian. He'd have done a better job than Kevin Dillon, and I'd have liked the movie even more, having him around for longer.

The blob escapes from the hospital and begins making its way throughout Arborville, consuming every living thing it comes across, growing bigger and bigger as it does.

In a scene reminiscent of an '80s slasher movie but also a throwback to the opening scene of the original film, the blob's first victims after the hospital are Paul's friend Scott and Vicki, the young woman he had in mind when he was buying those ribbed condoms, as they're parked on a wooded hill that overlooks the hospital.

Scott is a total creep. He attempts to make Vicki feel special by giving her a class ring, but he has a box full of the exact same rings in his trunk. Also in his trunk is a mini-basketball hoop, some breath spray, and a full bar. He has got quite a set-up. He's doing his best to get Vicki drunk enough to put out for him, serving her mixed drink after drink. But if she passes out instead, that's fine with Scott. He's not averse to date rape.

It's unfortunate for Vicki, but Scott gets what's coming to him when he finds that she is enveloped by the blob while he's trying to feel up her seemingly unconscious body. In another new twist to the creature, this blob also has tentacles that can whip out and wrap around its human meals, as Scott discovers in his final moments.

Scott is scarier than the blob itself. The scene when he goes back inside the car is probably my favorite kill. Not only did he get what he deserved, but the blob's tentacles look really cool and powerful.

Flagg is questioned by the police about the incident at the hospital, but clearly couldn't be guilty of what was done to Can Man and Paul. He's released from the police station just in time for Meg to seek him out. Since they're the only people who know what's really going on, she feels they have to do something to stop the blob.

And so Meg and Flagg are now established as this film's heroine and hero, and they are a good match. They both have terrible hair. As Flagg, Kevin Dillon is sporting a nightmare mullet, and I don't know what was going on with Shawnee Smith's hair when she was playing Meg.

I don't know, either. The length of Meg's hair looked kind of fake, and it was almost a different mullet version in the front. Very weird. I still think Paul and Meg were a better match, though.

Soon after Meg and Flagg pair up, they're forced to live out a scene like Steve and Jane experienced in the original film; when the diner is attacked by the blob and the cook and Fran killed in horrific ways, Meg and Flagg are chased by the sentient slime into the diner's freezer... and that's when they discover that the blob does not like the cold.

Any good remake should also include its own take on its predecessor's most popular moment, and The Blob '88 does just that when it attacks the town movie theatre, where Meg's younger brother Kevin is attending a screening of a Friday the 13th rip-off called Garden Tool Massacre, a "slice and dice" flick featuring a hockey masked madman. The blob eats the projectionist, then comes bubbling into the screening room, snatching people out of the audience.

I like the fake movie showed in the remake better than the one showed in the original, for obvious reasons. But Kevin has nothing on Danny... not even close. Plus, like I said before... the effects are way bigger here, that could mean better to some, but not to me. The theatre part is huge in the remake, yet I'd pick the simpler, scarier effects we have in the original.

Concurrent to this bigger version of the theatre sequence going down, the film is also entering entirely new territory. Just over halfway in, there's a twist that takes this iteration of the story in a different direction than the original film. A twist that begins with the arrival of hazmat suit-wearing government agents, a "Biological Containment Team".

As the film progresses, the characters and the audience will come to realize that this blob isn't just a creature from outer space. This blob is a product of the U.S. government, having started off as an experimental virus developed for national defense purposes. Launched into space, the virus mutated, becoming a predatory plasmic lifeform. This wasn't a meteor that landed in Arborville, it was a scientific satellite... And if these government agents can't properly contain the blob now, the country could be wiped out within a week by this thing that was designed to defend it.

This is when it goes downhill a little bit. In the original, it felt like they were all alone, as a small town, battling with something so big, so unexplainable and invincible that there was no chance they could ever survive. But the whole mutant bacteria/quarantine explanation added in the remake really takes away the mystery. It is pure action after that but that aspect isn't something I'd choose to include in the movie.

The remake's scientific twist on the blob works alright for me, I think it's an interesting alternate approach to the creature.

The filmmakers had a much bigger budget to work with on this movie than the makers of the original had, according to internet trivia The Blob '88 had a budget of $19 million, with almost half of that going toward the special effects. Due to its budget size and the presence of the Biological Containment Team, the third act of the remake plays out on a much bigger scale than anything in The Blob '58. There's machine gun fire, explosions, rocket launchers, vehicular mayhem, and an elaborate chase through the city sewer system.

The scope of The Blob '88 is very impressive, the action and suspense sequences are really fun and exciting. While the original film was an independent production with a minuscule budget, this Blob had the power of Hollywood behind it, and Russell and Darabont put their budget to great use, making their version of The Blob a monster movie spectacular.

The film is helped out by the fact that it was produced in the greatest era for practical effects. The effects for this blob, brought to the screen by FX artist Tony Gardner and his crew, are incredible.

I feel like the blob here is nastier. It looks extremely gross and elaborate, and they did an amazing job, it looks very impressive and it's massive. But I still think that the blob looks scarier in the original. Maybe it's because they show it a lot in the remake, so it's not as effective as it should be. But it is nasty.

The makers of the original just had some colored silicone and balloons to pull off their blob with, while the special effects crew on the remake were able to make their blob seem like a real, living being. It has a muscular feeling to it, and is more clearly conscious of the way it's moving toward its victims. For me, this is definitely a case where updated effects were able to improve on a classic monster. This new age of effects also allowed the filmmakers to give some of their characters horrendous and memorable death scenes.

I do love how the blob looks frozen. It's shiny and pinkish. Very girly and pretty. I wouldn't want to have a piece near me, though.

Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont did a fantastic job bringing The Blob into the modern age, and in doing so built a film around it that feels like a blockbuster event picture. Apparently the film didn't even come close to recouping its budget during its theatrical release, but it deserved to be huge.

The door was left wide open for a sequel, as there's an epilogue which features Reverend Meeker, scarred and driven mad by his encounter with the blob, keeping a fragment of the monster in a jar and looking forward to a day when God will give him a sign that he should unleash it... Unfortunately, a sequel was never produced to pick up on that thread.

In recent years, there has been talk of another Blob remake and attempts to get it off the ground. Following the release of his Halloween II in 2009, Rob Zombie was briefly attached to write and direct a new version of The Blob, and famously said that his take on it would not feature "a big red blobby thing", which made spectators wonder how you could make The Blob without the blob. We were never to find out, as Zombie dropped off the project soon after that.

Thank goodness for that. He'd probably make the blob a big dildo or something. I do not want to even think about the possibilities any further. I'm just thankful it didn't happen and hope it never will.

Before Zombie, Chad and Carey Hayes (who scripted the 2005 House of Wax remake) wrote a screenplay for a remake which would have had a lighter tone, something along the lines of Shaun of the Dead, and in which the blob again would've been a government creation, the name B.L.O.B. being an acronym for Biological Lethal Organic Bomb. The Hayes brothers were especially proud of a sequence they wrote that pitted three characters against the blob at the same time that they're fending off six hammerhead sharks. A sequence that will never make it to the screen.

That doesn't sound ideal, but I'd surely pick this over having Zombie involved.

There has been no news on a new Blob film since Rob Zombie abandoned it, but I hold onto hope that the blob will someday return to the screen. I think the big red blobby thing still has some life left in it.

In the meantime, I do have two great versions of the story to enjoy. Like the original movie, the remake has always been one of my favorites, I've been viewing them regularly since childhood and continue to do so. It's pretty amazing how entertaining films about a mass of slime can be.

This one, like the original, is only now being watched by me. I still don't know how those movies passed me by for all these years, and I have Cody to thank for suggesting them and making it possible for me to watch them. The original can be a little slow at times, and the remake is action all the way. They're pretty different with a few obvious similarities... if I had to pick one, it'd be tough. I'll probably keep watching both of them every time I feel like watching some killer bubble thingy.

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