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Examining Hollywood Remakes: The Blob

Examining Hollywood Remakes: The Blob

Our series on big-screen remakes continues with a cult horror film that kickstarted the illustrious career of Steve McQueen. This week, Cinelinx looks at The Blob (1958 vs. 1988).  Come inside to see how these two films stack up.  

The original version of The Blob was a low-budget monster film made for $110,000. The titular creature was originally supposed to be called The Molten Meteor Monster, which then was changed to The Mass, which turned into The Glob, and FINALLY The Blob. The film's tongue-in-cheek title song was written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, which became a hit. The movie was directed by Irvin Yeaworth who specialized in directing motivational educational and religious films, so this was a departure for him. The film was a moderate success, grossing over $4 million, although the critics weren’t overly kind. It has a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite its cheesiness, its reputation has grown over the years to become a cult favorite.

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This movie is probably most notable as the first big screen leading role for the soon-to-be-major-star Steve McQueen, who reportedly didn’t like the script and only took this role because he was broke and needed money to pay the rent.

The plot of the 1958 version is as follows: one night in a small Pennsylvania town in 1957, teenager Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and his girlfriend, Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut), are making out on Lovers Lane when they see a meteor crash and Steve decides to go look for it. An old man (Olin Howland) finds it first, but upon discovery it breaks open and the small ooze-like blob inside adheres to his hand. In pain and unable to scrape or shake it loose, the old man runs frantically onto the road where he is nearly struck by Steve's car. Steve and Jane take him to the town Doctor (Stephen Chase). The Doc decides to amputate the old man’s arm before the expanding Blob covers the man. However, The Blob kills both the Doctor and his nurse. The teens witness this and go to the police but with no bodies to be found, the teens are accused of faking the incident. The police call their parents who take them home but they sneak out again.

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The Blob continues to chow down on some local townspeople while Steve gathers his friends to play Paul Revere and warn the town. They discover the Blob again in a grocery store, making a snack out of a janitor but once again, when the police arrive, there is no body and no Blob. Steve and Jane are vindicated when the now-giant Blob attacks the movie theater, causing a panic. Jane’s annoying kid brother Danny tries to kill the Blob with a cap gun so Jane and Steve save him by grabbing him and dragging him into diner, which is quickly covered by the gigantic Blob. Hiding in the cooler, they realize that the Blob is vulnerable to cold. Getting the message out by phone, the cops and some other townspeople use fire extinguishers to freeze the Blob. The military comes to carry it to the arctic, where the words “The End?” appear, with a question mark, indicating a possible sequel (Which came out in 1972, called Beware the Blob).

The remake came out 30 years later and was originally conceived as a continuation of the previous two Blob films but was changed into a total reboot when the filmmakers decided they wanted the new Blob to be man-made instead of an alien. The premise of the new film is that the Blob was genetically created by the government as a biological weapon, reflecting the more cynical attitude of the 1980s.

The remake was directed by Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, Eraser, The Scorpion King) and written by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and the Walking Dead TV series). It didn’t have a star like McQueen, so the lead role went to Kevin Dillon. Like the original, the box office and the reviews were both mediocre, getting a 61% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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The plot of the 1988 remake goes like this: A small satellite crashes near Arborville, California. An elderly transient discovers the sphere, out of which comes a glistening, amorphous, expanding organism that latches on to his hand, causing him pain. He is found by young Meg (Shawnee Smith) and Paul (Donovan Leitch) who are on their first date. Cool, rebellious Brian (Kevin Dillion) is also at the hospital, having hurt himself in a failed motorcycle stunt. He finds that the old man has been mostly devoured, just as the Blob attacks. Meg sees Paul get eaten by the Blob. When the police don’t believe them, they go to a diner to discuss it, where a repairman is sucked down into a drain by a tendril from the Blob. They hide in a freezer, causing the Blob to retreat. After eating the diner staff and the sheriff, the Blob goes into the sewer.

A military containment unit arrives under the supervision of Dr. Meddows who wants the town quarantined. Brian escapes on his motorcycle and Jane is taken home where she finds that her younger brother Kevin has slipped out to meet with his pal Eddie. They are at the movies, so Jane goes to fetch him, worried about Kevin's safety. She rescues the boys from the theater just as the Blob attacks, and they end up hiding in the sewer. Brian eavesdrops on the military guys and learns that the Blob is a biological weapon created during the Cold War and was launched into space because it was deemed too dangerous and uncontrollable. Learning that the Blob is hiding in the sewers, Meddows decides to trap it there, which would mean killing Meg, Kevin, and Eddie. Brian is discovered listening but evades the military personnel and drives his motorcycle into the sewers, where he rescues Meg (Eddie and Kevin have already escaped.)  

Brian confronts Meddows in public, revealing his plans. Meddows tries to convince everyone that Brian is affected by a biological contagion but before he can fool anyone, the Blob attacks and kills Meddows. The Blob rampages around town, making a buffet out of Arborville, until Meg accidentally discovers the Blob’s weakness when she uses a fire extinguisher to douse the local priest (Del Close) who was set on fire. Remembering the freezer, she makes the connection, and so Brian steals a snowmaker truck filled with liquid nitrogen and Meg uses an explosive taken from the soldiers to blow it up, freezing the Blob. In the epilogue, we see the burned, deformed Priest preaching the imminent coming of doomsday, because he has a surviving piece of the Blob preserved in a jar; hinting at a sequel that never happened.

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The biggest difference in the two films is the nature of the Blob itself. The first film gives us an expanding alien entity that absorbs and digests people, allowing it to grow. In the remake, the newer version is a microbial living-colony which not only grows, but also splits into multiple sections, allowing for simultaneous attacks in multiple locations. This new Blob also invades the bodies of its victims and pops out of the remnants of a previous host to attack a new victim. The original Blob slowly oozed around, while the newer version slides along more quickly and strikes using rather phallic tentacles.

The FX in the original weren’t too bad for 1958, although the newer one looks much better. It was made in the pre-CGI era and used old-style visual which were very effective, and evoke a time when SFX for monster/horror movies were done the hard way, showing the dedication of the filmmakers. Helmed by Russell and Darabont, who have a stronger pedigree than Yeaworth, the film has superior production values than the B-picture original.

Kevin Dillon is sufficiently serviceable as the rebel-without-a-cause who finds himself in the reluctant role of hero but Dillon is no Steve McQueen. While this is very early in McQueens’ career—before he did Wanted Dead or Alive, and ultimately became “the King of cool”, starring in films like Bullit, The Thomas Crown Affair, Papillon, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Towering Inferno among others—McQueen still has more screen presence than Kevin Dillon ever could. He was a great star.

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So which is better? Honestly, neither is actually a great film. However, there’s a simple, cheesy charm to the unpretentious original. The remake tries a lot harder to achieve basically the same result. It had a larger budget and several talented people behind the camera, yet only manages to create something tepid and moderately entertaining. Despite its advantages, it’s no more impressive than the 1958 version and is actually less memorable. The 1958 Blob’s famous attack-on-the-movie-theater sequence is reenacted annually in “Blobfest” in the town of Phoenixville PA, which was one of the filming locations. Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor, or the fact that it launched McQueen’s career, but I’ll have to go with the original as the more fun and enjoyable of the two. It's understandable how the first version has developed into a cult favorite.

So that’s all for this week’s look at a remade Hollywood film. We’ll be back next week to look at another one. Until then, feel free to look up our previous articles Examining Hollywood Remakes.