Robin’s Underrated Gems: The Blob (1988)

Since one of our upcoming editions of “Shouts From the Back Row” is going to focus on the subject of remakes, I found it only appropriate that this week’s column focus on one of the more underrated remakes of all time: the 1988 version of The Blob. In short, this is my ideal model of what a good remake should be: a huge improvement over the original film, which may have been a widely recognized cult classic, but wasn’t actually, you know… good! The original 1958 version of The Blob was one of the most popular drive-in B-movies of its time and was renowned for jumpstarting the career of Steve McQueen, who was cast as one of the oldest-looking teenagers in cinema history.

Seriously, this guy is supposed to be a teenager!

Admittedly, the film does offer its fair share of cheesy fun, but because of budgetary reasons, there are an awful lot of long stretches where the Blob isn’t even on screen. Instead, we get an endless amount of boring padded scenes of McQueen arguing with the cops who don’t believe this crazy kid’s stories about a giant Blob. Unlike many of the remakes that are released today, the horror remakes of the eighties didn’t feel unnecessary and redundant because a lot of them (The Thing, Cat People, The Fly) were fresh new versions of older films that had good ideas, but also were made at a time when they were restricted by budgetary limitations and censorship issues. The Blob seemed like an ideal choice for a remake since a lot of really fun things could be done with its storyline with the aid of a higher budget and more advanced special effects (not to mention an “R” rating). I’d say the 1988 version of The Blob is leaps and bounds above the original film, but unfortunately, it was a box-office flop and has never really gotten the recognition it deserves. Surprisingly, another remake of The Blob has been planned with Rob Zombie being hired to direct it and he says he doesn’t want to have a blob in it (???). I’m sorry, but the 1988 remake already got it right the first time.

The plot of The Blob remake is just as simplistic as it was in the original film. A meteorite crashes near a small town, which unleashes a spherical gelatinous lifeform called “the Blob” which gradually starts growing in size and devouring everything in its path. Like in the original, a clean-cut teenage couple, Paul (Donovan Leitch) and Meg (Shawnee Smith) are among the first people to see it, but have trouble getting anyone to believe them, especially since they’re also accompanied by Brian (Kevin Dillon, sporting a killer eighties mullet!) a rebellious, motorcycle-riding troublemaker who is not popular with the police. This time around, however, the filmmakers throw a lot of interesting new twists and surprises into the plot. While the original film didn’t provide any explanation for the Blob’s origin, here it’s revealed that the Blob is a man-made government experiment gone horribly awry. It’s not long the military is showing up to quarantine the town and they consider the lives of the citizens to be secondary to preserving their biological weapon. Now, the idea of a giant gelatinous blob killing people is such an absurd premise that it probably seemed like a risky idea to try and adapt it for a modern audience, but this is a first-rate production all the way and about as good killer blob movie could probably get. As you’d expect, the film has a nice tongue-in-cheek sense of humour about itself and delivers some pretty fun death scenes, which often manage to be harrowing and humourous at the same time.

The director here is Chuck Russell, who previously did the solid A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, which I consider the best of the Elm Street sequels. After The Blob, he would pretty much disappear for six years before directing his first bonafide Hollywood blockbuster, The Mask. While he directs a lot of the film with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t keep the audience on its toes. The movie was co-written by Russell and Frank Darabont, who did a lot of work as a horror screenwriter before The Shawshank Redemption made him a renowned director. With most horror films, you can accurately predict which characters are going to be killed off and when, as he demonstrated with The Mist, Darabont likes horror stories where any character could conceivably be killed off at any time. I can honestly say that I was genuinely surprised when certain characters in The Blob were killed off and the film establishes pretty early on that no one is safe. I mean, would you believe that the following image from the movie is a little kid?!

One of the drawbacks of the original film is that the Blob moved so slowly and it seemed like you’d have to be a major idiot to get swallowed up by it, but here, the Blob is quite a menacing creation and could easily attack you from anywhere. The most classic death scene in the movie is undeniably this one, where the Blob manages to pull one of its victim through the drain of a sink!

Anyway, like I said before, The Blob does what any good remake should do by correcting the mistakes of the original. It has superior production values, much better pacing, and more likable and entertaining characters. In particular, Shawnee Smith is a very strong and appealing heroine here and I’m quite happy that she’s gained new popularity for her recurring role as Amanda in the Saw series. The special effects are also terrific and easily frightened viewers may be surprised by how much they find themselves cowering when the Blob is on screen. If this film were made today, it’s almost certain that the special effects would be created entirely with CGI and rob the Blob of a lot of its charm. That is just one reason why I’m not overjoyed that they’re planning to try another remake of this. This version of The Blob is not just a great remake, but is also a very solid, well-made, tremendously entertaining monster movie. As much as I may bitch about the plethora of remakes these days, I wouldn’t mind seeing so many of them if they were all as fun as The Blob. Now, as a special reward to all of you who have read this far, I shall now send you off with the original 1958 Blob title song, composed by Burt Bacharach!

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