2.17.2007

Blobs

Every now and then, my randomness in choosing which movies to watch dissipates in the face of a theme. A few weeks ago it was boxing movies, when I watched all six Rocky movies followed by Cinderella Man. Now I've been on a Blob kick.

First I watched 1988's The Blob, on B13's recommendation. It was a little cheesy at times, but boasted some decent ‘80s effects, styles, and twists. An amorphous pink shape from the stars consumes all in its path, and only Kevin Dillon, the town's juvenile delinquent, can stop it. Blink and you'll miss Paul McCrane as a police officer who'd rather arrest Dillon's character than believe his outrageous stories. I enjoyed it, and definitely remember catching parts of it when I was younger. ”So that's what that movie was,” I thought.

When my theme was Steve McQueen at one point last year, I rented The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, and The Towering Inferno, though not in chronological order or back-to-back. One or two of those I probably watched in 2005, to be honest. But despite a memorable reference to it in an episode of Red Dwarf, I had never seen the original Blob. The fifties were an innocent time, and the things McQueen gets in trouble for with the law are harmless compared to the things Dillon did. Actually, other than wearing long hair, shades and a leather jacket, riding a motorbike, and a having a general bad attitude, I'm not sure why he was the town trouble maker. I guess the ‘80s were pretty innocuous in hindsight too.

The story is basically the same. A meteor crashes, carrying an alien life form, though in the remake the origins were more surprising and in keeping with the times. The thing can go anywhere and devour anyone, but the body count is much lower, remaining in single digits for most of the film. I feared for the safety of a little dog more than once, but even in the fifties the dog always gets away. To enjoy the film, you definitely need to put yourself in an old-timey mindset, because people definitely don't talk the way they did half a century ago. Of course, since cinema is my only real basis for how people spoke, I'm not sure how accurate my impression is.

Ultimately, they discover the creature's weakness: extreme cold. The little dog is free to live with the leading lady's kid brother, since the old man who fed him was the first victim of the blob. McQueen is free grow up to go on to far better roles and performances before succumbing to cancer in 1980. The blob is not free. A voiceover and what may have been stock footage of helicopters ends the film, as we're told the creature is being carted off to the arctic, where it will never, ever trouble anyone again.

My words have oozed through this post, growing with each paragraph. The momentum is unstoppable, riotous readers, and now I must spoil one of the worst film's I have ever seen. Beware! The Blob is a rare film in that it warns the viewer from the outset, should that person be savvy enough to note the title. I had watched two science fiction classics from different eras with different budgets. How bad could a loose sequel to the original movie be?

In my memory, there was a movie in my childhood with a major city like New York, and the blob rolling down blocks, consuming vehicles and pedestrians and tanks. I don't know what that movie is, if it was something I dreamed, or part of something satirizing any or all of the three Blob films I've now watched. I wanted to find this movie, and when it wasn't The Blob or its remake, I cautiously turned to the sequel. That wasn’t the movie, either, not even close.

Larry Hagman directed it, and has a cameo as a homeless man, alongside a literally slumming Burgess Meredith. Cindy Williams is in it briefly as one of many stupid, stupid teenagers. Apparently, all teenagers had long hair and were on drugs in the early 70s, keeping the 60s alive. If nothing else, they captured the zeitgeist, but then he got out and slimed everything.

For four solid minutes as weird atonal circus music plays, we watch an adorable kitten playing in a field. These are the opening credits to a movie about an inescapable mass that digests and consumes. The little dog got away in the ‘50s, but all bets were off for the cute kitten. When the credits finish, the camera finally pans back and we meet this little cat's owners. The wife is rebuking the husband for going fishing so soon after his trip to the arctic, but is glad he's home. He's brought a sample of something home in a thermos, and thankfully it stayed frozen until the movie started.

I will say that while McQueen and company did a lot of reacting to something we didn't always see, this film animated the thing shooting out and latching on to its prey. The acting was pretty poor and the whole thing felt like a drug trip of some kind, not just the stoned teens but the way it would jarringly go from random vignette to random vignette. One minute a woman steps in Blob and is screaming, then suddenly Dick Van Patten is leading young boys through a field of mustard plants as the world's creepiest scout master. If I were a parent, I'd probably feel safer with the Blob watching my kid. With Hagman, van Patten, Williams among the television stars popping up, it felt like a prequel to Circus of the Stars.

Here’s one of many things that confused me: the guy that brings the Blob back from the Arctic is sitting in his lounge chair in the beginning of the movie, watching something on television. What is he watching? He’s watching The Blob. Maybe if he saw the end of the movie, he would know better than to bring the thing back with him. Yet, if it was just a movie in his continuity, why was the Blob real? Was the film based on actual events? Am I putting more thought into this than Larry Hagman? Let’s go with that last one.

We'll skip the repetitive encounters and the numerous stupid people who approach the thing even when they've been warned or just saw it dissolve their friends. Forget the running gag of the irate driver who's upset that the girl keeps cutting him off in traffic while racing to warn people. It all culminates at a bowling alley and an adjoining ice rink. The rink isn't active, and the Blob is the size of the building by the time it has the main teenage couple trapped in a back room with some random dude that I've seen in other things but am actually too lazy to check who played him or what his role was in this movie. If you know me, you know that means it was bad. I just don't care.

So, as with every Blob film, the kid figures out how to defeat it with ten minutes to spare. In the remake, characters seek shelter in a freezer and the creature cannot follow them. In the original, McQueen is using a fire extinguisher on a small fire when he accidentally notices the effect of it on his adversary. In this sequel, the main kid knocks over a tray of ice cubes. It's just that exciting. The Blob fragment in the room with them dissolves to nothing before the might of ice cubes.

Outside, the crack police team has decided their only recourse is to burn down the building, innocents and all. Inside, the kids ask the owner how to turn on the ice, and after a daring climb across some wires, the boy makes it to a junction box. Apparently, ice rinks freeze the second you throw a switch. Even at my age, I'm still learning things. Outside, “tension” builds as the sheriff tries in vain to find a match or a lighter. One of the boy scouts comes through, and as the sheriff lights a piece of paper, our protagonist runs out of the darkness slaps the paper out of his hand, and shouts, “It’s over, man; we stopped it! ...We froze that damn thing... Come on, I'll show you.” in a breathless monotone.

I wavered throughout the film. Was it a B-movie? Could there be camp value and intentionally bad acting? I think intent is key, and if a film sets out to be serious and fails, it's different from one that ‘s laughing at the genre from the get-go. In the final scene, we see that the ice rink is a winter wonderland with little slopes and hills. Seriously, that's one powerful freezing mechanism. In a bit of extraordinary telegraphing, a reporter asks a camera man to set a hot light down behind the sheriff for their interview. Camera rolling, the law officer goes in to a speech about how lives were saved and the world itself may have been in peril. Behind him, no one is paying attention to the hot bulb sitting right on top of one of the icy mounds, as something crimson oozes out, rolls down, and gathers at the cop's heel. We end on his face as he finishes his speech, glances down, then looks up. We freeze frame on his horror and confusion as the words “THE END?” melt down the left side of the screen. Thanks, Larry Hagman. Thanks a lot.

I'm done with this theme for now. Honestly, while I enjoyed the original and the remake, neither were as terrifying as the black goo in the lake in Creepshow 2 that slowly devours the kids on that raft. That one gave me nightmares when I was a kid, and made me even more wary of water. Someday though, I'd love to see a big budget Blob film with a large ensemble and full special effects. Bay and Bruckheimer and Affleck could...could...oh right, never mind.

Then again, a feature film with a Depp or a DiCaprio in the lead, maybe a Portman or a Johansson as the leading lady, with Peter Jackson directing...now that has potential...

3 Comments:

Blogger b13 said...

Hmmm... with all this global warming BS is the blob really out of commision? Regarding the ice rink... haven't you ever seen that episode of Tom & Jerry? And finally... have you ever seen "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (the original and the remake with Donald Sutherland?)

"BEWARE OF THE BLOB... It creeps, it leaps, it glides and slides across the floor, and through the door....."

2/17/2007 11:27 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow said...

I recall when Beware! The Blob came out, and it was truly a dreadful excuse for a film.

As you mention, however, B!TB did boast an incredible number of C-list celebrity cameos. Then-popular comedian Godfrey Cambridge is the guy who watches the original Blob on TV before meeting his inevitable demise.

2/18/2007 5:24 PM  
Blogger Kev said...

MCF do you listen to podcasts?
You might like The Podculture Network (podculture.net). They have a segment on the best of the worst movies called Glenn's Guilty Pleasures. Actually, the website has many more movies that what he's reviewed on the `cast.

You might find some treasures there.

Hope your arm gets better without any medical intervention.

2/18/2007 6:15 PM  

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