Lo and Behold, Criterion has genre films - no, it's not just Bergman's entire catalog or the obscure films of Robert Downey Sr - and they are an... odd lot. There's some major names like the original Japanese Godzilla (or 'Gojira'), a few by Terry Gilliam, two Michael Bay schlockbusters from the 90's (I imagine those were Criterion cemented during a drunken practical joke at the office), and even RoboCop and John Woo's The Killer (both OOP). Often the "genre" films come from reputable auteurs...
And then there's THE BLOB(!) Hmm...
What is The Blob by... hey, is Irvin S. Yeaworth in the auteur canon yet? Don't remember him showing up in 'Who the Devil Made it' by Bogdanovich. But anyway, Steve McQueen (as, well 'Steve' is his name, more on that in a moment) and Aneta Corsault are having, uh, 'heavy petting' or close to it when a meteor (that at first seems like a shooting star) hits the earth right near them in their small town. A farmer comes by and looks at it, and it cracks open and out comes a small, amorphous thing that clings tenaciously to this farmer's hand. He's taken to a doctor soon after by McQueen and the doctor looks at it and... well, he doesn't know what it is, and very soon after the doctor is over-taken by this... 'thing'. Shucks, can't call it that, that was the Hawks picture, remember!
This is apparently a much beloved science fiction space-invader movie, to the point that not only did it get the Criterion treatment (mostly likely picked by someone who had a deep nostalgic affection), but recently restored in full digital blu-ray splendor. I can see why it would captivate some audiences for the time: this was a "B-movie", but presented by Paramount pictures, not just some rinky-dink company or Roger Corman (though with the latter I could imagine some more hilarity to ensue, intentional or otherwise). It had something of a budget, even as it was made independently and later picked up by the company (this I found out as I was typing this so forgive me), and went on to make a lot of money. My question by the end of it was... why did this blow so many people away outside of the blob? Or was that it?
I think the answer to my own question should go with the latter, and that/it is the star of the movie. It was created with a weather balloon and with colored silicone gel, depending on the shots, and by the end it really takes center stage as well it should. Maybe its sparing appearances early on make it all the more of an attraction for when it makes its big appearance at the movie theater - a sequence that most horror fans have seen even if they've never seen the movie (it often pops up in montages of 50's sci-fi/horror in documentaries and retrospectives and so on), and it's iconic for a reason: it takes on a meta quality, not unlike something out of Scream many decades before, by a horror movie coming to play as a horror movie is being watched by some townspeople.
The filmmakers were clearly conscious of this (I shouldn't think the people behind this were stupid or didn't know what they were doing, unlike other B schlock filmmakers of the period), and it adds a real sense of thrill and satire. It's like: hey, we're in a MOVIE, folks! You better hold on to your seats or the pretty girl you got as your date for this one (and better hope someone doesn't make a movie about someone watching the movie theater scene of The Blob where characters are watching a horror movie too... see how weird that gets?)
|Truth be told if you told me this was a gummi-hand, I'd try to eat it... on a dare, of course, of course...|
But aside from McQueen, who does his best with a character who's one motivation is "Look, you gotta believe me!" and that's the thrust of the conflict like, hey, who's gonna believe this young kid (who's actually a 27 year old actor by this point) is seeing what he's seeing, the cast is standard at best, and weak at worst (notice the little boy and how terrible he is at his lines).
Again, compared to the kinds of monster movies being made at the same period of time - think Attack of the Crab Monsters or whatever THEN! knock-offs were coming out in the mid 50's - this has production value and a couple of decently acted scenes. The highlight of which, and this probably kicks off the last half hour and this part works the best, is a scene in a super-market where Steve and Jane sneak about to see if the blob is in there and (eep!) Jane finally sees it with her own eyes. But all the characters are stock and there's nothing really 'going on' as it were in the movie past the monster itself. In The Thing from Another World or Them! or even War of the Worlds there was something else to chew on thematically speaking, there was something else to bring into the sci-fi part of it. Here it's simply, well, who will trust a teenager who seems reasonable and cool-headed as far as he can be in this situation.
But The Blob does remain memorable for its effects and that theater sequence, and an ending that seems just improbable enough that it has to work in a story like this. I don't know when/if I'd be in the frame of mind to watch it again, but if you love 50's monster creations and done with a straight face then this should do the trick, even if it's not quite very good for me.