3.18.2011

Original vs. Remake: The Blob (1958 & 1988)


DIRECTED BY
Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (1958)
Chuck Russell (1988)

STARRING
(1958)
Steve McQueen - Steve Andrews
Aneta Corseaut - Jane Martin
Earl Rowe - Sheriff Dave
John Benson - Burt
Steven Chase - Dr. Hallen
Olin Howlin - Old Man

(1988)
Kevin Dillon - Brian Flagg
Shawnee Smith - Meg Penny
Joe Seneca - Dr. Meddows
Donovan Leitch - Paul Taylor
Del Close - Reverend Meeker
Paul McCrane - Deputy Bill Briggs
Jeffrey De Munn - Sheriff Herb Geller
Candy Clark - Fran Hewitt
Ricky Paull Goldin - Scott Jesky
Michael Kenworthy - Kevin Penny

Genre - Sci-Fi/Horror/B-Movie/Remake

Running Time - 86 Minutes (1958 film)/ 95 Minutes (1988 film)


The B-movies of the 1950s - cheesy, low budget, science-fiction films catered to a teenage audience who enjoyed them either on television or within the atmosphere of a drive-in theater. 1950s B-movies used monsters and mutations to tell stories based on a number of issues, such as the threat of nuclear energy [the giant ants in THEM! (1954)],
teenage rebellion [1957's I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF], and the fear of Communism [1956's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS]. 1958's THE BLOB seems to reflect the last one, as the title character slowly invades a small town to devour the norms and social order that Americans tried to maintain during the Cold War right under many people's noses. Being Steve McQueen's first feature, THE BLOB was a hit at drive-ins after the actor starred on his hit show, Wanted: Dead or Alive from 1958 to 1961. And with its jelly-like title character, THE BLOB has become a classic science-fiction film that has been appreciated across several generational gaps.

Thirty years after the original was released, the remake to THE BLOB was filmed and released as well. This time, with its much larger budget [$17 million compared to the $240,000 of the original], THE BLOB was given a horror feel, showing exactly what that slime can do once it grabs hold of an unsuspecting victim. Directed by Chuck Russell, who was seen as the newest "it" horror director after his success on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987), truly updated the story of this alien ooze destroying a small town for the 1980s, along with DREAM WARRIORS co-screenwriter Frank Darabont [who has become a very successful director in his own right with works such as THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE, THE MIST, and a producer recently on AMC's The Walking Dead]. Proving that THE BLOB could change, yet still tell the same story in any decade, the remake has been considered one of the good ones [as it shows what a remake SHOULD do with its source material by improving on the original film] and the lesser third of the 80s remake trifecta that includes John Carpenter's 1982 THE THING and David Cronenberg's 1986 THE FLY [all three original films 50s B-movies in their own right].

It had been years since I had seen either version of THE BLOB, so I figured it would be a great time to whip out the Original vs. Remake section of the blog to see which film stands taller than the other. Is the 1958 original the Slime King of BLOB movies? Or does the 1988 remake disintegrate its predecessor? Grab some CO2 because this review is about to get messy!

PLOT
Both versions of the film pretty much tell the same story. A meteorite crashes on Earth, where a red/pink blob emerges to create havoc on a small community. An old homeless man finds the blob leaving its rock, poking it with a long stick until the blob sticks onto his hand. Our main "teenage" protagonists [Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut) in the original/ Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon), Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) and Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch) in the remake] find the man and take him directly to the hospital, where the blob completely devours him and grows in size. The blob escapes, leaving the surviving teenagers to talk with authorities, who don't happen to believe a word they say [or in the remake's case, a military squad who want to use the townspeople as collateral damage just to contain the blob]. But when the blob grows stronger, more out of control, and more deadly as it starts wiping out the town, the teenagers must take it amongst themselves to end the blob's terror once and for all.

REVIEW


(1958)
THE BLOB ended up being a more interesting rewatch than I had anticipated. I remember digging the original 1958 film a lot more when I was younger than I had a few days ago. If it weren't for a mutating blob attacking movie theaters, hobos, as well as the presence of Steve McQueen, I doubt THE BLOB would have earned its B-movie classic status. I'm not saying it's a horrible film, because it's far from it. But THE BLOB really isn't all that and it has nothing to do with the fact that it cost $240,000 [in 1958 dollars] to make.

Like most of the films I've been reviewing lately, the problem with the original THE BLOB is due to its narrative. Now let's get the positives out of the way: THE BLOB is a film made for its time and it definitely shows. The subtext of the film, for me, is the most interesting. The blob obviously represents the growing fear of Communism during this era, thanks to Joseph McCarthy and his McCarthyism during the beginning of the Cold War between the United States and the then-Soviet Union. The monster arrives into a quiet town under the radar from a place no one understands, or even cares to. It spreads itself [or the belief of Communism] to unsuspecting victims, devouring them and increasing in size and power. It seems to aim towards settings that have a lot of influence on people, like the movie theater, a clinic, and a diner. The only way you could stop the spread of this monster is by ganging together and freezing it with cold [like you would do with Communism, freezing it with the coldness of free will]. Just the fact that I understood what this film was trying to tell underneath its surface quite clearly means that the subtext worked well.

We also have the subtext of teenage rebellion. The teenagers and the adults, like in real life, see the same things quite differently. While the adults are too busy trying to protect the youth and prove their right, the teenagers are the first to see the blob and try to save the town, even though the adults have a hard time believing what the teens are saying. It's a classic trope in storytelling that many people can relate to, and definitely meaningful and popular within this time frame after 1955's REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. As usual in these type of films, the teens are the ones who are right as the adults finally get their clue towards the final act of the film. Even in 2011, the trope works remarkably well.

However, as great as the subtext of THE BLOB is, the surface level of the film is pretty poor. The dialogue is very campy and cheesy, sort of taking away the seriousness of the blob threat. The character development is very minimal [although I found the characters to be pretty charming for the most part]. The characters are pretty much stereotypical, even if it does work well for the film [could have been a little deeper]. There are many scenes that have nothing to do with the major plot of the film at all. The drag race scene just, well, drags the pace. The scenes with the annoying kid brother, well, annoyed me. Why did I need to know that a certain police officer played chess over his radio with another police officer again? The film is called THE BLOB. It should be about the terror of THE BLOB. For a while, you forget it's about an evil slime when the characters haven't interacted or even mentioned it, focusing on their romance and guarding parents. While there are effective moments [like the 'poking with the stick' scene, the theater attack, the toy gun scene, and the dinner attack], there shouldn't have been this much filler. I could have left the room during these scenes, come back, and realize I didn't miss anything substantial to the story. I understand the budget was so low that they couldn't really show the blob at all times. But that doesn't excuse a shoddy script.

Speaking of the blob, the special effects are very primitive for 2011 standards. But for 1958, they're pretty alright. Then again, it's some of the simplest SFX you'll ever see on film. The blob was nothing more than dyed silicone gel, placed on top of model sets so it would look bigger than it really was. How they got this gel to move the way it did probably took a lot of hard work, so I have to applaud the filmmakers for doing a very good job. Considering the lack of technology and budget compared to modern films, I think the blob looks great for its time.

The direction by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. is what it is - a point and shoot affair. Yeaworth Jr. shys away from showing the effects of the blob's terror [smart due to its low budget] and has an issue with pacing, especially in the middle portion of the film. However, the final act, where the blob goes on a full attack of the town, is paced and works really well. So it's not a visually stunning feature, but it gets the job done for the most part.

The acting is okay. Steve McQueen, in his first feature film, pretty much shines through as Steve Andrews. Unfortunately, McQueen [who was 28 at the time] plays a pretty unconvincing teenager as he looks like he could be someone's dad instead. Even though it's pretty clear his career would get a bit better after this, I gotta say that his skill at wrinkling his forehead is quite an amazing feat. But he's definitely watchable and charming enough to carry a film. Aneta Corseau plays the stereotypical 1950s teenage girlfriend, Jane. She has those lovey-dovey eyes, cries and screams well, and has decent chemistry with McQueen. Earl Rowe, as Sheriff Dave, is probably the best actor in the film. He's also very charming and likable. And he looks his character's age! What a shocker! The other actors do fine with what they're given, but no one really sticks out.

And I can't conclude talking about the 1958 version of THE BLOB without talking about the cheesy, yet very cool Hal David and Burt Bacharach theme song. Tapping my foot and snapping my fingers to kitsch lyrics, such as "Beware of The Blob, it creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor," definitely gives the film an identity. It's probably the best part of the film, to be seriously honest.


(1988)
The 1988 remake of THE BLOB is the epitome of a great remake. It keeps the main story intact while improving on the previous film's limitations, such as better special effects, some better acting, and a better paced narrative that won't bore you halfway through. While it's no THE THING or THE FLY, THE BLOB proves that you can take an old film and make it new again thirty years later for a younger generation.

The improved narrative still shares the teen rebellion subtext of the original, with bad boy Brian shunning every authority figure in the film while still being the likable hero of the film. Like I wrote before, it's a storytelling trope that never gets old - especially when it creates development for a flawed hero who feels the world has abandoned him but won't return the favor, saving the day. Unlike in the original, the whole 'rebel' deal actually moves the story forward instead of being a sign of the times. It's almost as if the film is sort of making fun of the whole 'bad boy' shtick in a way.

And while the fear of Communism was pretty much a non-issue during the late-80s, that subtext is replaced with the distrust of the government and its agencies. It seems Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont were still on their Post-Watergate high here, making the government agency the true villains of the film. While they appear to be the ones to save this town, the group of government scientists is led by a corrupt leader who wants to see what the Blob can do before they try to contain it, not caring how many casualties there are. And once we learn how this group and the Blob are related, the more they become hated for the events that occur. Like in most horror films, the ones we're supposed to trust and look at for the answers [parents, the church, the government, the local authorities] don't have a grasp of the situation and don't have the power to stop the terror, while the ones who are believed not to know any better [the children] are the ones who see things for what they are and stop the menace. The parents try to protect their children in vain. The police believe in the government and follow their orders, not stopping to wonder why these scientists showed up pretty quickly after the fact. And the one reverend in town claims the Blob represents Armageddon, collecting pieces of the Blob while letting it destroy his town. All the institutions we're supposed to trust don't do a damn thing to stop the terror. It's obvious that Russell and Darabont really wanted to make that subtext clear - don't trust anyone but yourself to get the job done.

As for the stuff on the surface level, the film is excellently paced due to the fact that every scene in the film leads to something. Even filler scenes, such as Sheriff Herb asking out the diner owner, Fran, out on a date, leads to their last meeting at the hands of the Blob. There's always a purpose as to why a character behaves a certain way or does a certain thing, making the film extremely watchable, even today. And a child actually gets devoured by the Blob - and we see it! That's a pretty ballsy move in a horror film. The character development is decent [pretty much stereotypical, as usual in these 80s horror films], due to the performances of the actors really. I did think there were more side characters than the story really allowed because we barely got to know most of them really [especially since the majority of them actually survived]. And the dialogue, while not perfect and pretty dated at times, is still written well and fun to listen to. But the most important part was that the story was taken seriously, truly creating a better horror feel than its predecessor could.

A major improvement in the remake is obviously the special effects, allowed by a $17 million budget. Lyle Conway and Stuart Ziff did some pretty awesome creature FX for this film. Instead of just slowly moving, this Blob moves in every which way it can, creating tentacles to grab its victims before devouring them. And those devouring effects - old school and pretty great to watch. I love the fact that we can see through the Blob's slimy body to watch the remains of its victims before it kills others. This is a pretty gory flick at times, which really made this monster look and feel like a threat. Conway and Ziff did an excellent job giving the Blob life and character, especially in the final act.

The direction by Chuck Russell is very effective. The chase sequences [there are a lot of them in the last half of the film] are filmed very well, with lots of tension, suspense, and well-timed jump scares for the faint of heart. The film moves in a rapid pace, proven when an hour passed by that really felt like twenty minutes at most. And some shots really had great visual style. We do have that dreaded green effect though [which I never noticed before until watching it in high definition] at the end of the film, but it doesn't bug me too much [although I did chuckle at it - sigh, the good old days of filmmaking]. Russell really treated the source material with a lot of love and respect, while definitely making THE BLOB into his own signature work.

The acting, just like in the original, is okay. Kevin Dillon, best known as Johnny Drama on HBO's Entourage, isn't as good of an actor as his famous older brother. But he's certainly likable and plays the brooding bad boy who turns good quite well. And that mullet he sported deserves an award...for something. There are some things the 80s can keep and that's one of them. Shawnee Smith, before her SAW fame, is very good as Meg. She plays the sweet-yet-tough role very well, plus she is definitely more than nice to look at. Joe Seneca made me hate Dr. Meddows, which is a good thing because he was a major villain. Seneca did a good job. Candy Clark and Jeffrey DeMunn as Fran and Sheriff Herb respectively, did a lot with minor characters. I actually gave a damn about both of them, giving what happens to them more impact. We also have a decent side cast with Paul McCrabe as the tough deputy, Beau Billingslea as Brian's mechanic friend, Del Close as the delusional and drunk reverend, and Michael Kenworthy [the kid from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II] as Meg's younger brother. Plus we have future soap star Ricky Paull Goldin in the mix, as well as cameos from Erika Elaniak of Baywatch fame, Jamison Newlander of THE LOST BOYS, Douglas Emerson from Beverly Hills 90210, and Bill Moseley as one of the government soldiers. A pretty awesome cast for a pretty awesome remake.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE EATING A BOWL OF ACIDIC JELL-O

- "My name is Jane. Just Jane." This girl would be a lot more fun if she "Mary" attached to her name.

- The slimy, sticky Blob dripped along a long stick. K, Y does this remind me of sex? I guess this alien jelly makes dirty thoughts slide into my tight mind a bit easier...

- Dr. Hallen believes putting a blanket over the Blob will make it go away. Obviously the man graduated in the same class as Dr. Kavorkian, Dr. Pepper, and Dr. Dre.

- One of the officers enjoyed playing Chess on his free time with another dispatcher. I guess he took up the hobby "One Night in Bangkok".

- In 1958, buying a movie ticket cost you 80 cents. Most films today aren't even worth 80 cents, let alone 15 bucks.

- Fran turned down Sheriff Herb's offer for a date. Even though he's great with a six-shooter, Fran is still that kind of girl that hopes for an eight or above.

- Paul and Meg's first date involved filling out hospital forms for the old man attacked by the Blob. One of my first dates involved the same thing, only it ended with me filling a cup with goo instead of being digested by it.

- Don't lock yourself in a phone booth. You'll get swallowed up by the Blob. Or you'll see Superman's junk mid-change. Obviously the cold is everyone's kryptonite.

- The Blob attacked a movie theater showing a slasher film starring a villain wearing a hockey mask who kills his victims with a chainsaw. Looks like the Blob hates BLOODY MURDER as much as I do. And he's the villain?

- Eddie was killed by the Blob while in the sewers. Eh, it's okay. He comes back as David Silver's best friend on the first two seasons of Beverly Hills 90210 - only to accidentally kill himself while playing with his dad's gun. Damn...

THE FINAL HOWL
While both versions of THE BLOB are well worth the watch, it's obvious which one is the better film. You really can't fault the original for that, since it had limitations for its time. But it's a bit too campy and unevenly paced for me to totally invest in. The remake, however, is what I would envision this story to look like visually, proving that remakes can work if the right people are behind it. I recommend both versions, but if I had to choose one of them, the 1988 version is the way to go.


SCORE

THE BLOB (1958)2.5 Howls Outta 4


THE BLOB (1988)
3.5 Howls Outta 4


WINNER:

THE BLOB (1988)



THE BLOB (1958) Trailer


THE BLOB (1988) Trailer

5 comments:

  1. Wow, epic double review! Still haven't caught the original but I doubt it could be as awesome as the remake, which had some amazing gore and special effects. Melting bodies always make me want to vomit, and the remake does not disappoint in that regard!

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  2. Nice one, Fred and a well written piece. Personally, I thought the dialog kinda stank in both movies. The original BLOB's effects are much better than the sequel from 1972, which was more of a comedy anyway. You may wanna check that one out at some point if you haven't already. If you enjoyed that LEPUS movie, you may find the BLOB sequel mildly interesting. I like it for all the cameos in it.

    I did enjoy the Carpenteresque aspects of the remake, though. I also liked how they killed off characters you thought were going to be around a while, even if they weren't given much time to expand. The killing of children in movies I think was far more prominent in foreign movies, but did show up occasionally in US flicks. There's a scene in Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 where this little girl gets shot square in the chest at close range while getting a friggin ice cream.

    Hopefully, the proposed second BLOB remake is now frozen in limbo at this point, at least without the "guidance" of Robbie Z.

    I got one of these about half done for HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW and that gag inducing remake if I can get my shit together.

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  3. I remember cutting school because the 50's Blob was on TV. It was totally worth it. The film is abrupt in a couple of scenes though, like with the other group of teenagers, who despite being previously antagonistic against Mcqueen, immediately believe the giant monster story and help him, and the ending; I knew how it ended beforehand, but when it did I though there would still be 20 or so minutes left, but about a minute after everyone collected the fire-extinguishers, BAM, the blob's being dropped into the arctic.

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  4. @TGWLH - Yeah, the remake has the budget to really bring the story to life in the way it needs to be visually told. Still, the original is a recommended watch only for the fact that it's a B-movie classic.

    @Venom5 - I think the dialogue is better in the remake due to the fact that I can relate to it more. But yeah, neither film would win a prize in screenwriting. I have seen the sequel and I will be reviewing that one pretty soon as well.

    And the direction is top notch here. And American films seem to back away from killing children unless it serves a purpose in the story. I know European horror films aren't as conservative with that. I like the fact that it doesn't happen a lot. Gives the death a bigger impact. And it was very smart for characters to die when we least expect it. You would think the boyfriend character would make it to the end, but he's one of the first victims. Pretty surprising.

    Not looking forward to a remake. As for SORORITY ROW, I kind of liked the remake. It was just a stupid popcorn flick for me. I wasn't expecting much out of it and dug it. It doesn't beat the original though. Look forward to reading it when it's done.

    @Chris - I think one of the issues that bugs me with the original is definitely the other group of teenagers. They're definitely set up as antagonists, yet end up being buddies with the protagonists out of the blue. It's a bit disjointed and unbelievable.

    Thanks for the comments!

    ReplyDelete
  5. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 20, 2011 at 9:38 PM

    To this day i still cant understand why the remake of The Blob went down the toilet at the North American box office, its one of the greatest horror films of all time (remake or otherwise) and when Shawnee Smith was 17 she was one of the most gorgeous birds of all time.

    ReplyDelete

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