Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Monster Serial: THE BLOB, 1988

Hello, boils and ghouls! October is upon us and that means one thing: HALLOWEEN! While most holidays get a measly day or two of formal recognition, orthodox Monster Kids prefer to celebrate it in the tradition of our people: By watching tons of horror movies. This month at THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY, we're going to be discussing some of our favorites every day until Halloween. So, put on your 3-D spex, pop some popcorn and turn out the lights .... because we're going to the movies! 


Forry's Kids.  Say what you will about the Famous Monsters Generation, but above all, these men are loyal.  Carpenter.  Dante.  Zemeckis.  Speilberg.  They respected the films that forged their sensibilities.  When they remade them, they extracted something very personal, modernized the stories intelligently, and used the ratings system to fully explore the broad and often untapped thematic implications of the material.  These are guys who would not have made a joke of DARK SHADOWS.
I look at remakes today, and I feel like it's often the opposite that happens.  I feel as if it's all about bloodgorefatsernownownow!!!
Does this make the Eighties a golden era?  A friend contended that no good horror came out of the Eighties except for THE THING.  After a lot of deliberation, I disagree.  That's on the strength of Monster Kid remakes and homages alone.  THE THING, as I said, is a great example.  Or THE FLY.  Heck, even Tobe Hooper made some interesting choices with INVADERS FROM MARS.
Then there's THE BLOB.  To people who haven't seen it, that's a tough sell.    

It's a goofy word.
When you look at stills from the original, it seems like a goofy monster.

Go back and watch the opening credits to the original.  Pretty wacky.  Even they knew they were dealing with a dubious property.
But I was dragged to it in 1988, and I was shocked at what a great time I had.  Upon screening it again the other night, I can sum up why in two words: Frank Darabont.  No, he didn't direct it; those honors go to Chuck Russell, a fine craftsman who never again found such smart material.  No.  This may have been Russell's directing gig, but it's Frank Darabont's movie.
This was back when Frank was writing horror movies, and they were damned good ones.  In THE BLOB, you can see all of the roots of THE MIST here.  Small town.  An unreasoning, inexplicable threat birthed by governmental hubris.  Likably familiar characters who should be cliches, but instead defy them.  And not least, a shockingly young Jeffrey DeMunn, who is a favorite Darabont Rep actor who redefines the Hey It's That Guy Actors Union. His turn as a keen-eyed sheriff is one of the film's many surprises.

As a writer, one of Darabont's strengths is economy.  We recognize these character archetypes at once, saving everyone a lot of time.  Then, in just a line or two, Darabont often gives them a surprising spin that individualizes them.  The redneck cop is really shy about asking out the corner diner waitress.  The jock is a smart and shy guy.  The loner has a work ethic and is respected by characters we see as respectable.  The story they inhabit is also a series of smart spins on familiar territory.  A flaming orb from the sky brings an all consuming gel that grows as it murders its way across a small mountain town.  Darabont and Russell make it a scary hunk of goo, too.  Dripping acid and moving with a swiftness that easily outpaces a Snyder zombie, its executions are hideously painful, and it shows a diabolical intelligence.  Of course, the government arrives like the group that handled ET's containment, and then we learn that it was a biowarfare project -- nurtured in space -- gone awry.  Welcome to that movie.  If you're like me, you want that plot point in everything.  It would have really saved BRIDESMAIDS for me.
Yes, the Blob can be a metaphor for all sorts of collectivist fears, but there's nothing seductive about it.  It's a more brutal and less deceptive sibling to Carpenter's THE THING.  It has no interest in disguise.  Like the Borg, it will simply take what it wants.  If there's any kind of weird metaphor in the the film, it is vaguely gender-phobic.  THE BLOB's pink, yonic multi-maw makes it one of the great, Evil Females of Eighties cinema (up there with The Thing and the Queen Alien), but rather than be a display of misogyny, I simply think it's equal time.  Can there be equity feminism in monster movies?  If not, then I need to form a protest group or write a folk song or something to make that happen.

This is a real gem of a film … smart, fast, tense, and always surprising.  It is full of hidden treasures and some honest laughs, including one of the smartest condom jokes in all of cinema.  the best gem of all?  The benevolent local minister, who finds the Blob to be a sign of the Rapture.  It's delusion not hurt by the hideous scarring he endures in the Big Battle.  What makes the part remarkable is that it's a rare chance to see Del Close in action.  Del basically (and apologies to Viola Spolin) invented/perfected the Second City school of modern improv training, and in doing so trained/trained the trainers/inspired the competing trainers of generations of America and Canada's greatest comedians.  Just like THE GODFATHER PART II lets us see Lee Strasberg in action, and just like THE WOLFMAN shows us Maria Ouspenskaya in action, so then does THE BLOB give us a taste of one of acting's great teachers practicing his craft.  Del was a beautiful madman in his life, and is one more reason to spend an evening with this overlooked and brainy classic from the imagination of Frank Darabont.  Like any Monster Kid worth his salt & mercury, he shows us why classic monster movies matter by showing us the art they can inspire.

Uncle Forry would be proud.

PATRICK McCRAY is a well known comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

1 comment:

George Schmidt said...

Haven't seen it in years but it's awesome - the best remake of a sci-fi classic that supersedes the original up there with the reboots of THE FLY & THE THING. Q: So referesh my memory - what is the condom joke? Don't recall it (I do recall the make-out session in the car - if that's you're referring to)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...