‘The Blob’ is based on a what?!
“Do you know the movie The Blob, Aunt Toni?”
I’ve never heard a sweeter question than that one recently asked by my 11-year-old niece, Grace.
As classic movie fans, we all hope to inspire younger generations to discover classic films, just as family members did for us when we were kids.
Still, I should have remembered when Grace told me “old movies” could catch on fire. I was so excited I started to explain nitrate film to her only to learn she was referencing an episode of The Simpsons. But, she asked me about The Blob and I couldn’t help but answer in the way any B-movie fan would: “Yes! What do you want to know?”
As it turned out, this wasn’t about what I could tell her, but what she was going to tell me.
She sat down, looked at me with big blue eyes and a mischievous grin and said very quietly (clearly for effect): “It’s based on a true story.” Then she held up a phone, added the dreaded words “A YouTuber said …” and hit play.
Boom. Just like that, The Blob was spoiled by a YouTuber named Jessii Vee who told her nearly 2 million subscribers and my young niece (not a subscriber) the “true” origin of The Blob.
This 1958 B-movie horror film was already great without an origin story. In fact, it was nearly perfect in its simplicity. A mysterious object falls from the sky, cracks open to show an innocent blob of jello that soon reveals its terrible truth when it encounters human flesh.
Thankfully for the small Pennsylvania town where it landed, teens Steve (then billed as Steven McQueen) and Jane (Aneta Corsaut) find its first victim and refuse to give up when their warnings go unheeded. Was it alien, animal or vegetable? We didn’t know and it didn’t matter. It was equally scary and fun watching it roll around, growing as it consumed whatever was in its path.
But Jessii Vee says there’s a true story to go with The Blob that we need to hear, so I listened and did some digging. Here’s what I found.
* * *
It was 1950 and two Philadelphia police officers, John Collins and Joseph Keenan, saw something fall from the sky at about treetop level. They thought it looked like a parachute, but in the tradition of all movies with something falling from the sky, it wasn’t as it appeared.
In an open field, the patrolmen found a large mass about 6 feet in diameter. Two other officers they called saw it as well.
A story in The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted the officers as saying that when they turned their flashlights on the thing “it gave off a purplish glow, almost a mist, that looked as though it contained crystals.”
Officer Collins, who obviously had never seen a horror film, decided it would be smart to put his hand in the mass. He tried to pick it up, but lucky for him it didn’t crawl up his arm and devour him. Instead, it dissolved and left “a slight, odorless, sticky residue.” It took only 25 minutes for the entire blob to evaporate, not even leaving a mark on the grass where it landed. (That is creepy.)
Without evidence, there was nothing to show the FBI, the Air Force or any other authority. So the story was all but forgotten for a few years until producer Jack H. Harris asked a friend, Irvine H. Millgate, for ideas about a unique creature, something that hadn’t been seen in a movie. Millgate recalled the Philadelphia Inquirer story, came up with a story idea and called Harris in the middle of the night. Harris shared the conversation in his autobiography Father of the Blob: The Making Of A Monster Smash & Other Hollywood Tales.
“We have a monster never done before. It’s a mineral form of life from another world. It defies gravity by climbing trees and has the ability to zap prey. It can fall from any height on to the ground and reform itself at the bottom,” Millgate told him.
The creature, Millgate added, “consumes flesh on contact” and was indestructible. That’s as far as he got. Together, Harris and Millgate came up with more details and a horror star was born. (Screenwriter Theodore Simonson wrote the screenplay, filling it out to include the teens and their big role; Kay Linaker was given co-screenwriter credit although Harris wrote she only worked on the script for a few days.)
* * *
Made for $110,000, The Blob was a surprise hit grossing $4 million. It remains a film we watch and discuss more than 60 years after its release. It even spawned its own annual festival in 2001, Blobfest.
That’s a nice legacy for all involved especially Millgate, who, despite creating one of the greatest creatures in film, made just this one movie. The film also is credited with putting McQueen on track to stardom (this was his first starring role). And it was the first film produced by Harris, a vaudeville star who spent a lifetime in the film industry doing everything from being a theater usher and projectionist to acting and working in distribution.
So back to learning that the idea for The Blob was based on a true incident.
I know that makes it exciting for many people. But others enjoy creature features and horror movies best when they’re like a big old-fashioned fun house – scary while we’re in it, funny once we leave. So if there’s even a kernel of truth behind a horror film, that’s too much for “some” of us (OK, me) to handle.
Knowing this “truth,” I see The Blob in a different way – especially that giant question mark following the film’s final chilling words.
Steve: “It’s not dead, is it?”
Officer Dave: “No, it’s not – it’s just frozen. I don’t think it can be killed, but at least we’ve got it stopped.”
Steve: “Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold, huh?”
Steve and Officer Dave, let me introduce you to global warming. I have some YouTube videos I can show you.
The Blob Trivia
- The blob was created out of silicone and red dye.
- It spawned two other films: a 1972 sequel directed by Larry Hagman called Beware! The Blob and a 1988 remake. There has been talk of another remake for the past few years.
- The movie’s peppy theme song was written by a then-unknown songwriter named Burt Bacharach with Mack David (Hal’s brother).
- Aneta Corsaut, who made her film debut in The Blob, is best known as Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show.
- The annual Blobfest has taken place since 2001 in Phoenixville, Pa., a small town about 30 miles from Philadelphia. Scenes filmed there include the diner, high school, mechanic’s garage and the big one in the movie theater. The fest includes the reenactment of moviegoers running out of the actual movie theater used in the film, The Colonel. This year’s Blobfest will be a virtual event.
– Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub
Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.