Silver Screen Standards: The Blob (1958)

Silver Screen Standards: The Blob (1958)

I have a candy corn sweet tooth when it comes to classic science fiction movies. I love the wacky, B movie cult classics of 1950s sci-fi, with their low-budget monsters, stiff as cardboard authority figures, and screaming masses of hysterical townspeople. The Blob (1958) is one of the most iconic of this genre of creature features, partly because of Steve McQueen as its heroic human protagonist but even more because of its oozy, red jelly alien menace bent on absorbing every hapless victim who crosses its path. I’ve never had the opportunity to take part in the annual Phoenixville Blobfest in Pennsylvania, which recreates the famous movie theater scene at the Colonial Theatre, where it was originally filmed, but I love the idea of this movie being celebrated every year by hundreds of screaming fans. The Blob is justly beloved by Blobfest attendees and campy sci-fi horror fans because it’s just that much fun, and its shortcomings as serious cinematic “Art” are part of its appeal.

The Blob (1958) Aneta Corsaut and Steve McQueen
As the first people to encounter the Blob and survive, Steve (Steve McQueen) and Jane (Aneta Corsaut) struggle to get the adults in town to believe that a murderous alien goo is on the loose.

You know you’re in for silly fun the moment the rollicking bop of a theme starts the show. No creepy orchestral mood music here! The Blob gets its groove on thanks to Burt Bacharach and Mack David, who created a musical introduction that makes the alien goo sound like an older killer cousin of Slinky, the stair-climbing plastic toy (the Slinky jingle actually didn’t appear until 1962). Bacharach’s more frequent writing partner was Mack’s brother, Hal David, with whom Bacharach wrote over a hundred songs in the 1960s, including hits for Dionne Warwick. The hip beat of the theme is very much in the Bacharach style, and it connects with the novelty song craze of 50s hits like Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater,” which also debuted in 1958 and was a Billboard chart topper.

The Blob (1958) Lee Payton nurse
Kate the nurse (Lee Payton) tries to defend herself against the Blob with acid, but soon all that will be left is her nurse’s hat.

The movie that follows this theme is certainly more novelty than nightmare, with many common tropes of the 50s sci-fi shocker in use and Steve McQueen, at 28, alarmingly mature for a high school student, but it’s never dull and never expects us to take it seriously. Conveniently playing a character also named Steve, McQueen might be long overdue for a GED but still displays that easy charisma that would soon make him a star, and we understand why girlfriend Jane (Aneta Corsaut) and the other local teens follow his lead. Corsaut would go on to lasting TV fame as the amiable sheriff’s girlfriend, Helen Crump, on The Andy Griffith Show. Beyond the two leads, it’s not a star-studded cast – the Blob is the real star, after all – but the actors playing the adults get some fun scenes as they encounter the Blob and succumb to its relentless appetite. Horror-comedy fans can certainly see its influence on later films, especially Gremlins (1984), which would make a perfect double feature with The Blob if you’re in the mood to see small town America overrun by bizarre intruders. More recently, the legacy of The Blob can be seen in the Wellington Paranormal Season Three episode, “Fatberg,” in which a huge mass of congealed fat threatens residents of the New Zealand community.

The Blob (1958) theatre
In the movie’s most celebrated scene, the Blob threatens the Colonial Theatre during a packed midnight horror show.

The special effects created by Bart Sloane and Valley Forge Films hold up surprisingly well, thanks to a practical approach that employs simple techniques like stop motion to bring the goo to life. The use of garish DeLuxe Color pays off, too; we can see the Blob grow more bloated and crimson as it absorbs more townspeople, until it’s rolling over the Downingtown Diner like a giant mass of raspberry jam. More humanoid aliens from 50s sci-fi suffer from the limitations of a guy in a suit, but the Blob doesn’t have a face, or a voice, or any trappings of sentience about it. It’s just a relentless, devouring mass that absorbs frightened old men and nurses as eagerly as it consumes whole bars full of patrons. By the time we reach the climax, local police officer Dave (Earl Rowe) estimates that the oozy alien has killed 40 or 50 people, most of those entirely offscreen. We don’t need to see the actual process to understand the fate of those digested by the Blob, and the picture wisely suggests deaths without trying to document the gruesome stages by which live people are dissolved.

The Blob (1958) basement stairs
Undaunted by doors or windows, the Blob just oozes under, around, and through all obstacles, making the basement of the Downingtown Diner a poor choice of hiding places.

Despite its general sense of fun, The Blob ends with a disturbingly timely warning, as the ooze will only stay safely contained “as long as the Arctic stays cold.” Its final message of “The End?” has already inspired a 1972 sequel, Beware! The Blob, and a more graphic 1988 remake, also called The Blob. For more silly sci-fi scares from the 1950s, check out some of my other favorites, including Them! (1954), Fiend Without a Face (1958), The Alligator People (1959), and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959). Director Irvin Yeaworth, who mostly made religious and educational films, also turned out a handful of other shockers, including 4D Man (1959), but The Blob is far and away the best known of his films.

— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

Jennifer Garlen pens our monthly Silver Screen Standards column. You can read all of Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards articles here.

Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English Literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic movies at her blog, Virtual Virago, and presents classic film programs for lifetime learning groups and retirement communities. She’s the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching and its sequel, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watching, and she is also the co-editor of two books about the works of Jim Henson.

This entry was posted in Posts by Jennifer Garlen, Silver Screen Standards and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.