"The Blob" became one of the quintessential fifties' sci fi films by the time it was
re-issued in the sixties. It's also one of the movies that inspired me to become
a filmmaker. It's the classic indie dream. Jack Harris produced this low budget
feature for $100,000 starring an unknown young actor named Steve McQueen
and keeping the plot simple and realistic. A meteor lands from outer space with
a red single cell ameoba type of creature that absorbs all life forms and keeps
getting bigger and bigger. The teenagers who find it finally discover it's only
weakness. It's afraid of the cold. They end up freezing the creature before it absorbs
all the lifeform on earth. The story attempts to combine the two popular trends,
monsters from outer space and juvenile deliquency. Except that the 'delinquents'
in this film turn out to be the 'good guys' which was something different for the
Harris showed it to Paramount which offered him a licensing fee three times what
he had spent on the budget so he turned a profit before it was released. The movie
turned out to be a cult hit and the distribution agreement was short term and the
rights returned to the producer who then re-issued it after McQueen had become
a superstar and made even more money on the revival. Then it was sold to syndication
where it played throughout the sixties and seventies on TV.
It's certainly not 'artistic' which is why you're probably wondering why Criterion decided
to release it. Well apparently the company is also concerned with marketing historically
important movies, not just film school classics and they should be commended for their
efforts. This version is certainly the best the movie has ever looked. Although there
is a slight overall grain to the image, that's not surprising considering how cheaply it
was made. The production value and cinematography are fine along with the primitive
but effective special effects.
Of course most of the cast members are much too old to be teenagers but
that's been a Hollywood staple throughout it's history. Who wants to hire minors without
any experience on a low budget picture? Add to that tutors to keep their education going
during the shoot.
McQueen is okay in his first starring role. He always looked about a decade older than he
really was because of a rough childhood but if you can get past his age, you can see some
of the tough guy mannerisms he would adopt for his later roles. The female lead ended up
playing Andy Griffith's wife (Miss Crump) in his show a decade later. The rest of the cast
are character actors who contribute to the plausibility of the improbable premise.
The film became very influential on a number of levels. It's success inspired other indies
like Roger Corman to make interesting low budget features that still had professional
specs (Poe series) as well as later directors like George Romero ("Night of the Living Dead")
In fact the premise of the Zombie film is identical with a space probe landing on earth
causing havoc in a small community.
Perhaps the quirkiest bit in the film is the animated credit sequence. Harris hired a young
songwriter named, Burt Bacharach, to create the campy title tune which became a hit single.
The problem is that it suggests the movie is a comedy or lampoon when it isn't. Still, it's
one of the things the picture is remembered for. The monster at loose in a theater was
later utilized by William Castle in the climax of "The Tingler" the next year.
The DVD case contains a miniature poster which was a nice touch. The commentary tracks include
the producer, a historian and one of the actors. Harris still has a deep resonant voice despite
his age and he gave details of how indie films were distributed back then on a 'states rights'
basis which was very informative. The way it worked in the fifties and sixties is that a booker
could license the rights to show a feature in their territory (a number of states) and it would
be up to them to promote and market it. Back then they tried all kinds of gimmicks to get
people into a cinema and it was probably a lot fun for the participants. Harris was among
the local states rights distributors who thought he could produce a movie as good as the ones
he was already marketing and he turned out to be right. The advantage of states rights marketing
is a booker could cater to an individual city or town. Midnight shows, radio promos and contests
using local DJs and other media to help in the hoopla. Moviegoing was more of an event than it is now
where all movies are released nationally in two or three thousand megaplexes on a hit and run basis
before coming out on DVD and cable shortly afterwards.
He also notes how difficult McQueen was to work with even
on his very first feature. Harris did get one thing wrong. He claimed the release prints of "The
Blob" were done at DeLuxe labs when in fact they did a print run in the dye transfer process
at Technicolor. At least two Technicolor prints are in film collector's hands although Harris
wouldn't know that unless he was familiar with those circles.
This is an expensive disc but if you like the movie or are nostalgic for fifties sci fi/horror
this is the best quality you can obtain on the title, at least until it's released on blu ray.
Don't forget to pop your mouth with your finger during the title tune...