Bits BD Review – Bill takes a look at Universal's new Spartacus: Restored Edition http://t.co/Ms7prL0nTE
DirectorIrvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.
Release Date(s)1958 (March 12, 2013)
Studio(s)Paramount (Criterion - Spine # 91)
The original advertisements trumpeted that the title creature of the 1958 film The Blob was “indescribable... indestructible... nothing can stop it!” Burt Bacharach and Mack David’s zany title song took a more benign approach, with The Five Blobs (a.k.a. singer Bernie Nee) warbling over “Tequila”-style guitar and a wailing saxophone about how it “creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor, right through the door, and all around the wall, a splotch, a blotch, be careful of The Blob!” While The Blob is not exactly the most visually stunning of horror monsters – resembling a heaping helping of strawberry gelatin, if anything – the film has remained a cult classic, spawning sequels and remakes. It arrived earlier this year in Blu-ray form from The Criterion Collection, which shows off the quirky, low-budget chiller to its best advantage. (Criterion previously issued the movie on both laserdisc and DVD.)
Director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. wasn’t a novice to the film biz but toiled far away from studio glamour, churning out religious films for distribution by church groups. The Blob was produced independently, but released by Paramount Pictures. Paramount also brought on board Bacharach and David, under contract to its Famous Music division. For his bid at horror movie immortality, Yeaworth played it completely straight once that groovy title song was out of the way. With young Steve McQueen making his star debut as leader of the pack of teenagers at the film’s center, Yeaworth unfolds the tale of the carnivorous alien Blob in a slow, deliberate manner. As its appetite grows and grows, the movie depicts man vs. a seemingly unstoppable alien force of nature, set against the backdrop of bucolic 1950s America.
McQueen as Steve Andrews and the winsome Aneta Corsaut lead a cast filled with solid character turns, like Olin Howlin as the unfortunate old man who first discovers The Blob, Stephen Chase as doomed Dr. Hallen, and Elinor Hammer as meddlesome Mrs. Porter. McQueen, for his part, exudes a rebellious air even when conservatively dressed in a button-down shirt and slacks. He’s assured and mostly naturalistic in his portrayal; Corsaut has a harder time due to the stilted dialogue. Some of the teenagers in the film are a bit long in the tooth, but the film’s us-vs.-them set-up, with the adults refusing to believe the kids about the dangerous Blob, still works mightily.
Smartly designed for teen appeal in an era when the economic power of the teenager was on the rise, Yeaworth and screenwriters Theodore Simonson and Kate Phillips build a constant sense of foreboding and just the right amount of suspense. They adjusted to the standards of the day, naturally, with The Blob devouring its prey in darkness, off-camera, through a window, or under a car. But this lack of graphic content works to the movie’s benefit. The Blob itself isn’t particularly frightening, as it blithely eats everyone and everything in its path, seemingly without malice. By not showing the carnage yet avoiding camp (save a few overtly ominous music cues courtesy of composer Ralph Carmichael), and shooting the film in color around everyday small town locales on location in Pennsylvania, the earnest Blob can still get under viewers’ skins. It’s surprising how few histrionics there are in the movie, if any; even some of the reaction shots to the creature’s attacks are subdued. But The Blob isn’t devoid of a sense of humor, such as when Steve’s friends are interrupted while watching a horror movie. It’s likewise amusing as the kids go through town, asking around in search of “the monster.” The most tension-packed scene comes when Steve and Jane are trapped in a showdown at the market’s meat locker. Is The Blob more than the mindless creature it seems to be? Is it looking for them?
With The Blob clocking in at 82 minutes’ length, the titular character’s final rampage doesn’t occur until the final 20 minutes or so. It’s, of course, one of the most effective sequences in the rather matter-of-fact film and utilizes a number of real-life locations. Phoenixville, Pennsylvania’s Colonial Theatre plays a pivotal role in the film; the movie house is still standing today and showing motion pictures at 227 Bridge Street. It hosts a yearly Blobfest and invites visitors to “peer into the projection booth where The Blob oozed its way into the theatre and our history.” The large, lurching Blob also invades the Downingtown Diner at 81 West Lancaster Avenue in Downingtown; though the diner on the site is new, the basement featured in The Blob still exists underneath the current structure.
The final shot of The Blob features a now-classic trope as it reads “THE END?” with a question mark. As we now know, it wasn’t the end at all. Criterion’s new BD treats the low-budget, low-key classic with typical reverence. The new 4K digital restoration, presented in 1080p in the original 1:66:1 aspect ratio, looks vibrant and lush with great clarity. The relatively brief booklet notes reveal that “thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.” But the result looks natural and indeed, definitive. Grain remains and is finely rendered. The mono soundtrack in English LPCM 1.0 (with optional English SDH subtitles also included) is crisp and clean.
Supplements aren’t extensive, and as they’ve been ported over from the Criterion DVD edition, there’s little that’s new here. But these bonuses are uniformly good. Two commentaries are present, and both are revealing. Producer Jack H. Harris joins historian Bruce Eder on one track, and director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. (1926-2004) joins actor Robert Fields (who played Tony Gressette) on the other. Both commentaries – edited together from separately recorded tracks – have something to offer but Yeaworth’s is particularly fascinating as he reflects on the untrained cast and crew as well as his intentions for The Blob. The original theatrical trailer has not been restored but is included, and it’s far more sensationalistic than the actual movie! It promises “a cast of exciting young people!” and “the most horrifying monster menace ever conceived!” In addition to the booklet’s essay by Kim Newman, further light on The Blob is shed by the Blobabilia! special feature. This stills gallery from Wes Shank’s collection showcases an impossibly large amount of Blob-related memorabilia. Shank began collecting in 1960, and his finds are many and diverse... including The Blob itself! Each photo has an introductory caption, too.
The gelatinous creature has been revisited on film since 1958 in director Larry Hagman’s 1972 sequel Beware! The Blob; the tongue-in-cheek adventure is Hagman’s only feature film as a director. Director Chuck Russell and screenwriter Frank Darabont reinvented The Blob for a new generation with their 1988 remake. More recently, another film version has been mooted. As the catchy song warned, “Be careful Of The Blob!” Wherever the creature shows up next, you’ll likely be prepared with Criterion’s impressive Blu-ray.
- Joe Marchese