Release Date(s)1988 (October 17, 2023)
Studio(s)TriStar Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake of The Blob is an unfairly neglected contribution to the Eighties cycle of horror films that were driven by practical makeup effects. It isn’t anywhere near as well-remembered or beloved as the likes of The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, or The Thing, but it’s no less noteworthy in terms of the growth of the art of prosthetics and animatronics. Still, the lack of respect that The Blob has always received may be at least partly because it was a remake. The Thing had also drawn negative reviews back in 1982 due to what some critics felt was John Carpenter’s temerity in remaking the classic Howard Hawks production. If anything, that shouldn’t have been an issue for The Blob, because while the original is widely considered to be a camp classic, it’s not exactly revered for great filmmaking. The real problem was more likely due to the fact that the imaginative effects in The Blob are of a particularly gruesome sort, and as with The Thing, that tends to draw critical hostility regardless of the quality of the film itself. Fortunately, time has been kind to The Thing and it’s now widely accepted as a modern horror classic. Yet for whatever reason, The Blob still hasn’t received the same kind of retrospective love.
Fair or not, that may come down to the fact that Carpenter himself is simply far more beloved than Chuck Russell ever could be. Russell is no slouch, however, and in 1988 he was hot off the heels of the wildly successful A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors. He had developed a relationship with screenwriter Frank Darabont while working on that film, so the two of them collaborated together on the script for The Blob. (The pair had actually first worked together in 1981 on Hell Night, but that was in different capacities.) Their update transforms the basic story of an alien invasion into more of a conspiracy thriller—this version of the titular creature still comes from the sky, but with a decidedly more terrestrial origin. As a result, The Blob ends up inverting the pro-military attitudes of Cold War era science fiction into something better aligned with the skeptical view of the government that was presented in other Eighties genre films like Starman.
Darabont and Russell also displayed a Hitchcockian glee in carefully establishing apparent lead characters, only to mercilessly remove them from the equation as soon as the story starts to get rolling. It’s a great way of keeping audiences on edge by letting them know that all bets are off; viewers need to be prepared to shift their sympathies quickly. The actors playing these roles are decent enough despite the fact that they’re not the major selling point for the film. Shawnee Smith is as adorable as ever, and Kevin Dillon isn’t half bad, although Donavan Leitch, Jr. and Ricky Paull Goldin seem more disposable. Yet it’s the supporting cast that really stands out, filled with memorable faces like Candy Clark, Jeffrey DeMunn, Joe Seneca, Paul McCrane, Jack Nance, Bill Moseley, and the late great Art LeFleur. Del Close is given a thankless role as one of Darabont’s patented religious nutcases, but he’s stunt casting anyway since he had a small role in the 1972 sequel Beware! The Blob.
The creature itself is a massive update over the lump of Jell-O from the 1958 film—a point that Russell cheekily references by having a character slurp up a plate of the stuff during one scene. The original Blob never felt like much of a threat because it moved so slowly, but that’s definitely not an issue here. As envisioned by effects supervisor Tony Gardner and brought to life by his own crew as well as that of Dream Quest Images, All Effects, and Diligent Dwarves, this version of the Blob takes no prisoners. Nearly half the budget for the film was spent on their work, and every penny of it is visible on screen. (Well, not quite every penny—many of the original on-set effects designed by Lyle Conway ended up being discarded after he walked away from the production.) The effects aren’t quite perfect; there are a handful of dodgy traveling mattes, and some of the miniatures don’t scale particularly well since they weren’t overcranked during shooting. Yet aside from those minor quibbles, everyone’s work on The Blob stands proud and tall in the annals of practical effects.
Russell successfully tied all of these elements together to form a gruesome but wildly entertaining creature feature, one that deserves a much bigger place in the hearts of horror fans than it usually receives. It’s never been entirely clear why The Blob doesn’t get quite as much love as some other Eighties effects-driven genre efforts, but this is a remake done right: it takes the basic concept of the original film, but re-envisions it in a way that manages to feel both familiar and fresh at the same time. It’s recognizably The Blob, while still being its own animal. (So to speak, anyway.)
A final odd note about The Blob: the fine score by Michael Hoenig blatantly lifts from Jerry Goldsmith at one point. During an early scene where Smith has a conversation with her mother, the music openly steals Kay’s Theme from Goldmith’s score to Capricorn One. There’s no reference to Goldsmith during the closing credits, so it’s not clear if the cue was properly licensed. La La Land Records issued an expanded version of the soundtrack a few years ago featuring extensive liner notes, so maybe that cleared up the mystery, but it’s long out-of-print now. (If anyone owns the set, the track in question is called Sleeping Pill.)
Cinematographer Mark Irwin shot The Blob on 35 mm film using Moviecam SuperAmerica cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. (Some plates for the visual effects work were shot using 8-perf VistaVision cameras in order to facilitate optical compositing.) This version uses a new 4K master that was provided by Sony, but there’s no other information available regarding the elements that were used or the work that was done. Regardless, this is a prime example of Sony’s usual high standards. While the opening credit sequence and any composites were derived from dupe elements and display a bit of softness, the rest of the film is sharp, clear, and detailed—Sony doubtless had access to the original camera negative. All of the textures are nicely resolved, even subtle ones like the ribbed weave in the cashmere sweater worn by Smith early in the film (“Ribbed”). It’s a healthy encode on a BD-100, rarely dipping below 90mbps and sometimes peaking well over 110mbps. The grain can vary a bit depending on whether a given shot came directly from the negative or from dupe elements, but it always looks natural, and there’s little to no visible damage of any kind.
The High Dynamic Range grade is a subtle one, and it seems faithful to the original intentions of Irwin and the other filmmakers. (Only HDR10 is included on the disc.) The full spectrum of the disturbing range of pinks and purples really shines in HDR, making the colors look even more otherworldly. Highlights like flames and headlights have been intensified a bit, but they haven’t been exaggerated artificially. The stroboscopic lighting effect during the attack on the movie theatre is really intense now, so as always, be forewarned if you have any sensitivity to flashing lights. The blacks have also been deepened without sacrificing any detail. This is yet another fantastic 4K rendition of a catalogue title from Shout! Factory, and further proof that Sony just doesn’t mess around when it comes to their restoration efforts.
Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. The Blob was released theatrically in Ultra Stereo, so presumably the 2.0 track is the original matrix-encoded four channel mix—although it’s not exactly uncommon for labels to offer simple fold-downs of the discrete multichannel mixes instead. In this case, it’s a little difficult to tell since there’s not much surround activity either way, just some light ambient effects and reverb. Yet there are a handful of surround-specific effects that do come through even in the 2.0 version, so it’s probably the original track. The 5.1 mix appears to be a straight discrete encoding of the original four channels rather than a true remix, so the differences between the two aren’t major, and it will all come down to personal preference. Whichever one you choose, it’s surprisingly unambitious for an Ultra Stereo mix, and the overall fidelity is a bit limited—there’s not much in the way of deep bass or dynamic impact.
Shout! Factory’s 4K Ultra HD Collector’s Edition release of The Blob is a two-disc set that includes a remastered Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film. There’s a reversible insert, featuring alternate theatrical poster artwork on each side, as well as a slipcover that matches the primary artwork. Shout! is also offering a set directly on their website that includes the same slipcover, a second slipcover featuring new artwork by Devon Whitehead, an 18”x24” poster with the theatrical artwork, and a 36”x24” poster with Whitehead’s artwork. The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary with Chuck Russell, Tony Gardner, and Mark Irwin
- Audio Commentary with Shawnee Smith
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary with Chuck Russell, Tony Gardner, and Mark Irwin
- Audio Commentary with Shawnee Smith
- Audio Commentary with Chuck Russell and Ryan Turek
- It Fell from the Sky! (HD – 22:26)
- I Killed the Strawberry (HD – 26:32)
- We Have Work to Do (HD – 14:13)
- Minding the Diner (HD – 16:40)
- They Call Me Mellow Purple (HD – 15:21)
- Try to Scream! (HD – 18:39)
- Shoot Him! (HD – 18:10)
- I Want That Organism Alive! (HD – 12:23)
- Gardner’s Grue Crew (SD – 28:18)
- The Incredible Melting Man (HD – 22:02)
- Monster Math (HD – 26:14)
- Haddonfield to Arborville (HD – 20:32)
- The Secret of the Ooze (HD – 19:41)
- Theatrical Trailers (HD – 2:53, 2 in all)
- TV Spot (Upscaled SD – :32)
- Still Gallery (HD – 5:00)
The extras are all ported over from Shout Factory’s 2019 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of The Blob. The first two commentaries were newly-recorded for that disc, while the third was carried over from the 2014 Twilight Time Blu-ray. (It’s not clear why that commentary isn’t included with the other two on the UHD in this set, but at least it’s offered on the Blu-ray.) The first track with Russell, Irwin, and Tony Gardner is moderated by filmmaker and uberfan Joe Lynch, who says that The Blob is the film that made him want to become a director. Lynch’s boundless energy and enthusiasm for the film keeps the track moving forward at all times, although he’s prone to interrupting the others occasionally. They still offer plenty of memorable stories about the making of the film (including the fact that the whole “ribbed” gag was inspired by something that had happened to one of Russell’s high school classmates).
The commentary with Shawnee Smith is moderated by Justin Beahm of Reverend Entertainment, and it’s a bit more sedate in comparison. Smith is as charming as ever, but she’s prone to terse responses to Beahm’s questions, and there are frequent gaps throughout. She does warm up eventually, so the energy level gradually improves, but needless to say she can only offer limited information about the making of the film. Hardcore Shawnee Smith fans will doubtless enjoy this track, but everyone else may want to give it a miss. The archival commentary with Russell is far more interesting. It’s moderated by Ryan Turek, former editor of the Shock Till You Drop website (he’s now an executive producer at Blumhouse), and the two of them have a much livelier conversation. Some of the information they cover understandably overlaps with the newer group commentary, but there’s still plenty of unique stories that make this track well worth a listen.
With few exceptions, the rest of the extras consist of static interviews that were produced by Reverend Entertainment. Frankly, they all would have benefited from being condensed and combined into a single making-of documentary instead. Boutique labels like Shout! Factory may be working on tight budgets, but others like Vinegar Syndrome have increasingly been doing just that for far more obscure titles like Night Screams and Evil Laugh. Combining interviews into an organized documentary makes them much more dynamic and interesting than they are here.
It Fell from the Sky and I Killed the Strawberry form a two-part interview with Chuck Russell. It Fell from the Sky covers the earlier stages of his life and career. That includes everything from his schooling and influences to co-writing Dreamscape, and then to the period of his life spent working at New Line Cinema while making his directorial debut with A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors. I Killed the Strawberry focuses more narrowly on the making of The Blob. He talks about how the original film had always stayed in his head ever since he first saw it, and he had been kicking around the idea of remaking it long before the project actually came together. Jack Harris decided to take a chance on Russell and ended up selling the rights to him for $1.00. The rest, as they say, was history.
We Have Work to Do features the perpetually likable Jeffrey DeMunn, who talks about how he started a career in acting and eventually worked his way up to his role in The Blob. Minding the Diner is with the no less likable Candy Clark, who also spends some time working through her early life and career before getting to the subject at hand. They Call Me Mellow Purple offers Donovan Leitch, Jr. doing much the same thing, and Try to Scream!, features Bill Moseley—well, you’re probably getting the idea by now. It’s nice to have all of the biographical information for archival purposes, but fans of The Blob may start to get a bit impatient waiting for everyone to start talking about the actual film. (By the way, Beahm makes use of Sleeping Pill during the introduction to They Call Me Mellow Purple, so the mystery deepens.)
The crew interviews have a bit more meat on their bones, although many of them still take the time to develop. Shoot Him! features Mark Irwin, who provides some stories about making the film, though not quite as much practical details regarding the cameras, lenses, film stocks, and lighting rigs that he used. (Speaking as a cinematography nerd, some of us really appreciate hearing those kinds of details.) The rest of the interviews include various other technicians and artists. I Want That Organism Alive! is with mechanical effects artist Peter Abrahamson; The Incredible Melting Man is with Tony Gardner; Monster Math is with effects supervisor Christopher Gilman; Haddonfield to Arborville is with production designer Craig Stearns; and The Secret of the Ooze is with mechanical designer Mark Setrakian.
Finally, the one true piece of behind-the-scenes material in the set is Gardner’s Grue Crew. It’s a reel of home video footage of Gardner’s team working on the makeup and creature effects. A good chunk of it is devoted to showing the process of doing a lifecast of Donavan Leitch, Jr., but there’s also some examples of them testing animatronics, melting effects, and severed limbs. The footage is silent, accompanied by the score from the film.
That’s four-and-a-half hours of commentaries, nearly four hours of interviews, and forty minutes of other material. From a sheer quantity perspective, it’s an impressive amount of content, but it’s hard not to wish for a tighter editorial and organizational hand. Yet it’s still not everything from previous releases. The Twilight Time Blu-ray included a Q&A with Russell, Ryan Turek, and Joshua Miller, plus an isolated score track and a booklet with an essay by the always insightful Julie Kirgo. The Australian Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment offered a different interview with Russell, and the French Blu-ray from ESC Editions included an interview with Olivier Père. That’s about it, though, so while you may want to hang onto any of those discs to retain the additional extras, you can safely get rid of any others in favor of this new Shout! Factory UHD. After seeing the quality of this 4K presentation of The Blob, you’ll never be able to go back.
- Stephen Bjork