I’m not usually a fan of remakes. They’re either a cynical attempt to recreate the magic of the original (see 2003’s The Italian Job, 2006’s The Wicker Man, 2016’s Ghostbusters) or a remake of a foreign-language film to placate lazy American audiences who don’t like to read subtitles (see 2006’s The Departed, 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, 2013’s Oldboy). Sometimes, remakes are just offensive. I remember seeing Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, and people were laughing out loud in the cinema. It wasn’t intended to be one of the year’s best comedies.
There are exceptions, of course. Batman Begins (2005) and Casino Royale (2006) proved that reboots could provide a new perspective on a tired franchise, and some remakes – Philip Kaufman’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) – offer enough innovation to justify the new version.
I’m not sure we needed two different versions of the Spider-Man origin story (2002, 2012) only ten years apart though. I’m just glad Andrew ‘mouth-breather’ Garfield isn’t the webbed-wonder anymore.
Given the three good examples, it seems that 50s sci-fi films generally offer rich material to base a remake on. This could be due to the 30-year gap between original and remake, but we’re seeing remakes of ‘80s and ‘90s films nowadays, and the hit-rate isn’t good. It’s more likely that the advent of new technology enhanced the films and their special effects. I suspect the evolution of film in that specific 30-year period – from B-movies in the ‘50s, to New Hollywood at the end of the ‘60s, and the film-school generation of the ‘70s – is the main culprit.
And so we arrive at Chuck Russell’s The Blob, another ‘50s sci-fi b-movie remake. The original film was directed by Irvin Yeaworth and starred Steve McQueen in his leading-man debut. The remake’s co-writer Frank Darabont is the biggest clue of what lies ahead, as the film has a small-town setting and small-town mentality as his later works (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Majestic, The Mist).
First, we’re treated to the classic Tri-Star studio ident, an evergreen favourite. A white stallion runs in slow-motion toward the screen. It sprouts wings and flies above the Tri-Star logo. Everything is going to be alright! Until Michael Hoenig’s ominous synth score over the opening credits tells us otherwise.
The Blob was an early favourite when my family first got Sky Movies, and for some reason I’ve been placing Matt Dillon in this film for the last thirty years. It’s actually older brother Kevin Dillon who plays the lead role of Brian – Brian! – but the two look so similar it’s not hard to mix them up. Looking back, it now looks more like Ethan Hawke playing the part of Matt Dillon, with the worst wig ever, in a biopic of his young life as a greaser.
The Blob itself looks like the genesis for the slime in the following year’s Ghostbusters II. It looks lovely. Nice and pink, but not that threatening when you think about it. And if you thought the Blob was slow, you should have seen Slugs, another slow-moving horror which crawled into cinemas six months before The Blob. It was so non-threatening, I watched it with my Mum!
And yet, despite its beauty and slow pace, the Blob is threatening as a malevolent force. At least in the first half of the picture, before it becomes too big for the screen and the filmmakers resort to rear-screen projection to show its scale. The special effects by Tony Gardner are awesome: wonderful practical effects, akin to the groundbreaking effects by Rob Bottin in John Carpenter’s The Thing; all the more terrifying because they look and feel real.
My favourite effects shot is in the hospital when the Blob takes its second victim, the football-player Paul. His date Meg hears his scream from another room, and races in to find him screaming from within the Blob, as he tries to escape its clutches. That one shot is genuinely terrifying. Another fantastic sequence takes place in the diner, when the short-order cook is sucked head-first through a plughole. Mamma mia!
I always chuckle at the finale in which the townsfolk figure out that the Blob’s weakness is cold temperatures. Brian’s solution is to go and steal the town’s snow-maker truck, and use its tanks of liquid nitrogen to freeze it to death. Now, you may ask yourself why a small town has a snow-making truck. It’s not like they explicitly state that the town is a ski-resort. As a plot-point, this is problematic.
The performances are mostly great and the script isn’t too bad. At least it doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. In fact, the film’s major weakness is Michael Hoenig’s score. I usually love synth soundtracks, but not this one. I’d expect better from a member of Tangerine Dream. Apart from the main title theme and a couple of other cues, it mostly sounds tacky and melodramatic; like the High School AV club got use of the school’s cheap Casio keyboard.
Hit: Main Title
Hidden Gem: Into The Sewer