THE BLOB – Blu-ray review

The blob is a metaphor, you see, a metaphor for… it’s just a blob. And it is the purest blob the cinema has ever seen. It spent untold millennia soaring through space inside of a meteor just so it could crash land in a rural Pennsylvania town and simply be a blob. It’s not the vanguard of an invasion force, it’s not a symbol of scientific hubris (like, say, a Hulk might be), it’s not making things personal. It’s a blob. It looks like a blob, it oozes around like a blob, and it gobbles up people just like a blob. Or as the infectious and inappropriately cheerful theme song by Burt Bacharach and Mack David tells us, “It creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor right through the door .. be careful of the blob!”

Despite the music, “The Blob” (1958) is played strictly poker-faced, though there’s an inherent streak of absurdity in any film that asks us to accept a 28 year-old Steve McQueen as a rebellious teen. McQueen could pass for 38 before he could pass for 18; he was just two years from “The Magnificent Seven” and his tenure as America’s most reliable tough guy. We can play along though. McQueen is a wide-eyed naif here, always well-meaning but not the most active or macho of heroes, though he does eventually muster his fellow “teens” to wake up the old folks and other authority figures who just refuse, for some reason, to believe that an alien has popped out of a meteorite and begun consuming the locals.

I wish “The Blob” was as fun as its reputation suggests but it’s one of those monster movies that holds back the monster so much that the first time you finally get the action sequence you’ve been waiting for is also just about the last. The acting, including “young” Steve McQueen, can only be appreciated with the affection engendered by decades of communal enjoyment (formerly conducted at quaint places known as “drive-ins”) of the film. Director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. gets the job done more or less, but the man who was really more interested in making religious films (he worked with Billy Graham for a while) would never be praised for his elaborate mise-en-scene, not even in subsequent masterworks such as “4D Man” and “Dinosaurus!”

The film’s enduring appeal is largely attributable to the rather vivid portrait of ’50s suburbia that it presents. Though primarily shot in studios, the production also took advantage of locations in Downingtown, Phoenixville, and other Philadelphia-area towns. Life here is sleepy but certainly not unsophisticated, despite the gap-toothed old codger destined to be the blob’s first victim. The teens are just looking for something (or someone) to do, out killing whatever time they have left before their schedules are consumed by their eventual professions, but they are fairly quick to adapt to the surprising situation. And once the police are finally convinced of the blood-red menace they’re on the radio with the government coordinating action on a national level; they aren’t yokels by any means. Specific sites such as the Downingtown Diner and the Colonial Theater, featured both life-sized and in miniature, add the kind of authentic touch that has fueled more than fifty years’ worth of film tours and screenings in the area.

The script is painfully talky at times, and you can always count on an officious old lady or a pwecious widdle boy to show up on annoying cue to bring the action to a grinding halt. But when the blob finally oozes his way into the theater and scares the bejeezus out of all the people who paid money to have the bejeezus scared out of them by Bela Lugosi, you have to tip your cap to an inspired and justifiably iconic stretch of filmmaking. I used to feel bad for that poor projectionist, but now I just thank God he didn’t live to see Digital Cinema Package. He’s in a better place.

Regardless of the film’s weaknesses, it will always have the blob who is… the blob, which is something none of  the other gluttonous, gelatinous pretenders who followed in his wake can ever take away from him.

Video:
The film is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.

Criterion first released “The Blob” on SD back in 2000 (this Blu-ray release retains the old Spine Number 91.) I don’t have the SD as a comparison point, but while this new 1080p transfer isn’t one of Criterion’s deluxe treatments, it should please fans. According to Criterion: “This new digital transfer was created in 4k resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the original 35 mm camera negative; reel five, however, had to be scanned from a  35 mm interpositive, due to the poor condition of that portion of the negative.”

Unlike many cheaper horror films of the time, “The Blob” was shot in color. In fact, it was “82 Minutes of Concentrated Motion Picture Terror! In Bloodcurdling Color!” Blood-red is certainly a major motif, mostly because of the blob (the film isn’t graphic at all) and the colors are generally quite vivid on this high-def transfer. Image quality is sharp with the occasional soft spot and detail isn’t quite as strong in some of the darkest night-time scenes, but overall there’s nothing to complain about. The source print appears to be mostly damage-free.

Audio:
The linear PCM Mono track is probably one of the weakest of any recent Criterion release, though I suspect that is due to the source material. It’s been cleaned up but it’s far from immaculate with occasional signs of distortion and hiss. The theme song sounds groovy, though. Optional English subtitles support the English audio. No subtitles for any Blob-ese, because there isn’t any. I keep telling you he’s just a blob.

Extras:
Criterion hasn’t added any supplements from its relatively sparse 2000 SD release. I guess I shouldn’t call it sparse since the film is accompanied by two full-length commentary tracks, both recorded in 2000 for Criterion, and certainly one of the major draws of this release for fans. One track features producer Jack H. Harris and film historian Bruce Eder, though it’s mostly Harris with more modest contributions from Eder. The track is informative enough to be worth checking out, but Harris doesn’t always have a lot of insight to offer. The second track features director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. and actor Robert Fields who played teen Tony Gressette. I have only briefly sampled it.

The other extra imported from the SD release is “Blobabilia!” a photo gallery consisting of production stills and posters from the collection of Wes Shank. You have to step through this feature one chapter at a time, 88 chapters total, about half of which are text introducing the next image. It’s cool, but 88 steps is definitely sufficient.

The disc also includes the two-minute Theatrical Trailer.

The slim fold-out insert booklet includes an essay by critic, broadcaster, and horror aficionado Kim Newman. The booklet in the 2000 SD release had an essay by Bruce Kawin, which is not offered here.

Film Value:
If the blob’s weakness is cold, then does that mean that space is much warmer than we think it is? I think our scientists have a lot of explaining to do.

Anyone hoping that Criterion’s high-def release of an early title would be accompanied by a new set of extras will be disappointed, and it’s hard to recommend a double dip just for the Blu-ray upgrade. But this is certainly the best release of “The Blob” to date, not that the competition is stiff for that honor.

Reply