As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I watched the movie The Blob (1988), directed by Chuck Russell, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.
The Blob is a surprisingly good movie with a ridiculous concept. A ball of goo terrorizes a small town. Despite this campy idea, I enjoyed the movie immensely. It’s proof that execution matters just as much as concept.
Two things in particular strike me as being responsible for this movie’s success. (And by “success,” I’m referring to the fact that it made me like it.) First, it developed characters early on through romantic and familial attachments and then had the nerve to kill those characters after making us like them. Second, the movie created a steady growth in tension in parallel with the growth of the blob itself.
In the opening scenes, the first character we meet (if I remember correctly) is Paul. Paul’s an all-American football hero, who, like many high-school boys, has a crush on a cheerleader. In some ways, Paul is a stereotype. He’s athletic and good-looking, and he likes a cheerleader. However, he veers away from the stereotype in how sweetly and innocently he treats the girl when he gets a date with her. Similarly, the sheriff asks a waitress out for a date, and she appears to display interest in return.
Paul, the sheriff, and the waitress all die. And it’s perfect. It’s especially wonderful because I really thought Paul would be the hero of the movie, because he was the first character we met. But nope, he was the second character to die. As a result, I immediately got the impression that anyone could die in this movie.
The blob itself could so easily have been lame. A ball of goo is an unlikely antagonist, yet it works. This particular ball of goo actively stalks its prey. Plus, its continued growth projects into growing tension. It doesn’t simply get bigger; it gets deadlier. In its first appearance, the blob slowly eats a man’s arm. But it gets more active as it grows. Toward the middle of the movie, its tentacles snatch up movie theater patrons with deadly precision. The monster rockets across floors and ceilings at incredible speed for a slimy beast, which I would have expected to move at a snail’s pace. I admit it; I was riveted.
At first, I had mixed feelings when it is revealed that the blob is a man-made creation, but that works as well. Because of this twist, a new antagonist is introduced. Although the blob is a predatory monster, it lacks human motivation, which the best villains have in spades. By introducing a human monster, in addition to the blob, we now have a human antagonist that viewers can relate to and legitimately hate.
Lastly, I want to talk about the ending. I appreciate it when horror movies don’t tie things into a neat little bow, and The Blob did not disappoint. The monster’s crystalline remnants have the potential to turn into new blobs—possibly multiple new blobs. Even though I don’t expect a sequel, I liked ending on a note that suggests the horror might not be over after all.