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The Blob (1958) October 12th, 2020

I love monster movies. Monsters actually created The List. Back then my wife and I decided to watch every movie in the Universal Monsters catalog. At the time a 30 movie commitment felt ambitious but now The List has grown out of control, absorbing every film in sight. Now it stands over 500 stories tall with no end in sight. It’s just like in The Blob! Just a well meaning couple trying to enjoy our nights together ended up with an uncontrollable monster on our hands.

Who’s the most famous monster in the world? Godzilla? Frankenstein’s creature? Mitch McConnell? Who can say? In some ways they’re all household names for gruesome single-minded brutes prone to wanton destruction and disregard for civilization. Is The Blob in their company? Let’s find out.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Blob arrives on earth as a meteorite making landfall not far from a teenage couple who’re busy ‘parking’ at night. Steve Andres (Steve McQueen) and his girlfriend Jane Martin (Anita Corsaut) see a shooting star crash and rush to investigate. They discover an unconscious man with a large purple/brown gel-like substance encasing his hand at the impact crater. They rush the unconscious man to a local doctors office. There, the monster kills the doctor and escapes his clinic, teenagers Steve and Jane try their best to convince the local police that a gelatinous beast is loose in town but the story is unbelievable and unheeded.

This is one of the most compelling aspects of The Blob. Ya see, the concept of teenagers is only about 100 years old. Yeah humans have always aged from 12 to 20 but classifying pubescent adolescents as their own social group began in the 1920’s (click HERE for a great article on the subject). In some ways the hotrod obsessed teenage culture of the 1950’s were the first teenage generation represented as film protagonists. Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild One and countless others cemented the turbulent adolescent years of young Americans as a significant part of the human condition separate and distinct from the antecedent childhood and preceding adulthood.

Yeah, it’s easy to dismiss The Blob as a schlocky low-budget monster movie… because it is. It’s also about young adults embracing their agency, shedding the protective cocoon of childhood and thrusting headlong into the adult world. Banding together, the teens warn the town that a monster’s on the loose. But no one believes them. Would you?

A roving band of teens enter your bank, your gas station, your theater and explain a blob monster is headed your way and if you don’t vacate you’ll die next! There’s no way you’d believe that right? Imagine these kids start harassing the police, taking up their time with wild stories about blob monsters! Now this childish prank’s interfering with important social institutions! This is getting out of control. Now imagine those kids are right. It’s like Jaws, Brody sounds the alarm about the deadly shark to no avail. The difference is Brody possesses all the authority of a law enforcement officer, and Steve McQueen’s just a kid.

The Blob is silly and harmless but then the last few moments of the film are a kick in the nuts. Steve McQueen and the townsfolk figure out The Blob is weak to cold and freeze it with fire extinguishers. The police contact the military who enact a plan to ship The Blob to the arctic where it will remain frozen forever. Then Steve McQueen tosses the last line away like it’s nothing “Yeah, as long as the arctic stays cold.” The shot cross dissolves to a shipping container parachuting into the ice sheets at the top of the world and the words “The End” form on screen, before morphing into the shape of a question mark. I don’t know enough about climate change to know when the effects fossil fuels on our environment began but in 2021 it’s a matter of fact. Our ice caps are melting and it’s our fault. So not only is the planet going to be less habitable but global warming’s gonna bring back The Blob.

As a monster, The Blob kind of rules. It’s design is painfully simple, a dark purplish gelatinous mass that grows as it absorbs people and animals in its path. Presumably either dissolving their bodies as their matter is added to it’s growing girth. A series of camera tricks lends The Blob its peculiar way of moving, like it’s dripping towards it’s victims (That’s because it is. Putting the gelatinous prop on a flat surface and hanging it upside down or at an angle lets gravity do all the work previously done by hard working stop-motion animators. Sometimes reverse footage is used to lend The Blob a sense of speed. It’s incredibly simple, innovative and looks awesome). The Blob doesn’t earn it’s frigid defeat. There’s one scene where Steve and Jane hide from the monster in a walk-in freezer. When The Blob tries to get in it’s repulsed by the cold, but there’s no metaphor there. There’s no narrative complexity to the human triumph. No symbolism, no allusions. It’s like the ‘red matter’ from J.J. Abrams Star Trek. Why does this work? What does it matter? Answers: Shut up, go play catch with yourself.

I’m sure many arguments exist about what The Blob represents, but they’re all overly analytical and flowery. Is it the all consuming appetite of capitalism? Maybe, but it’s 1958, we need teenagers to start spending and commies are the enemy. Ok, then does it represent the formless lack of individuality left over after communism consumes the proletariat’s life force and labor (I know, I’m being redundant)? Maybe it does Senator McCarthy, but doesn’t that notion clash with the celebrated heroics of rebellious teenagers who’re paradoxically in need of discipline? Don’t answer my question with a question. Does The Blob represent the realities of adulthood, consuming and destroying the places and people that populate your childhood? Maybe that one, but fuck it nothing matters because The Blob actually represents death. It’s not that well hidden.

Most people learn they’re going to die when they’re teenagers. I don’t mean the thought finally occurs to them but their own mortality, that’s what they learn. They learn they’re going to die. Once the thought of dying has you the rest of your life is spent running into denial away from reality as the plodding inevitability of death hunts you, consuming slower older loved ones before you eventually slow down too, your teenage years long gone. It gets everyone and it never stops. Discovering your own mortality is like finding a rat turd in your ice cream. You can have a grand ol’ time before realizing it’s full of shit. Overly analytical? Check. Flowery? Like nightshade.

PS: And lastly I’d like to go back to the beginning. The Blob starts with a trippy opening title sequence and a jazzy theme song. I don’t precisely know to which genre the song belongs but it sounds sort of like an early surf rock tune mixed with lounge pop performed by Burt Bacharach. No for real, he wrote the song. I can’t imagine the circumstance where I’d sit down and just vibe with this song but it sure has it’s place, safely contained at the beginning of the feature presentation. Remember it next time you’re making a Halloween Spotify playlist.

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