Ten years before a young filmmaker named George A. Romero got together with some business associates and friends in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to make an independent feature that would have a massive impact on the horror genre (Night of the Living Dead), Pennsylvania native Jack H. Harris made his own immortal contribution to horror/sci-fi genre pop culture when he decided to produce his own independent movie in his home state.
Harris wanted to make a monster movie, and he went to a man named Irvine H. Millgate to come up with the idea for a unique monster that had never been done before. Inspired by a 1950 police report about some kind of pulsating, glowing purple glob that had fallen from the sky near Philadelphia and evaporated as a group of officers looked on, Millgate came up with a story idea called The Molten Meteor, featuring a monster that was referred to the mass and the glob before finally being christened The Blob. Millgate’s idea was turned into a screenplay by Kate Phillips (a.k.a. Kay Linaker) and Theodore Simonson, and Harris signed local filmmaker Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. to direct the film. Yeaworth was a very religious man, he wanted to make religious movies, and he took a chance on The Blob hoping it would help out his dreams of a cinematic ministry. He ultimately wasn’t proud of getting into the monster movie business, but it’s for The Blob that he will always be remembered by audiences.
The film begins with an object falling from the sky and smashing into the ground somewhere in the wooded hills of Pennsylvania as two people look on. Unlike in the real life situation that inspired the story idea, the people who witness this event are not a pair of police officers, but a teenage couple who were parking on a lookout point, watching for shooting stars. This star came much closer than they expected – landing so close that they even decide to drive around the countryside to see if they can find where it landed.
The relationship between this young couple is clearly new and sort of awkward. Jane (do not call her “Janey girl”) is a good girl, the very prim and proper daughter of their high school’s principal, while her boyfriend Steve is a bit of a bad boy who hangs out with a fun-loving crowd that often runs into trouble with their small town’s police force due to the pranks they play on each other and the drag racing they do – racing on town streets both forward and backward.
As in a lot movies, the teenagers in this movie are played by actors who are clearly much older than their characters. Steve is famously played by future superstar of coolness Steve McQueen in his first starring role. McQueen was in his late twenties at this point, and is wearing every minute of his life on his face, with maybe some extra to grow on.
The meteor fell on the property of an old, shack-dwelling hermit, who goes out to investigate the loud crash-boom of its impact. Following a strange sort of bubbling noise out into the darkness, the old man finds its source in a small crater in his yard. A little, steaming space rock. Prodding the rock with a stick, the old man causes it to crack open and reveal a little, slimy blob within, which he also pokes with the stick, getting some on it for closer inspection. As the old man examines the slime on his stick, it oozes down toward his hand… he turns the stick upside down so the slime won’t touch his skin. But this is no ordinary slime, this stuff is some sort of living being, and rather than oozing back down the stick, it leaps forward and attaches itself to his hand… I can just imagine 1958 audiences screaming when they first saw this slime move on its own and attack the old man.
In their search for the meteor’s landing spot, Steve and Jane come across the old man stumbling in the road with the blob stuck on his hand. Whatever this slimy stuff is, it’s clearly very painful to the man, and it’s spreading further and further up his arm, changing color from clear to red as it goes. The teens take the old man to an emergency visit to the town doctor, and while the doc does his best to figure out what’s going on he sends Steve and Jane (who also enlist the help of Steve’s pals) back out to see if they can find where and how this thing got on the man’s hand.
While the teens are out, the doctor is able to deduce that the blob is absorbing the man’s flesh, growing larger as it eats the old man alive. By the time Steve and Jane get back to the doctor’s office after having found the empty space rock on the old man’s property, the old man, the doctor, and his nurse have all been consumed by the blob, which escapes out into their town to continue digesting every living thing that crosses its path, growing bigger and bigger as it goes.
With parents, adults, and authority figures waving off their claims of an all-consuming monster creeping through the streets, the teens struggle to get their fellow residents of Downingtown to believe them before it’s too late. At the rate the blob is eating and growing, it’s not hard to imagine that this whole town could be wiped out before too long if it’s not stopped… But how do you stop something that is just a big blob of sentient slime?
The production of The Blob was quite limited, given that it was made on a budget of just over $100,000, so the gelatinous monster’s rampage isn’t incredibly spectacular, but the filmmakers do their best to deliver interesting setpieces for the viewer. Characters are stalked through the aisles of a supermarket and chased into the freezer, the blob wraps itself around a burning diner with people trapped inside of it, and in the most popular scene, the blob comes seeping through the projection booth windows in a movie theatre, interrupting the good time the audience is having at the midnight spookshow.
The attack on the movie theatre is both the film’s most famous scene and my favorite moment in it. I’m sure audiences who caught theatrical screenings of The Blob at the time got a kick out of watching the monster on the screen ooze its way into a theatre much like the one they were sitting in.
The movie that gets interrupted is the experimental cheapie/horror host show regular Daughter of Horror, which producer Jack H. Harris had picked up for distribution a few years earlier. Although the shots of the blob were done in miniature, the interior of the auditorium and the exterior of the theatre were shot at the (“healthfully air conditioned”) Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. For the last several summers, Phoenixville has hosted a three-day Blobfest that’s centered around the Colonial Theatre, where The Blob and other horror movies are shown and the crowd re-enacts the moment where the frightened audience comes streaming out of the theatre.
The Blob is a very intriguing concept for a monster and it features in a movie that is very enjoyable and charming. The film wears both its low budgetness and its ’50s-ness on its sleeve, these things are very obvious when you watch it. It has issues, it’s clunky at times, but I still find it to be highly entertaining.
Most people didn’t expect much from this little production, and distributor Paramount originally purchased it as a B-movie for double features, but it quickly caught on with audiences and gained in popularity, becoming an A-picture that still has legions of fans fifty-six years later. I can see why, and I am one of those fans, I have been ever since I was a little kid. I used to catch airings of this movie regularly on television when I was young, I have fond memories of watching it several times with my maternal grandmother. I watched a lot of monster movies when I was growing up, and The Blob was always one of my favorites.
The characters and their dialogue aren’t the best, but Steve McQueen is always a captivating actor to watch, even if he was a decade too old for his role. Aneta Corsaut makes for a good heroine, although the character can be a bit too goody and bland at times. There are fun moments with side characters, like when Jane’s little brother tries to fend off the blob by firing his toy gun at it, or the elderly town volunteer who can’t figure out what uniform to put on when all of the town’s sirens are going off at once, and the (literal) breakthrough moment when Jane’s stuffy father has to vandalize his own school to help save his children and the town.
The Blob itself was brought to life through the use of balloons, miniatures, photographs, reverse photography, and primarily silicone gel. Some of that gel still survives to this day. A fan named Wes Shank has a bucketful of it, and often takes the remnants of The Blob around for convention appearances.
No write-up of The Blob is complete without making mention of the film’s jaunty theme song, which was performed by a group formed specifically to record this tune and was headed up by Burt Bacharach. This song was added by Paramount after they bought the movie, and even though it’s ridiculous, it is undeniably fun. It’s the sort of song that instantly becomes stuck in your head forever. Fair warning: if you’re going to watch this movie, be prepared to find yourself singing “Beware of The Blob, it creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor…” to yourself at random moments for the rest of your life.