For a time when I was a kid, I was scared to death of Jell-O. If I saw a bowl full of gelatin— green, yellow or especially red— I was likely to take for the hills. Okay, so I was an overly sensitive child, and a bit of a weenie. But this wasn’t just some odd aversion to a particular dessert. The underlying reason for my fear was THE BLOB. I must’ve seen it on one of those Channel 9 marathons they used to run on weekdays sometimes after school. That first time I saw it, I noticed it looked suspiciously like the Jell-O that I had seen in my fridge not too long before (I’ll get back to the fridge and its relevance to the film later). And from then on out, for a period of time, I was sure the Jell-O was going to eat me, instead of the other way around.
Funny how powerful an impression a film can make on a sensitive youth. Even funnier, how through adult eyes I can’t believe I ever feared Jell-O based on THE BLOB. Despite its pedigree almost 60 years later, the flick is hardly scary, and barely qualifies as a monster movie for most of its 82 minute run. Though that still makes no excuse for me being a weenie, at any age.
It begins innocently enough. High school good guy Steve is out on a date deep in the woods with good girl Jane (and please don’t call her “Janey girl.”) They see a shooting star and go to take a look. But it’s not a shooting star. It’s some kind of meteorite, roughly the size of a volleyball. An old man who lives nearby also takes a look. He breaks the thing open with a stick and out crawls a little blob, right up the stick and onto his arm. Steve and Jane rush him to the town doctor, who was about to embark on a business trip. As doc examines the old man, Steve drag races some town punks in reverse. And it looks like harmless fun will follow. Except, the doc finds that the blob is absorbing the old man, and it doesn’t want to stop growing.
Let’s take stock. A gelatinous blob that eats everything in its path, and it won’t stop growing. Give it a night and it would eat the whole town. Give it a week or two and there goes life on Earth. And the way the old man sold it, young Phillie swore that being eaten by this thing would be akin to stepping on a jellyfish, only infinitely more painful on the way to perishment.
If it had played out that way, I’d likely still avoid Jell-O. But watching it as an adult, I realized that the flick played much differently in my memory. I remembered The Blob engulfing much of the town. Instead, it disappears for a long time. In its place, I got REBEL MOSTLY WITHOUT A BLOB, a 1950s movie about teen angst and distrustful adults. Steve and Jane spend a long time trying to convince three cops that there’s a monster out there. The police refuse to believe them, because: they’re kids, and no rational adult would believe a story like that on face value. But then, I wouldn’t go as far as the one cop who swears they’re saying this as some elaborate form of prank either. Sadly, Steve doesn’t do much to help himself. Steve McQueen does his best James Dean, but he’s so unconvincing it’s hard to believe this is the same actor from PAPILLON or BULLITT. And Jane is a milksop who isn’t even sure she saw a blob.
Sprinkled in every so often is a Blob attack. There’s one at a gas station, another in a grocery store, and the most famous attack on a movie theatre. But even these are letdowns, as they’re brief and don’t show much. The most tense scene takes place in the grocery freezer, where Steve finds the Blob may have one weakness (and even gave me rationale for why the Blob didn’t attack my brother Al every time he opened the fridge door). That scene provides some tension, as does the climax, where Steve, Jane and a small assortment of others seem sure goners in a diner enveloped by the now massive Blob. But the tension is short lived, even if the latter explains that there are upwards of 20 fire extinguishers at the local high school (don’t ask, or try to apply any logic to this goofy film).
If only THE BLOB had followed through on that opening with the old man getting attacked. Those scenes set the stage for a whole lot of action that never comes along. Say what you want about remakes, but Chuck Russell’s version delivers the goods, where the original does not. The original is dull and does everything it can not to be a monster movie. Upon final analysis, it’s just slightly better than any programmer of its time, and that’s because of production value and McQueen’s presence.
Fortunately, my childhood went back to normal rather quickly, and I was reformed to the point where soon after I could indulge in Jell-O again. Having watched THE BLOB as an adult and been to many adult parties, I’m happy to report it won’t get between me and my next Jell-O shot either.