THE THING and THE FLY are the two most notable 1980s remakes that get credit for improving greatly upon the originals. But Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake of THE BLOB, though not as ambitious as Carpenter’s and Cronenberg’s masterpieces, is quite a bit more fun than the Steve McQueen version, with updated special effects that are markedly better and squishier. It’s not essential viewing for a horror fan like the other two films I mentioned, but it’s gooey joy well worth watching.
In basic structure, the remake is similar in structure to the original. A meteor falls from the sky and cracks open. A bum touches it with a stick, its pink, Jell-O like contents crawl up his arm and start to devour him. A trip to the doctor leads to the gelatinous mess swallowing up more and more. The more it swallows, the more it grows, and it’s impervious to just about anything. The only people standing between this unstoppable, mindless mass and the end of the world are hooligan Brian and cheerleader Meg. Along the way, the teens get no help from the disbelieving adults.
I used to be scared witless of the original BLOB when I was a kid, but watching it a few years ago, I found myself bored. Not much happens in that one. But Russell, working from a script he and Frank Darabont wrote hot off the heels of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, keep things lively from the football game at the beginning, right through the ominous joke with the preacher at the end. It doesn’t take long for the Blob to get kicking, and once it does, the flick moves at a breakneck pace. It’s got the verve the original lacked, and all the better for it.
It’s also got some superb special effects. In the first half hour alone: the blob envelops the bum’s hand, eats him from the torso down, and then tees off on a teen, whose arm comes off in his date’s hand as she tries to pull him out. There’s a wicked sense of glee in all the kills, as if Russell is having a ball in directing them. Frequent Cronenberg collaborator Mark Irwin does a stellar job lighting the monster, and Russell comes up with some neat camera angles once it goes on the attack.
I especially love how Russell and Darabont’s script plays on the themes of the original: small town life and how pure it is, the divide between generations and the resultant teen angst, the joys and hardships of being a high schooler. From Meg’s overprotective parents, to the football player trying to score, to Brian’s outsider status, these themes were just as relevant in 1988 as they were in 1958. Even in a world of social apps and the PS4, I’m sure they’re still relevant today. There’s a certain innocence to the flick that survived in the transition from the original, and I really appreciate it. It plays out against the ickiness and gore of the creature and makes me root for Brian and Meg that much more, especially knowing how merciless and nasty the Blob is. When the two start to bond, it’s easy to get behind them, understanding what they’re up against.
The one big change between this and the McQueen film is the origin of the Blob. Whereas it appears the monster is some alien that fell from the skies, as it was in the original, there’s a subplot involving scientists and the military that would suggest this is some sort of manmade bio-weapon gone wrong. I can take it or leave it, but I do find it makes the flick relevant in a world where North Korea is a constant threat as madmen are still thirsty to level the planet.
If there’s one way in which the remake didn’t improve upon the original, it’s in the acting. Later in his career, Steve McQueen would become a top notch actor, but in an early role in THE BLOB, he gave a performance that would fit a popcorn movie. Kevin Dillon doesn’t fare much better, as he’s poorly suited to play a tough outsider and he’s wearing a terrible mullet wig. Shawnee Smith does more than a little overacting and wide eyed screaming. But Russell knows this is a popcorn movie at heart, and so I don’t disparage the acting so much. At least frequent Darabont collaborator Jeffrey DeMunn gives his usual solid performance as the small town sheriff, whose character is given a little more to work with.
A little B-movie acting doesn’t detract from Russell’s remake of THE BLOB. While not on quite the same next level as THE THING and THE FLY, this is one more 1980s remake that outshines the source material, with better effects and a verve that’s lacking in the original. So while the McQueen version had me fearing Jell-O as a kid, Russell’s just had me enjoying a fun popcorn flick, back in the late 80s and tonight.