The Film: 4/5
Nearly three decades ago, one of the most enjoyable and influential sci-fi flicks of the 1950’s found itself the recipient of an effects-laden remake that was just as fun and frightening as the original. Under the guiding hand of director Chuck Russell, who co-wrote the script with his Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors collaborator Frank Darabont, The Blob emerged as one of the more entertaining works of otherworldly terror at the tail end of a decade that also gave sci-fi and horror cinema fans such brilliant remakes as John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly.
In the opening scenes, we’re lead to believe that this Blob also comes in the form of an unfriendly visitor from deep space as it did in the original, but the updated version reimagines the gooey monstrosity as the horrific result of a botched government experiment in germ warfare research that has come back to bite the entire planet right in its ass, starting with the quaint little skiing town of Arborville, CA. After quickly making a meal out of an innocent old hobo (Billy Beck), the Jell-O mold from Hell sets its sights (though it has no eyes) on the rest of the town’s unsuspecting citizenry. Only troubled local kid Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) and sweet high school cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) manage to figure out what’s really going on once the government’s clean-up crew, led by the scheming Dr. Meadows (Joe Seneca), arrive to contain the threat so they can potentially harness its carnivorous appetites to use against the Russkies.
Unfortunately for our besieged human characters, all that containin’ and figurin’ out doesn’t amount to a hill of beans the Blob really hits Arborville with a literal bang, invading movie theaters, flooding sewers, and turning all hapless townsperson in its oozing path into a dead ringer for the Incredible Melting Man (without the benefit of a Dr. Ted Nelson to completely fail at helping). No one is safe from this mountainous marauding mess of mayhem and misery, not even the children. WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?????
The original Blob has a sizable fan following and is a much better film than you might think, but it’s hardly an untouchable masterpiece of the genre. By the late 80’s it was ripe for a big screen update with state-of-the-art visual effects and plenty of squeamish thrills and chills to satisfy the era’s hungry audiences. Russell’s redo delivers on all counts, retaining the core of the original’s narrative while changing the monster’s origins and giving modern day viewers a pair of heroes to which they could relate. Kevin Dillon, the future Johnny Drama, ably steps in for the original Blob’s Steve McQueen as the remake’s unlikely youth, while Shawnee Smith (over fifteen years before she found her greatest screen success as Amanda in the Saw franchise) proves to be game for anything as Flagg’s only true friend in the world and the rare female character in a horror movie who refuses to be typecast as a damsel-in-distress. In fact, she’s equally as proactive as Dillon, going from perky cheerleader to machine gun-packing heroine by the intense finale, and Smith makes her ridiculous character arc plausible and fun to watch.
Russell and Darabont’s script has fun with the standard plot tropes of the genre, setting up Meg’s handsome jock boyfriend Paul (Donovan Leitch) as the film’s nominal hero before dispatching him in cleverly grotesque fashion. The Blob ’88 honors Joe Bob Briggs’ first rule of the drive-in: “Anyone can die at any time.” Filmed in glorious pinks, deep reds, and inky blacks by Cronenberg’s longtime cinematographer Mark Irwin, the Blob and its human smooshed peanut butter sandwich victims are realized as living EC Comics illustrations by an effects crew captained by the likes of Tony Gardner (Army of Darkness), Hoyt Yeatman (The Abyss), and Michael Fink (Blade Runner). Even with a limited budget, there is no limit to what the FX team can make this Blob do; as the Burt Bacharach tune written and recorded for the original goes, it creeps and leaps and slides and glides across the floor, but it can also snap spines, explode panes of glass, and flatten a person like a pancake.
The action is wisely restrained to having the Blob stalk individual warm meals for the first two-thirds of the film until the fantastic finale where it lays siege to Arborville in spectacular style. It’s an extended set-piece that Russell makes well worth the wait. He surrounds Dillon and Smith with a supporting cast packed with noteworthy turns from Jeffrey DeMunn (The Walking Dead) as the town sheriff, Paul McCrane (RoboCop) as his deputy, Candy Clark (The Man Who Fell to Earth) as a friendly café owner the sheriff is sweet on, Art LaFleur (Trancers) as Meg’s concerned pharmacist father, Jack Nance (Eraserhead) as Arborville’s resident physician, Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) as a unnamed terrified soldier, Michael Kenworthy (Return of the Living Dead Part II) as Meg’s little brother, and improvisational comedy legend Del Close as an eccentric local minister. Beau Billingsea (Star Trek Into Darkness), Jamison Newlander (The Lost Boys), Erika Eleniak (Under Siege), and Julie McCullough (Big Bad Mama II) also appear briefly.
Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of The Blob features a bright and slimy high-definition transfer framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio that looks much like the transfer on Twilight Time’s 2014 limited edition disc. Both appeared to have been sourced from a preexisting video master that was simply upscaled in 1080p resolution, but the results are very pleasing to the eye. The pinkish hues of the titular monster are more luminescent than ever before and greens and browns look appropriately earthy and warm. Grain content is balanced and consistent and close-up details feature an improvement in sharpness and clarity. Black levels are occasionally problematic as they annoyingly fluctuate from scene to scene. Maybe one day some understanding soul will finance a 2K or 4K restoration of The Blob and fans will finally be able to see it with absolute optimum picture quality.
The movie was originally released theatrically with an Ultra Stereo soundtrack that is replicated beautifully on the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Dialogue and the synthesizer music score composed by Michael Hoenig (The Gate) are presented clear and bereft of distortion and the sound effects are effortlessly integrated into the rest of the mix. Hardly reference quality, but a solid improvement over past home video releases for sure. English subtitles have also been provided.
Exclusive to this Blu-ray is “Directing The Blob” (18 minutes), a new interview with director Russell from David Gregory and Severin Films that covers in as much detail as the running time allows how he came to spearhead a remake of The Blob and his experiences getting it before the camera. As it turns out, Russell intended for it to be his directorial debut, but he ended up making the third Nightmare on Elm Street movie instead after he pitched the Blob remake to New Line Cinema. Russell also discusses the inspirations for some of the film’s most memorable scenes, shooting it in Louisiana, and working with a cast of inexperienced young actors and seasoned veterans. It’s a fantastic interview that goes a long way towards making up for the absence of the commentary track with Russell from the Twilight Time Blu-ray. The only remaining extra is the original theatrical trailer, which has out-of-sync audio for some unexplained reason.
Maybe one of these days The Blob will get the definitive Blu-ray release it richly deserves, but until then Umbrella Entertainment’s edition with a decent HD transfer and new interview with director Chuck Russell must suffice. Since the Twilight Time Blu has been sold out for over two years, you might find this disc a more affordable purchase. It’s worth it just for the movie itself, a gooey little rollercoaster ride that never fails to scare and thrill.