Nostalgia. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”. It’s likely the reason many of us are horror fans; we long to experience again the thrills we felt when we first saw [ insert name of favorite horror movie here ].
Movies of all genres cause audiences to feel nostalgic, but not only because of when and where we saw them; also, because of their content.
I have no distinct memories of watching the original THE BLOB (1958); I cannot credit it for my destiny as a horror fan. However, watching it recently, I became extremely nostalgic for the era in which it was made. And I wasn’t even alive in the 50’s. The list of horror films that truly reflect the times in which they were made is short, but THE BLOB tops that list. By no means is it a great movie, maybe not even a good movie. But there is no denying that it is a significant and relevant part of horror history.
Yes, many movies reflect their eras, if you pay attention to the clothing and hairstyles. But THE BLOB is all about the 50’s from beginning to end. Sure, with the clothes, hair and automobiles, but also with the attitude. In THE BLOB, doctors worked out of their homes (complete with informational signs about Polio hanging in their living rooms), audiences were enthralled by the midnight “spooky” show at the downtown theater for 80 cents, grocery shoppers could pick up watermelons for 4 cents a pound and the biggest threat facing local police from antsy teenagers was a little “horseplay” on the roads.
In addition, there are “throwaway” reflections of the times that go by so quickly you almost miss them. I’m not so good with history, but this was an era sandwiched between World War II and Viet Nam when backyard bomb shelters were clearly still been in style. Townsfolk make reference to “war” and a sound that breaks the night is clearly identified as “the air raid sirens”. You see, it’s a movie made in that time that is not specifically about that time and yet also about nothing but that time.
So what does that have to do with how good a movie THE BLOB is (or isn’t). For one thing, it adequately explains how anyone could be terrified by a jiggling scoop of Jell-O. This was an era when people were frightened of everything. It reflects an innocence long gone. With everything that we’ve seen since 1958, I wish it took only that to terrify me! Is that a reason to like a movie? When any movie evokes such feelings, I say “yes”.
I actually have a clearer memory of seeing the remake of THE BLOB (1988) and thinking at the time that it was a pretty darned good movie. But it wasn’t until I re-watched it that I realized it also evokes a bit of nostalgia. Much more dated than I would have thought, everything from Kevin Dillon’s mullet to the synthesized soundtrack screams the 80’s. Not as integral a part of its makeup as the original, nostalgia still suggested a common theme with which to compare the two movies.
The first thing the remake of THE BLOB tells us is that the times have changed. The thriving small-town of the 50’s lies dying; tumbleweeds literally roll down its streets. The doctors’ home offices have been updated by emergency rooms. The Bela Lugosi movie that had audiences on the edge of their seats has been replaced by “Garden Tool Massacre”, which a drunk heckler disrupts. And the hero of our story, so perfectly played by Steve McQueen in the original, is now the actual troubled teen (Dillon) that McQueen was falsely accused of being, recently released from a stint at juvie hall.
Something from their grandmother’s plate at the nursing home is not going to scare these people. But since it’s the 80’s, both in the story and when the movie was made, neither is the “monster” a slow, amorphous, albeit growing, gelatinous… well, “blob”. Instead, it is a fast, vicious, shape-changing, tendril-laced being that can not only cover and digest its victims, but also savagely pull a fully grown man down the drain of a kitchen sink. (It’s also fond of revealing various body parts of its victims to new people that it envelops.)
Yes, this creature is more akin to John Carpenter’s THE THING than it is to the original THE BLOB. The remake borrows not only from its predecessor, but also from other movies of the decade. E.T. is also evoked when the crew of white-uniformed health officials swarm into town, presumably to save its people. Ah, but you see, in the 80’s, the monster alone is not the threat, rather the government conspiracy behind it. Again, the simple threats of the 50’s just don’t do it 30 years later.
The original THE BLOB is slow-moving and talky; the remake is fast-paced and action-packed. Both movies have their share of creepy, suspenseful moments, but only the remake contains any gore. (Don’t worry, it has enough for both of them; drippings from the creature now act as corrosive acid in another movie reference, this time to ALIEN). Specific scenes from the original (old man pokes meteor with stick, something moves beneath victim’s blanket, to name two) are lifted and modernized in the remake, a fun nod to its predecessor. And make no mistake, special effects can be just as cheesy in 1988 as they can be in 1958.
Word last year that Rob Zombie was going to remake THE BLOB did not excite me, but, you know, maybe we need a new version every 30 years or so simply to document the era. I hope he does it now! What would a BLOB of the 10’s reflect? Certainly not the innocence of the 50’s. Hopefully not the excess of the 80’s. In both the 50’s and the 80’s portrayed in THE BLOBs, teenagers snuck out of their bedroom windows at night, but only in the 80’s did they also require sleeping pills to get a good night’s rest. In the 10’s, teenagers take guns to school and massacre their class mates; how scary might a version of THE BLOB be today?
Finally, to bring home my persistent theme of nostalgia, the perfect conclusion for this article lies in the final two lines of dialogue from the original version of THE BLOB (if there are such things as spoilers for movies that are 53 years old, there’s going to be one here):
“I think we’ve got it stopped.”
“Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold.”
How ironic is that? With global warming and melting ice caps, who would have thought the comedic punch line to a horror movie of yesterday might become the real-life, world-destroying threat of today. The relevance of THE BLOB is clear.