DVD released 2001 by The Criterion Collection
85 minutes, color, widescreen (1.66:1 aspect ratio)
Enhanced for 16x9 TVs, mono sound, optional English subtitles
Extras include theatrical trailer, two audio commentaries, photo gallery of movie memorabilia, poster insert
Suggested retail price: $39.95.
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When I mentioned to a 50-ish friend that I was going to review a new DVD of The Blob, he immediately broke into a rendition of the bouncy theme song. This early Burt Bacharach tune was an unlikely top-40 hit in its time, but its not the only reason horror fans and drive-in patrons of a certain age remember The Blob with unusual affection.
The Blob is a homespun tale of alien menace that has inspired a cultish following, a well-made, unpretentious drama from a more innocent time. Most viewers remember the enthusiastic performance by Steve McQueen in an early starring role, but all the acting is commendable. There are some clumsy moments in the direction and editing, but some ingenious sequences too, particularly in the clever use of miniatures to stage blob attacks. The movie has a feel of being rooted in the real world, mostly because of the extensive use of actual locations around the Chester Springs and Phoenixville area of Pennsylvania. The monster is original, as is the situation of its victims, and the plot is handled sensibly, particularly the unusually logical resolution. The key scenes are ingenious, particularly the scene in which the blob attacks a crowd of horror-movie patrons through the projection room. Its one of the most satisfying of 1950s monster flicks.
There are cheaper versions in print on DVD and tape, but the films blobby beauty really comes forth in this exceptional Criterion version, which is as clean and crisp a transfer as you could hope to see. If you recall this film from late-night TV screenings, the Criterion DVD will be an entirely different, vastly better experience. The disk preserves the vibrant color that set this movie apart from its drab black-and-white rivals, and the picture is exceptionally detailed and clean.
The extras are appropriate, including a slide-show tour of collector Wes Shanks Blob memorabilia and two audio commentaries, one by director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. and actor Robert Fields, the other by producer Jack H. Harris and film historian Bruce Eder. These audio tracks are not conversations, but apparently cut-and-paste mixes of separate commentaries by each participant. Theyre not as screen-specific as one would hope, and sometimes the veteran filmmakers lapse into long anecdotes, but these yarns can give insight into the world of independent filmmaking circa 1958.
Producer Jack H. Harris was a regional film distributor until he made The Blob, basically on a dare. Inspired by The Thing From Another World, and challenged by his peers to make a quality science fiction film on a low budget, he exceeded expectations by turning current Hollywood clichés upside down. The alien is portrayed by a piece of blood-red silicone, not a human actor in a suit; its not here for world domination, or to save its home planet, or higher motives of any kindits just hungry. The teenagers are mistreated and put down by their elders, but theyre not the usual B-movie delinquents; in fact, theyre trying to save the day by warning authorities. Local cops dont take the teens seriously of course, and meanwhile several locals are swallowed up in the growing goop.
Harris opted to make the film in color and in small town locales far from any studio, capturing a seldom-seen view of 1950s life in the process. Besides headliner McQueen, the actors were recruited from among young New York hopefuls (including the radiant Aneta Corseaut), regional theater players and the ranks of old Hollywood character actors. Crew members came from a local studio normally in the business of making short religious films.
The budget was a meager $240,000, but only occasionally will you see any evidence of cheapness on screen, and then its mainly in a shortage of film for retakes and close-ups.
This is still an easy film to like and even admire, and the comic 1972 sequel and the gory 1988 remake did nothing to stain the reputation of the 1958 original. In 1958, it must have been a breath of fresh air after the wave of back-lot creature features and amateurish drive-in fare that followed The Thing. Criterion, better known as a purveyor of artsy foreign films, did the right thing in restoring this creepy classic.
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David Christenson is a journalist, photographer, dealer in used and rare books, ex-beekeeper and movie buff who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Copyright © 2001 David Christenson. All rights reserved.