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Criterion Files #91: The Blob

By  · Published on July 7th, 2010

In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho, oft-credited as the film that brought the horror genre out of the predominance of drive-in culture and into the realm of serious cinema, at least domestically since the early days of James Whale and Tod Browning. It’s the film that validated horror as a category thematically capable of producing accomplished art.

Two years prior a film was released that was very much intended for the drive-in crowd with all of its conceptual silliness (a giant glob of jell-o envelopes humans and grows exponentially as it devours) may not have left as prevalent a mark on cinema history as Hitchcock’s masterwork, or even some of its popcorn entertainment contemporaries like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but where Psycho progressed the genre forward in artistic cinematic inclusiveness and Body Snatchers (as well as many others from prior decades) solidified its usage as powerful allegory The Blob accomplished multiple feats that in hindsight can make one wonder whether or not the minds behind it were, like the the film’s antagonist, not of this world. The Blob, fifty-plus years after its release, seemed to have been made by either soothsayers or time-travelers. How’s that for science-fiction?

Who’s He?

If you were asked to pick one actor in American film history that exemplified ‘cool’ who would you pick? Bogie, maybe?. Same question, but this time personify ‘suave’ or ‘debonair’? Cary Grant? Why not? Last question. Name a ‘badass’; or, someone you’d classify as a ‘real man’. Clint Eastwood? I can’t think of a manlier one, except maybe John Wayne.

If one had to pick someone they feel captures all of the above characteristics all at once, one of the names you’d be bound to find at , or very near, the top of most lists would be Steve McQueen. Of course, in 1958 nobody would know this, not at least for another few years.

Before 1958 if you were to utter Steve McQueen’s name it would most likely be met with glazed-over eyes and confusion. Until that time he’d worked primarily in bit parts for television shows and hadn’t yet received his grand exposure to the country-at-large. He was perfect for a casting director looking to get someone cheap to fill the leading role of a teenager who has to convince everyone in town that a gelatinous glob of inexplicability is eating people and is getting larger by the meal. The star of the show, and what people would pay to see, was that gelatinous glob of inexplicability – everyone else around it just needed to be competent, but what they got was an American James Bond on the cheap.

Because of the profitability of the horror genre without the necessity of a *name* attached to the credits the likelihood that one lands actual lead-actor talent when not needing it is minimal, even today. Horror films are one of the few genres that can provide the excitability of an action film without any of its money to turn similar profit, as proven by the almost no-budget works of Paranormal Activity and its predecessor The Blair Witch Project. The instances of a Steve McQueen in The Blob or Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street (less impressive as he’s not the main character) are few and far between. To make matters even more complimentary this wasn’t just a young McQueen who hadn’t yet found himself as an actor, he is very much the McQueen that we recognize in his popular western and action-star roles. At the time McQueen wasn’t a teenager, despite playing one, and the maturity he brings to the character of Steve Andrews is something a typical horror audience would find foreign. Who would, or could, have guessed that this film would bear the name of one of the biggest stars of his generation in top form before anyone really knew who he was?

Global Environmental Foreshadowing

Granted, the casting of Steve McQueen in the starring role before he hit it big can be attributed to pure dumb luck. If Steve McQueen had never worked again after The Blob his performance would still be considered amongst the most notable in the pre-Psycho era of horror. The filmmakers did their homework and cast someone with obvious talent who had yet to get his big break. That’s people making their own luck that future generations would classify as a stroke of brilliance meeting opportunity and availability.

However, the train of freaky foresight doesn’t stop there. Packaged within this monster flick is a message that to audiences of the time was probably invisible, because it has a meaning that wouldn’t ring pertinent for at least another forty years. The message isn’t even buried within a mountain of subtext, or delivered with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge attitude. It’s blatant and hidden only by time. It is, in fact, the very last line of the movie. As soon as the townspeople learn that the glob can be contained (not killed) by freezing it these words are spoken before the credits roll:

Lieutenant Dave: “At least we’ve got it stopped. “
Steve Andrews: “Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold.”

“As long as the Arctic stays cold.” Words from 1958, warning us of what will become a topical horror story fifty years later. Change our ways now lest we environmentally reach the point of no return and the blob never be stopped.

Not only did the minds (the real minds pulling the strings, not the filmmakers and producers being pulled) attempt to give us the message fifty years ago, they were even smart enough to prompt a remake of the film in the 1980s (a very good decade for sci-fi/horror remakes) to reiterate the story’s importance before such a message would be considered too obvious and on-the-nose, as well as before horror remakes would become too fashionable and the ‘it’ thing to do in Hollywood to be taken seriously. The signs were there, we just didn’t listen or pay attention.

The Last Laugh

Upon its release The Blob was probably not considered anything more than just a good Friday night midnight show. It might not endure and better films of its kind would be released in as soon as a few months. Despite better films of its kind before and after its release The Blob retains considerable significance that only increases over time. At the time it was dumb fun, but fifty years later the film’s importance is overt and unquestionable. There’s no way humans could have cast an unknown future superstar to deliver a message that audiences wouldn’t recognize as a flagrant reprimand on environmental incompetence for another half-century. Simply put, The Blob was made by aliens, it proves that they do exist, and they know that we love drive-in movies.

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