So, I’ve been putting off this post because I’d have to watch both movies again. I’m okay with watching the remake, even though I’m still scared and disgusted by it. What I wasn’t prepared for was my reaction to the original film, which frankly just creeped the screaming heebee jeebies out f me, and I was reluctant to watch it again!
So here’s what I did, in the interests of bringing you guys quality film comparisons: The original movie is available on Youtube, so I watched snippets of the parts I wanted to talk about, and went to Wikipedia for the rest of it. How does that sound?
The original film is mostly famous for starring Steve McQueen, in his first movie role. None of the other actors are even memorable. The remake, made exactly thirty years later, stars Shawnee Smith, who was never seen or heard from afterwards, and Kevin Dillon, who we wish we hadn’t heard from afterwards. The trailers lead you to believe that several handsome white dudes are the stars of the movie, but those are misleading.
The remake was released in 1988, and directed by Chuck Russell, who went on to make Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, a most excellent Freddy movie, and Eraser, a mediocre film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You have to admit that a formless creature that eats people alive is a very unique monster for the fifties, which mostly seem to be stuck in giant insect mode. Giant grasshoppers, spiders, ants, seemed to be the thing. I’d love to have been a witness to the brainstorming sessions that figured out the rules for this creature. This movie is also unique in that radiation isn’t given as a reason for its existence. There’s no explanation for the monster beyond “it fell out of the sky”.
A lot of the differences, from the original to the remake, involve plot and characters, including a 2.0 upgrade on the blob’s eating techniques. It’s depicted as a giant stomach that’s a hungrier, and much, much faster, alpha predator, that actively pursues its food. Whether you prefer the slow insidious blob, in the original, or the faster, fit-active blob, is mostly a matter of preference. Its like fast vs. slow zombies. How would you prefer to be eaten? Quickly or slowly? The first film is a lot simpler in plot and the characters themselves aren’t as complicated. There are still mostly the same types of characters in each movie: the pretty girl, the bad boy, the hero type boy, doing pretty much the same things they did in the original film, but they’ve been padded out with extra information.
Women and girls have bigger roles in the remake, which just furthers my argument that at some point after the eighties, Hollywood devolved when it came to its depictions of women. (Hollywood never had a chance to devolve regarding WoC because we were never featured anyway.) There were a lot of movies, horror movies in particular, that had a lot of strong female characters in them. I would say that was largely because of the influence of tent-pole films like Alien and Halloween.
One of the biggest differences between the films, and something that every reviewer of the time kept pointing out, was that the guys you think are going to be the fine upstanding heroes of the movie, Paul and his best friend, get eaten by the blob in the first thirty minutes. In the original you know Steve McQueen’s character, conveniently named Steve, is going to be the hero from the moment you see him and I like how the remake turned that idea on its head.
The setup is pretty clear. Paul is the captain of the football team, who asks Meg, a cheerleader, for a date. (I actually liked Meg because unlike Jane, in the original film, she has a personality, and I liked her quirky looks). Meg gets a lot of screentime. Meg, Paul and Brian (the local thug), are the teenagers who witness the fall of the meteorite and the blob’s attack on its first victim, a homeless man who, for reasons known only to alcoholics and God, decides to poke it with a stick. That was mistake number one.
The original movie is entirely in keeping with the tradition of teenagers who see something, and say something, but aren’t believed by the local authorities. In the remake the teenagers never really get a chance to tell any of the adults. Meg attempts to tell the sheriff what happened to Paul, but he, and his deputy, would rather believe that Brian, the local ne’er do well, is responsible for cutting off Paul’s arm, the only thing the blob left behind.
Most of the original plot is kept intact for the first thirty minutes, until Paul gets killed, after which you think that Brian, played by Kevin Dillon, with a mullet (which is how you could tell someone was bad news, back in the eighties),is going to be the one to step up and do some hero-ing to defeat the blob. Surprise! He doesn’t do that. Instead he makes a clear case for getting the Hell out of Dodge, and tries to persuade Meg to come with him, but Meg has a family she cares about, so that conversation is vert short.
After throwing the viewers sideways with the deaths of, not just Paul, but his problematic (possibly rapist) best friend, the movie turns into an entirely new animal, with the introduction of sinister government agencies, and corrupt military officials, trying to quarantine the town. Its strongly hinted that the American government created the blob to use against the Russians, but weren’t expecting the blob to be the result, which if you ask me, is an astonishingly stupid idea, but okay. There’s also a laconic sheriff that you think might end up being heroic but he gets eaten, too. There’s also a creepy priest who, pretty much, remains creepy for the entirety of the film.
The original film keeps up the scariness to a point, mainly by upping the creepiness factor. The blob is slow and insidious, quietly creeping up on its victims. The movie but bogs down somewhat in the middle, with the addition of the local bad boys, and some drag racing. The new film mostly jettisons the character’s extracurricular activities, and moves pretty quickly to set them all up in situations where they can be eaten, or chased by the blob.
Paul and Meg get chased in a diner, where the blob traps them in the walk-in freezer, and the blob attacks the movie theater. While the theater attack is the main set piece of the original, the remake kicks it into high gear, by having the blob rampage through the streets of the town, grabbing up citizens with its tentacles and attacking the town hall, where everyone has taken refuge.
Actually, one could make the argument that the entire remake is one huge, glorious, set piece – for the blob. We get a lot of very graphic scenes of people being attacked, and eaten, by the blob, using beautiful practical effects that still hold up to scrutiny today. The movie is full of indelible imagery. Two of the most memorable: Paul’s death in the doctors office at the opening of the movie; a diner scene where a fully grown man gets pulled, head first, into a kitchen sink’s pipes; and a huge office building sized version of the blob, that flies up out of the sewers, and flattens Main Street. There are numerous scenes of the blob frantically chasing after various people: Meg and Brian at the diner, Meg and her brother at the theater, and everybody, in the middle of downtown Arborville.
The original film doesn’t even try to give an explanation of what the blob is. The only authorities present are the town sheriff and his deputy. The remake ups the ante on the gore factor, (because that was how remakes worked in the 80’s) by making the blob faster, slitherier, and more potent than the original. In the original it looks like a bag of snot. The remake turns it into a giant, drippy, stomach. Its almost sentient, as it has incredible timing, seeming to wait for opportune moments in which to attack certain people, namely the stars of the movie.
In the original movie, the more people the blob ate, the larger it grew and the redder the blob became, which was an interesting detail. In the remake, it just gets larger and more potent, having only to brush against a person for someone to be incapacitated, so we get a lot of effects shots of half eaten, moaning victims, in the theater, and streets.
In the original, the townsfolk save themselves, through a bit of cheesy, kum ba ya, spunkiness, but when the government authorities show up in the remake, led by the slimy Dr. Meddows, (played by Joe Seneca, who is most famous as Willie Brown from Crossroads) they only muck things up, making everything more convenient for the blob, by rounding everyone up into one huge smorgasbord, at the town hall.
The remake isn’t a short film, but it is economical. Everything that happens in the first thirty to forty minutes is set up for the last third of it. The ending is feminine friendly, having Meg save the day, by exploding a snow making truck loaded with liquid nitrogen canisters. It does remain unexplained where Meg learned the bomb rigging skills with which to blow up the nitrogen canisters, or where she learned how to use a machine gun, but the sight of Shawnee Smith, standing atop an overturned truck, firing into the blob, and screaming like Rambo, gave me life.
I think I may have mentioned before how sentient snot, that eats people, is one of greatest fears. I should never have watched the original movie as a child. Of course, it would all have been undone anyway, after having watched the Japanese version of The Blob, titled The H-Men, and released one year later in 1959. The H-Men is a pretty effective scare too, involving gangsters, police, and irradiated human beings, who have been turned into sentient slime.(Yeah, okay! That just sounds disgusting!) I think the worst part of this movie is that the monsters were once people and may not actually be malicious.
I’d do a review of The H-Men but I’m too scared to watch it again. I made the mistake of watching a re-run of this move late one night, a year ago, thinking I could handle it. I couldn’t. I slept with the lights on for days afterwards – and hadn’t even finished the movie!
Its really hard for me to pick which of these movie I prefer. (There’s definitely a part of me that wishes neither of them had been made, as I’d have had fewer nightmares over the years, starring this particular type of monster.)
Ya’ know what? I’m not going to choose either movie. Which movie you believe is better is, like the fast and slow zombies question, entirely a matter of which one you think is more effective. For me both movies,and both monsters are equally terrifying for different reasons, but the 1988 version isn’t a bad film, at all. It does exactly what its supposed to do as a remake. Up the gore quotient, fix minor problems of the original (like giving its characters likable personalities), and scare the bejeebus out of the film-goer.
Which one do you think is better? Let me know in the comments!