The Lifeless Intelligence of THE BLOB (1958)

Without question, The Blob is a silly movie. This is obvious from the very beginning with the intro credits sequence and theme song, and the fact that the titular monster depends on the profound ability of its victims to fall down for no reason and move very slowly. It is a thoroughly watchable picture, and for those of you with children or young nieces or nephews, it would be really fun to watch this with them. If nothing else, it could be a kind of history lesson of what movies used to be like.

I watched it for the first time last night, but in reality, the film was already part of my cultural consciousness. The Blob acts as a stand-in for every schlocky monster movie made in the fifties, and even people who are totally unaware of the specifics of the film will recognize those two words and associate them with ridiculousness and an earlier time. The movie even spawned a remake thirty years later. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why it is part of the Criterion Collection. While this inclusion doesn’t automatically make The Blob an important film, it does mean that a significant contingent of people thought it was meaningful enough to be listed next to some of the greatest films ever made. I like that Criterion is broadening their scope to include these kinds of movies, but cultural relevance can’t be enough to garner such high esteem. If it were, then we might see The Hangover 3 or Grown Ups 2 in the Collection twenty years from now, which would be a real-life terror. I think The Blob is more than just a horror movie with an absurdly original monster. I think it is a running commentary on monster movies, and perhaps even an acknowledgement that its particular brand of horror is dying. It was ten years later in 1968 that Night of the Living Dead was released and revolutionized horror cinema, and while The Blob doesn’t explicitly foretell this change, its prescience and self-awareness point toward that shift.

Toward the beginning of the movie there is a scene where the protagonist Steve is trying to convince a group of buddies to help him figure out what is happening in the town. They don’t help him at that point, saying that they are going to a “spooky picture show” instead. They tell Steve not to take things too seriously and to go with them to the movies. This is the first explicit mention of horror cinema, and the encouragement to “not take things too seriously” is instructional for the audience watching The Blob. Later, when Steve is trying to explain to the police what he saw, one of the policemen asks if it was a monster. When Steve replies in the affirmative, the policeman immediately dismisses what he has to say, and the term “monster” is used derisively throughout the movie. Again, this is the film letting the viewer know that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and to view it accordingly. To top it off, the blob actually invades the theater where a film called The Vampire and the Robot is playing, and literally destroys the projector and the theater. These kinds of explicit references to horror cinema reveal a deep self-referentiality and awareness of movie tropes and expectations. We can even see the destruction of the theater as a kind of death knell for those horror movies that do take themselves too seriously. The only path left is that of The Blob, which makes a joke of itself and recognizes this at every turn.

The Blob’s attack on horror cinema

For all of its absurdity, I think The Blob is a smart film, but I also think this works against it in many ways. This intelligence might be what made it into the Criterion Collection, but it is my humble opinion that the best camp is of the unintentional variety. There is a reason we watch and enjoy movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Troll 2. There is a certain life and vivacity to these films precisely because they take themselves seriously. This seriousness allows us to laugh at their grandiose failures while admiring the gusto that went into making them. There is an innocence and authenticity there that is attractive. An overly aware film like The Blob lacks this, making viewing it a kind of empty pleasure.

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6 Responses to The Lifeless Intelligence of THE BLOB (1958)

  1. The Vern says:

    Great review. I agree with your views on that it has several jokes that advise the audience to not take it so seriously. This would be a good gateway horror flick to watch with small children.

  2. I agree, There is something very attractive about these old monster movies. I can’t wait to watch them with my kids.

  3. Jack Flacco says:

    I’ve always heard of the blog but never seen it. Great writeup! I think the 50s was a wonderful time for B movies. Vampires, werewolves, zombies–it’s like matinees were the in thing back then. And with the nuclear arms race going strong, story lines with radioactivity at the center of every mishap became dominate. Loved those movies, and I definitely have to watch this one!

  4. Thanks for the comment. I really want to watch more of these old monster movies, and viewing them through the lens of the nuclear arms race is really nice. That is what I love about the horror and sci-fi genres; they articulate cultural fears and anxieties so well.

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Jack!

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