Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Blob (1988, Chuck Russell)

Aside from Kevin Dillon's godawful mullet, I really can't say too many bad things about Chuck Russell's 1988 Blob remake.  Twenty-six years on, it remains a supremely enjoyable, well-crafted monster movie romp.  Now, via Twilight Time's new limited edition Blu-ray (already sold out), we can enjoy the film in HD, along with some new extras including an audio commentary track with director and co-writer Russell and an isolated score track, featuring the music of German electronic composer Michael Hoenig.

This Blob holds a special place in my heart, as it is one of several mid to late '80s horror films that my late grandfather took me to see when I was a horror-crazed young boy.  I had probably seen the film again within the last twenty-odd years or so via cable, but as I revisited the film this time, I found myself treasuring those memories of seeing the film for the first time with grandfather, known as Pop-Pop to my brother and me.  Pop-Pop was the first adult to recognize my deep-seated love of movies and when I turned to horror around the age of eight or nine, he allowed me to indulge my newfound fascination and curiosity with those films, as well as comics.  I never cease to chuckle when I recall the time he took my brother and me to see David Cronenberg's The Fly (shot by Blob d.p. Mark Irwin).  Pop-Pop was not very fond of that film's gore, which increased exponentially as Jeff Goldblum's human features deteriorated and his transformation into the fly accelerated.  At a certain point, around when Goldblum loses an ear in the bathroom, Pop-Pop got up in a huff, with my brother (then 5) in tow, and said to me: "You can stay here if you want.  Your brother and I will out front."  Needless to say...I stayed.

It was while watching the interview (at the Cinefamily) with Chuck Russell, on the TT disc, that I was reminded that Russell directed not only The Blob, but also the much-beloved Elm Street sequel, Dream Warriors, yet another '80s horror classic that Pop-Pop took me to.

Anyway...back to The Blob.  Russell and co-writer Frank Darabont have slyly updated the '50s Cold War, Steve McQueen-starring chestnut to the '80s, while retaining the feel of any number of golden era B-movies--be they horror, sci-fi, or juvenile delinquency drama--firmly implanted in small town Americana.  I love the use of that town here--Abbeville, Louisiana of all places.  Though with its snowy forests and mountainous terrain, I thought for sure this was somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.  That location, along with Dillon's badly-coiffed, motorcycle-riding, sheriff-hassled delinquent, actually had me thinking of First Blood of all movies and, as the movie went on, I noted a number of possibly intentional references to some other then-recent films.  Whether intentional or not, this viewing of The Blob made me thing at various times of the aforementioned First Blood, as well as E.T., The Thing (82), Reckless (84), Gremlins, Back to the Future, All the Right Moves, and Creepshow.

This Blob centers on Kevin Dillon's Brian Flagg a "bad kid" who's really not so bad, of course, and cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith), who turns out to be much tougher than initially meets the eye, as they combat the fast-growing, fast-moving Blob, whose appetite for Abbeville's human population is insatiable.  Other than the aforementioned stars, the other stars of the movie are the film's impressive and messy gore f/x (which I remember oohing and aahing over in the pages of Fangoria and Gorezone) and Russell and Darabont's frequently funny and surprising script.  All of the f/x, as Russell reminds us in his interview, are of the gloriously non-CG variety.  There are a few outdated-looking optical effects, but overall the look of The Blob still impresses.

The cinematographer was Mark Irwin, who at this point was mostly known as David Cronenberg's usual d.p., but following his work here, he began what might be called a d.p. for hire stretch, which continues to this day.  Included in that run is Scream, a teen horror comedy phenomenon that never really worked for me, but which bears some similarities to The Blob, something that I imagine did not escape the makers of the latter film when they brought on Irwin.

Given his pedigree as an important figure in krautrock and the Berlin School, Hoenig's score is disappointing, as more often than not it is little more than musical wallpaper, sounding like so many run of the mill late '80s electronic scores.  This may just come down to the composer serving the needs of the production, as directed by the filmmakers, but it's a letdown considering Hoenig's classic '78 solo debut, Departure from the Northern Wasteland and prior participation in bands such as Tangerine Dream and Agitation Free.

As for that script, the thing that stood out to me with this viewing is how the writers quickly established characters that were both distinctive and likeable--which helped make some of the early death scenes all the more surprising in terms of who was killed off.  For the character actor obsessives like me, this cast has no shortage of all-stars, as well as would-be teen stars who didn't quite make that leap following The Blob.  Youngsters Donovan Leitch, Ricky Paull Goldin, Lost Boy Jamison Newlander, and Erika Eleniak mix with such veteran players as Candy Clark, Jeffrey DeMunn, Del Close (regarded as one of the godfathers of improv and a legendary figure in comedy and Second City circles, if not film), Art LaFleurPaul McCrane, Joe Seneca, Bill Moseley, and ole Eraserhead himself, Jack Nance.  One of the great pleasures of this film is seeing how many of these fine performers will survive past the final frame, who will be knocked off long before...and how.