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The Blob

Director: Chuck Russell (USA). Year of Release: 1988

This is a film which takes it time before starting the action. We are first treated to a series of stereotypes from 1950s films – the school (American) football stars who are trying to date the local cheerleaders, the girl on a first date who insists on introducing the boy to her parents, the vicar in front of whom any vaguely embarrassing act (in this case, buying condoms) is considered to be hilarious, the female café owner and the cop who’s a little scared to ask her out.

But above all, there is the character of Brian, a poundshop Jim Stark or Johnny Strabler (even the name doesn’t sound as cool as James Dean or Marlon Brando’s characters). He wears a leather jacket – but with a nice collared shirt below. He wears his hair long – but not too long, just below the collar. He has a single earring and smokes roll-ups. And of course he rides a motor bike. But give him a good scrub up, and he’s the sort of boy you could easily take home to mother.

Anyway, these various characters are set up before we see a space ship of some form crash in the woods. A passing tramp has a look at what’s happened and sees a pool of molten Stuff. He pokes it with a stick and promptly receives a mangled hand. As he rushes off, he is chased by the wannabe cool guy, and runs into the path of a car in which one of the football players is driving one of the cheerleaders.

They take him to a hospital, where he soon dissolves. A pool of mass liquid takes on a life of its own, and starts to attack anyone who gets in its way. Sometimes it takes its time, sometimes it moves rapidly, depending on what the plot requires. One by one, many of the people who we met in the opening scenes are taken out.

A squad of scientists dressed in white overalls appear from nowhere and start to quarantine the town. They are very authoritative, and the man in charge is very avuncular, although we are increasingly given cause to doubt their bona fides. Then Brian wanders back into the woods and hears them planning to sacrifice the town to contain (and preserve) the toxic liquid.

We encounter a number of surprizes on the way, but it is slightly infuriating that it takes a good hour (in a 90 minute film) to work out how the Blob can be stopped, even though this is telegraphed to us in an early scene. Despite this. things roll along at a rollicking enough pace that you have enough good will not to get too upset.

The Blob has many entertaining set pieces, but I feel it would be much better if it were a little better written. It continually walks the tightrope between playing for laughs and trying to make Important Points. Sometimes the film is delightfully silly, others it’s just stupid beyond words. Having said this, it doesn’t take itself seriously enough for you to bother yourself too much about the implausibility of it all.

You often get the feeling that this 1988 remake of the Steve McQueen film is spending so much time heavily winking at you that it’s never quite sure what it wants to be. Is it merely a spoof? In which case, it’s sending up a genre that no-one really watches any more. And if it’s just playing for laughs, what’s with the attacks on the government’s biological warfare project?

Because (and this is slightly interesting, as I saw it as part of a double bill with the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake), unlike many attempts to update Cold War cinema, this remake has clearly shifted the blame. The dangerous liquid – which originally was from Somewhere Out in Space – has now been concocted in some government laboratory. And there are still government agents out there who would like to use it to win the Cold War (reminder: the remake was made in 1988).

Similarly the good guys and bad guys have changed places. In 1958, the armed forces saved the world. Thirty years later, they are part of the problem. Similarly, yes, the teenagers we see are fairly insipid, but when Brian says he’s got problems with authority, this is a clear signal that the world will only be saved by people who operate outside the old social norms.

For all this ambiguity, for all the grand gestures about standing on the side of Good against Evil, The Blob never quite managed to be as much as its individual scenes. As long as we’re being distracted by the action sequences, it’s easy enough to laugh along. But any time there’s either a pause or a Grand Political Gesture, we get bogged down by the silliness of it all.

It’s ok, it really is. But its not more than that.

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