In the opening moments of 'The Blob,' a very young Steve McQueen, who was actually in his late twenties but playing a teen rebel, is seen in a short make-out session with the lovely Aneta Corsaut — also, in her mid-twenties pretending to be a decade younger. When they stop, Corsaut's Jane appears nervous and hesitant of where their date is going, and McQueen's Steve feigns concern when asking her what worries her. The following conversation makes clear he's fairly popular with the girls and has probably brought many of them to the same spot which Steve talks about romantically as his favorite place to look at the stars. He quickly saves the situation from ending with a simple handshake and some kind pleasantries with a Boy Scouts promise that she's the only one.
What's so special and memorable about this short teenagers-in-love interlude is McQueen's smile when swearing he's never shared this star-gazing spot with any other girl. It's a devilish and mischievous sort of smirk that somehow seems to contradict his promise, suggesting both an innocently playful side to his personality and a wicked, naughty boy hiding somewhere underneath. It's the same look, grin and assurance he gives Lt Dave (Earl Rowe) about no more horse-playing on the road and driving backwards. There's a guiltless, believable air about him, but he's also not entirely trustworthy or completely honest. This later becomes a major theme when Steve and Jane try to warn their sleepy town of impending doom from a gelatinous, blood-red alien monster, and McQueen's portrayal, which also marks his debut in a prominent leading role, is wonderfully convincing as he vehemently promises he's not crying wolf.
The distinctive appeal and success of 'The Blob' is in the similarities the plot shares with its would-be teenage hero. Like Steve, the film swears to be a credible sci-fi horror flick with the best intentions of scaring you to the bones, but we can't help also noticing a devious little smirk coming from beneath. Starting with the wildly cheerful and ironically upbeat theme song by Burt Bacharach — which even now is still stuck in my head, playing over and over again — the alien-invasion shocker is a cleverly subtle tongue-in-cheek feature. If I may be so bold, I would even go so far as to suggest it's a playfully witty satire, released at a time when the sci-fi/horror hybrid genre was at the height of its popularity, which would then imply at least some level of cultural awareness. The opening make-out session and conversation is aimed almost directly at the teen audience, particularly to those "parked" at a drive-in theater. "Watch what happens when naughty kids park and are up to no good."
Along those same lines of not succumbing to sinful behavior, the pair of young hopeful lovers brings other kids into their fold to assist in tempering idle hands by saving the community. The gang, which includes a trio of no-good, drag-racing punks, helps the couple uncover the mystery of an old man (Olin Howland) seemingly attacked by an amoeba-like creature that grows larger as it eats its way through proper, civil society. I'm not trying to imply a direct correlation between the kids' behaviors and the pulsating, bulbous red mass wreaking havoc (or am I?), but it makes for a fun connection when considering the background of the filmmakers and the independent production companies involved. There is something comical — while also admirable as a well-timed change from standard genre tropes — in seeing characters only previously portrayed as the stereotypical wild, rebellious youth of the period turned into heroes and good members of their community.
From a technical aspect, the film is sadly lacking and shows every bit of its low-budget origins. Yet, it is remarkably inventive in spite of its limitations, thanks to the excellent teamwork of special effects supervisor and monster creator Bart Sloane, cinematographer Thomas E. Spalding, editor Alfred Hillmann and the art direction of William Jersey and Karl Karlson. The scene at the Colonial Theater, where kids attentively watch 'Daughter of Horror,' another low-budget favorite that also mixes genres, remains one of the most memorable and imaginative sequences. Although its technical drawbacks and production shortcomings are not deliberate, they terrifically add to the film's overall charm and fascination as a typical cheap "Spook Show." There's a thin air of seriousness within the narrative, performances and in the direction of Irvin Yeaworth, best known as a filmmaker of shoddy educational, religious films. But there is also a possibly conscious campiness to the proceedings, especially when one of the plot's themes is the shenanigans of troublemaking teens interrupted by a cause that forces them to be good, law-abiding citizens.
A hilarious romp of genre fare and imaginative visual effects, 'The Blob' remains a delicious and highly-entertaining cult drive-in classic — it's low-budget, 1950s B-movie filmmaking at its finest!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Blu-ray edition of 'The Blob' comes courtesy of The Criterion Collection (spine #91) on a Region A locked, BD25 disc and housed in their standard clear keepcase. Accompanying the disc is a fold-out pamphlet that opens to reveal an excellent essay entitled "It Creeps and Leaps" by critic and author Kim Newman. There are no trailers or promos before being greeted by the distributor's normal menu options.
According to the liner notes, the original 35mm camera negative was used and scanned at 4k resolution when making this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, except for a section that was in very poor condition and replaced with an interpositive. Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the results, I'm thankful to report, are spectacular and a genuine marvel. Considering its low-budget origins and limitations, the picture quality may not compare to other Blu-ray releases of movies from the same general period, but it's amazing to watch nonetheless what producers were able to accomplish, given the source's age and condition.
Immediately apparent is the radiant color palette, full of lush and sumptuous primaries which leap off the screen. Understandably, due to the filmmakers wanting to give the gelatinous monster a more dramatic effect, reds are particularly vibrant and intense. Softer pastel hues are equally bold and full-bodied with healthy skin tones. The video displays comfortably bright contrast levels and crisp, clean whites, allowing for great visibility in the distance and within the darkest portions of the frame. Blacks are accurate and true with some moments looking especially rich and penetrating, such as the several medium close-up shots of actors with black backgrounds.
A thin layer of natural grain is consistently present and visible, providing the image with an appreciably cinematic quality. Definition and resolution are often astounding, as individual hairs atop Steven McQueen's head can be clearly made out and are fairly detailed. The threading in costumes is sharp, and fine lines on trees and in the grass are mostly distinct. Close-ups are especially stunning, revealing pores and negligible blemishes on the faces of actors. The several scenes which appear blurry and soft are unfortunately associated to the original photography and source, making it easily forgivable as such.
Nevertheless, the high-def presentation of a spirited drive-in horror classic makes for a great surprise on Blu-ray, which fans are sure to immediately appreciate.
The cult B-movie drive-in classic also arrives with an equally fantastic uncompressed PCM soundtrack. Again, as with the video, the mono track is limited by the quality and condition of its source, and all things considered, engineers have done a remarkable job in remastering it from the original 35mm magnetic soundtrack. Despite carefully removing some of the unnecessary and unwanted background noise, the presentation still exhibits a good amount of hissing and light humming. This is most apparent early on when Steve and Jane take the old man to Dr. Hallen. It's not as audible for the rest of the movie, or really even annoying for that matter, and it amusingly works as part of the film's overall charm.
As for the rest of the track, the original monaural design displays a wide and spacious imaging with excellent fidelity and a great deal of warmth. This is mostly thanks to the musical score and cues of Ralph Carmichael, which broadens the soundfield with splendid detailed clarity in the mid-range and distinct sharpness in the upper frequencies. This is particularly noticeable and appreciated in Burt Bacharach's catchy opening song and during the few action sequences. The real surprise is the amount of audible bass, which is appropriate for the film's age without seeming artificial and nicely responsive to on-screen events. Dialogue and character interactions are always clear and precise in the center, making this lossless mix a great and highly entertaining joy to listen to.
Featuring one of the most imaginative monster villains ever conceived, 'The Blob' is a cult drive-in B-horror classic that overcomes its limitations with campy, comical wit and visual ingenuity. Starring Steve McQueen in one of his most memorable performances, the film remains a terrific delight to watch. From the Criterion Collection, the Blu-ray lands with an excellent audio and video presentation which fans will surely love. Supplements are a bit disappointing, but the overall package makes a great addition to any cult horror collection nonetheless. Recommended.