July 16, 2015
Alien invasions are a pretty common theme of sci-fi/horror movies, and most of them have the same thing in common; they all seem to have similar looking aliens. The typical movie alien is a bipedal humanoid with an oversized, egg-shaped head and big eyes. Even the variations of the theme still don’t stray too far from the look; whether it’s a campy b-movie like Without Warning or a horrifying vision like Xtro, the two-legged enlarged-cranial visitor from another planet reigns supreme. In 1958, right in the middle of the classic period of the sci-fi movie, director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (4D Man, Dinosaurus) got creative with his alien invaders, and the results turned into one of the most beloved science fiction movies of all time: The Blob.
The Blob begins with Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen from Papillon and Bullitt) out on a date with his best girl, Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut from The Toolbox Murders and Bad Ronald). While parking out at a lover’s lane, the couple sees a shooting star that actually lands on Earth. Suspecting that it is a meteorite, they go to investigate, and find an old man (Olin Howard from Them!) with a slimy substance on his hand. Steve and Jane take the old man to see Dr. Hallen (When Worlds Collide’s Stephen Chase), where the slime consumes its victim and everything else in the doctor’s office, growing in size with everything it eats. With the help of a policeman named Lieutenant Dave (Earl Rowe from The Blue and White Lamp) and a group of their friends, Steve and Jane have to find a way to stop The Blob from devouring everything in their little town – and beyond.
The screenplay for The Blob was written by a couple of television writers -Theodore Simonson (who worked on “General Electric Theater”) and Kate Phillips (who wrote for “The United States Steel Hour” and “Lux Video Theatre”) – based off of an original idea from a college professor named Irvine H. Millgate. The alien invasion is the main storyline, but the antics of the teenage Steve and his buddies and their girls play a big role in the film as well, so the movie as a whole is sort of a combination of War of the Worlds and Rebel Without a Cause. The Blob is a slice of small town Americana…with an unstoppable hungry alien slithering through it.
At the center of The Blob is, of course, the blob itself. The blob was made out of silicon gel by the Union Carbide company in West Virginia and dyed its bright red color by the film’s propmasters. That’s right; the most iconic space alien of the pre-Xenomorph era was made out of the same stuff that is found in the breast implants of half the Hollywood starlets of the nineties. The blob was shaken, tossed, squeezed, and shimmied in order to give it the illusion of motion. To make it look as if the substance was growing, Yeaworth and cinematographer Thomas Spaulding (Island of Blood) placed the blob on miniature sets and photographed it against backdrops of locations and rear-projection screens. Furthermore, the mass was dyed brighter with each kill (an effect that was emphasized by the brilliant DeLuxe coloring of the film), so that the alien appears to gain power as well as size. It looks cheap, but it fits in perfectly with the campy nature of the film.
The score for The Blob was written by Ralph Carmichael, a television jingle writer who composed music for, among other shows, “My Mother the Car” and “I Love Lucy.” Musically, it’s a pretty standard sci-fi score, but the real show stealer is the opening theme, which was not written by Carmichael. The theme song – a campy surf/salsa saxophone romp called “Beware of the Blob” – was written, uncredited, by none other than pop music songsmith Burt Bacharach. The lyrics were written by Mack David (the brother of Bacharach’s regular lyricist Hal David), and they basically consist of a single verse:
“It creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor right through the door and all around the wall, a splotch, a blotch, be careful of the Blob.”
The song was an afterthought, added at the last minute by studio execs who wanted to give the film a corny, b-movie vibe. It was even listed in the credits as being performed by the Five Blobs, even though it was only one singer – Bernie Knee – overdubbing all of the vocal parts himself. The eleventh hour addition of the song worked; the smiley sing-along gave The Blob just the right amount of kitsch and camp, and the tune remains to this day one of the most memorable elements of a truly iconic movie.
The Blob ended up being well-received enough to warrant the killer one-two punch of horror acceptance: a sequel and a remake. In 1972, Beware! The Blob was released (also known as Son of the Blob and The Blob Returns), and in 1988, a Chuck Russell-directed strictly-horror remake was made. However, not only would neither of those film have been possible without the 1958 original, but neither is as good, either. The Blob is a true classic, not only of horror and science fiction, but of cinema in general.