Cinema Fearité presents 'The Blob'
Cinema Fearité pays tribute to the late Robert Axelrod with 'The Blob.'
This past weekend, a character actor named Robert Axelrod passed away. He was hardly a household name, but he was one of those journeymen actors who always kept working, earning his keep doing everything from voiceover work on “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” to appearances in low-budget slashers like Sorority House Massacre. But where horror fans will recognize Axelrod is from his role in the 1988 remake of The Blob.
Like the original, The Blob is about a meteor that crashes to Earth, bringing with it a gooey, slimy alien that grows in size as it eats through everything it encounters. A troubled teen named Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon from The Doors and Platoon) stumbles upon the homeless man (Wild At Heart’s Frank Collison) who found the blob and, with the help of Meg Penny (I Saw What You Did’s Shawnee Smith) and Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch from Cutting Class), the vagrant is taken to a hospital. That’s where the full threat of the blob is realized, and the kids have to contain it before it takes over the town…and the world.
Director Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors) adapted his screenplay for The Blob from that of the original 1958 The Blob along with Frank Darabont (The Mist). For the most part, Russell and Darabont stick pretty close to the story of the original, with one spoiler-ific change. The Blob was made a few years after The Thing and The Fly, so horror remakes were nothing new, but not nearly as common as they are today. While the original was campy sci-fi, Russell’s vision is more horror-centric, so it is unquestionably the scarier of the two films.
For his part, Robert Axelrod’s part in The Blob is pretty small, but it is extremely significant. He plays a man named Jennings who is one of the government agents sent in to clean up the mess that the blob has made. The government agents prove quickly that their motives are not entirely pure and that they can’t be trusted. Axelrod’s Jennings is the moral compass of the G-men, expressing his doubts as to how they are performing their job. He’s essentially an ally of the townspeople within the government, caught between his conscience and his sworn duties. It’s a pivotal role, and Axelrod plays it with conviction and passion.
The biggest influence that The Blob has had on modern horror is its ingenious effects. Although Chuck Russell would practically invent the fully CG character a few years later with Mask, the bulk of the effects in The Blob are practical, which makes them incredibly realistic and effective. The blob itself was brought to life by designers Tony Gardner (The Lost Boys, The Return of the Living Dead) and Bill Sturgeon (Jacob’s Ladder, Videodrome), with plenty of help from their team of puppeteers and creature actors. The most famous attack scene was done by putting the actor in a stretchy fabric apparatus, then covering the whole thing with slime, so the victim appears to be engulfed in sentient goop. Another attack uses a fake prosthetic body with slime oozing from its pores, so it appears as if the blob has eaten the actress from the inside out. The special effects team got creative with The Blob, and their ingenuity paid off handsomely with some of the best visuals of the eighties.
Those visuals were captured on film by cinematographer Mark Irwin, who, in addition to shooting most of the early Cronenberg stuff (including The Fly), also handled the camera for classics like Scream, Spasms, and Night School. Taking place mostly over the course of one long night, The Blob is a dark movie, but Irwin has the experience and skill to make images shine and colors pop, even with little-to-no light, which is of the utmost importance when your antagonist is a bright pink glob of viscous goo that hides in the corner shadows of a darkened movie theater. Irwin’s photography is frantic and frenetic, yet still manages to show the audience everything it needs to see without skipping a beat.
Although there’s no big “Beware of the Blob” musical number in this The Blob, the soundtrack is still packed with exciting and energetic music. Composer Michael Hoenig (The Gate, Galaxy of Terror) turns in a score that oozes tension, whether its slithering orchestrally along with the blob or marching percussively alongside the government agents. In case the visual weren’t enough to get the audience’s blood pumping, Hoenig raises the cinematic stakes with his melodically shrieking music.
Robert Axelrod didn’t have a big name. He didn’t really have a big face, either. But with his prolific career, he left a big legacy. And a huge part of that legacy is The Blob.