Almost everyone is familiar with some instance of the so-bad-it’s-good phenomenon of watching movies that are enjoyable because of how terrible they are. There is fame and fortune for anyone who sincerely tries and laughably fails to make a good movie. But today I want to talk about a subtly different phenomenon: movies which were good in their time, but which have aged into a different genre (usually comedy) or else not aged well. One such film which has undergone this comedic fermentation process is The Blob, a short 1950s drive-in science-fiction movie.
A film loved by audiences in its time (if not by critics), The Blob still offers viewers a very enjoyable experience, but for very different reasons. What was once a semi-horror, science-fiction creature feature (with Red Scare political allegory undertones) has become a schlocky, humorous melodrama.
Unintentional Comedy in The Blob:
The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Blob, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film.
When it was released, The Blob was already an independently made B movie, intended to supplement screenings of I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Its ability to attract audiences drove it into the limelight as a feature film. Still, this origin means that even contemporary audiences had to make some allowances for the caliber of the film’s special effects. But to a viewer watching today, the eponymous undulating mass fails to conceal even momentarily that it is a tiny object in forced perspective—until, that is, its feeding frenzy turns it into a matte painting. These effects and edits cause the monster to seem more than appropriately sluggish (or blobbish), which in turn makes the helplessness of its victims highly comical.
Another consequence of the low budget is a cast comprised entirely of unknown actors, almost all of whom are overacting as much as possible (probably in the hopes of getting noticed). The central character is played by actor Steve McQueen, himself unknown at the time, in his first ever starring role, and he plays a stalwart, romantic, trustworthy character who will stop at nothing to end the reign of terror which he bafflingly (though accurately) predicts. His performance failed to impress the critics, but he does an admirable job of giving life to the most generic role in the film.
Almost every other citizen of the town, conversely, is a ham-fisted stereotype, from the dutiful overworked doctor to the chronically offended father to the ‘all-teenagers-are-criminals’ police officer (who seems to have stepped right out of an episode of Dragnet). Their fidelity to their assigned character traits forces them to emote accordingly, often with amusing and unexpected fervor. The teenager characters offer audiences plenty of smiles as well, by jumping wildly from stilted jokes to displays of unmotivated fraternal allegiance.
Some of the greatest and most hilarious aspects of The Blob, however, stem not from its plot but from its style. It is a typical example of a 1950s American science-fiction film, replete with excessive dialogue scenes, overbearing symbols and metaphors, and dire consequences for youthful hijinks. There are examples of this era-specific style which have aged with some kitschy grace, such as the original The Day the Earth Stood Still and some of the better episodes of The Twilight Zone. And then there are examples which can no longer be taken seriously, such as The Blob and some of the worse episodes of The Twilight Zone.
My personal favorite line from The Blob, spoken by the nurse character, is a result of this style’s most melodramatic tendencies. After the doctor compels her to ineffectually toss a small jar of acid at the blob (so far their first and only attempt to harm it), she exclaims, desperate and exasperated: “Nothing can stop it!” Throughout the film, this unique and dated format necessitates the heightening of stakes and tension primarily through the principal characters’ seemingly random assertions, which are always later proven correct. This leads to no end of plot conveniences which are sure to delight a savvy viewer.
The ability of this movie to attract an audience has undoubtedly survived, as evidenced by the annual Blobfest event still held in its honor and by the Criterion Collection release it garnered. In this article, I have even left out many of the amazing details of this old gem, specifically so that you can discover them for yourself. So, if you have a few friends whose presence and commentary has already proven hilarious while watching films like The Room, Birdemic, or Troll 2, then I would urge you to round them up again and find a copy of a short, sweet film called The Blob.
A Repurposed Drive-in Delight: