Color, 1958, 86m.
Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.
Starring Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howlin
Criterion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Village Entertainment (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1)
The small town teenage monster movie par excellence, this goofy and wildly entertaining slab of ‘50s drive-in madness may not be masterful cinema, but it’s irresistible all the same. 28-year-old Steve McQueen stars as a misunderstood teen named, well, Steve, who’s out for a moonlight drive with his sweet girlfriend, Jane (Corsaut, better known as Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show). Meanwhile a nearby old man (Olin Howlin, perhaps the greatest actor name ever) spots a falling meteorite and observes the planetary visitor disgorge a strange blobby substance. Naturally he pokes at it with a stick until the blob hops onto his arm and begins absorbing him. Steve and Jane take the old man to the local doctor’s office, where the stellar sludge claims more victims and begins a deadly rampage across the countryside towards town. Nobody believes the frantic adolescents as they resort to enlisting the aid of their drag racing peers to warn everyone about the creeping, leaping, gliding and sliding alien before it’s too late for the entire town and - yes - the world.
Though not exactly hi-tech even at the time, The Blob boasts some unforgettable special effects as the red hunk of massive gelatin runs rampant to the ignorance of those around it. Many other sci-fi films exploited the idea of a formless mass from space, but somehow this one strikes that special note by combining icky goo with a catchy premise. The peppy opening theme song (by an uncredited Burt Bacharach, of course), the small town ‘50s atmosphere, and the intriguing portrayal of teens vs. adults compel the imagination even when the blob itself is out grabbing a smoke for scenes on end. The only major debit is some of the police station sequences, which bog down an otherwise zippy pace. One especially brilliant bit worthy of William Castle finds happy teens in a movie theater (showing Dementia!) menaced by the blob as it swallows up the projectionist and seeps down along the back walls. Evidently the film impressed an entire generation so much that it has come to represent ‘50s kitsch, even turning up during the drive-in sequence from Grease and inspiring both a campy sequel, Beware! The Blob (directed by Larry Hagman) and a very respectable, souped-up ‘80s remake from Chuck Russell.
The folks at Criterion really, really love this film, as it's one of the elite titles they've released in all three formats during their history from laserdisc to Blu-Ray. It was actually one of their earliest laserdisc releases presented widescreen, The transfer was nice for the nice, and the expanded DVD edition later was a respectable anamorphic upgrade making more obvious the heavy makeup on actors also found in other‘50s titles like North by Northwest and virtually everything by Douglas Sirk.
The same extras crept up again in 2013 for Criterion's Blu-Ray edition, which not surprisingly jumps up several notches in clarity. The color schemes for this movie still have that weird emphasis on unnatural blues and reds, as it's always looked, and the detail looks much better with fine facial features and fabric textures popping out much more than before. There's also a bit of extra information on the edges of the frame, too. An extremely nice transfer all around given the stylized nature of the way it was shot. The PCM mono audio also sounds fine, with the music simmering especially nicely.
The extras from the DVD have been ported over here (apart from the fold-out poster bearing Criterion's cover art), namely the theatrical trailer and a huge amount of production photos, prop stills, and promotional artwork courtesy of Blob collector Wes Shank. (The laserdisc also had a trailer for Columbia’s remake, but that's easily found elsewhere.) You also get two fine audio commentary tracks; the first features producer Jack H. Harris (Dinosaurus!) chatting with the always lively and interesting Bruce Eder. They cover all of the ins and outs of low budget monster movie making during that time period, chat about the various cast members, and wax nostalgic about the film’s impact on the drive-in and matinee circuits. Then director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (who helmed many Harris projects like 4-D Man) and Robert Fields (The Stepford Wives), who plays Tony in the film, offer their own takes on the shooting experience, with anecdotes involving the location filming in Phoenixville and the various means necessary to convince an audience there’s a monster on the loose when the budget doesn’t offer much leeway. The liner notes booklet also includes a relatively brief but enthusiastic essay by critic/horror novelist Kim Newman. It's more than enough to make even the most ardent Blob-o-phile extremely happy.