1958’s The Blob was the perfect monster monster movie for its era. It’s big, it’s campy, it’s funny. All in all, it is pure popcorn entertainment. The remake, made thirty years later, had a lot to live up to. While it may be parodied endlessly, the original Blob is still heralded as one of the all-time great monster movies. Most casual viewers don’t realize that the 1980’s had its own surge of horror remakes, most of them coming from the 1950’s. With varying degrees of success, the decade saw remakes of The Thing, The Fly, Invaders from Mars and more. The reimaginings that succeeded were those that took liberties with the source material, as opposed to recreating it beat-for-beat. Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob found an effective balance. It stuck close enough to the structure of the original movie not to alienate fans but it threw in major twists and turns that pulled the rug out from under the audience the moment they though they knew what to expect.
Smartly, the 1988 version of The Blob does not try to pass itself off as more than the original was. This is still a popcorn movie first and foremost. It’s main goal is to entertain and it does that expertly. Much of that success comes down to a fast-paced script with solid characterization from Russell and his writing partner Frank Darabont. The latter of whom would go onto direct movies like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile as well as become the major force in getting The Walking Dead off the ground as a television series. All of that talent is present in The Blob, even if this was early on in both of the filmmakers’ respective careers.
The script handles the material really, really well. It definitely establishes itself as a monster movie for the 1980’s but maintains a 1950’s small town sensibility. It introduces the same standard cast of heroes. You have the Steve McQueen-type football star and his cheerleader girlfriend. Like the original, they bring him to the hospital after a mysterious substance latches onto his hand. The movie takes an interesting turn once they get there and the football star becomes the second character to die. By killing the lead character of the original, the entire movie becomes that much more exciting because anything could happen at any moment. The new leading man becomes Brian Flagg (played by Kevin Dillon) an altogether much more 1980’s rebel. It also updates the original source material by having the female lead transform from the damsel in distress she was in the original to a take-charge, kick-ass heroine.
There’s a major change to the script and the structure in the middle of The Blob that really elevates the whole movie into something even scarier than it already had been. As the film begins in a very similar way to the original, we’re led to believe certain things about the blob itself. It appears to be an alien amoeba hatched from a meteorite. When the government clean up crew comes to investigate, we quickly learn the truth. This thing is not an alien. It’s a new form of biological warfare. It’s a man-made germ. Now we’ve added to the mix human characters that are as scary as the blob itself, people who continually lie to the townspeople and tell them that they’re experiencing a routine quarantine when in reality they’re not going to let a single person who has witnessed their colossal screw-up live.
Of course, the main lure of Chuck Russell’s The Blob is its effects. Taking heavy cues from The Thing (a bold move at the time, as The Thing was not yet as revered as it is now) the effects elevate The Blob from a campy monster movie into a gooey, gory spectacle. The creature itself is truly terrifying this time out. The death sequences are each more imaginative than the last—which is to be expected in some ways from the people that gave us A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and redefined the way death scenes would forever be handled in that series.
Here, we have people sucked down drains, absorbed into the blob until they simply disintegrate and even a scene in which the blob terrorizes a movie theater audience. There’s some truly great FX work here that is worth the price of admission alone.
The Blob caters to new and old fans alike and that is exactly what a good remake should do. It handles the story with a great respect to the source material and all the changes that it makes are to service the story and play with audience expectations. With this in mind, it succeeds admirably. So admirably, in fact, that it even manages to outdo the original film.
But I think the reason Chuck Russell’s version of The Blob succeeds over its predecessor is that it doesn’t set out to best the original. It’s not trying to be a better movie, it clearly holds the original in high regard and is structured as a love-letter to it. That’s why the movie succeeds and why it remains one of the few horror remakes to actually outdo the original.