in Shocktober

The Blob (1958)

It’s 1958 and a red menace is threatening small town America! No, I’m not talking about the Soviets, I’m talking about the molten meteor from outer space! 1958’s The Blob has a reputation for being a campy joke of a movie, but I think that’s maybe too harsh for a mostly competent film. I’d go as far to say it’s a perfectly fine film, but that may be because it’s structure is one I’m already pretty into: the Star Trek formula.

A lot of episodes of the various Star Trek shows follow a straightforward five-act formula. In the first act, we’re shown life as usual being disrupted somehow. Act two is when our heroes begin to understand the problem and stakes are raised. Act three complicates that situation somehow, usually with a related, but separate, problem. Then in the fourth act, possible solutions for the problem are tried and fail. Finally, in act five, the problem from act three is solved and suddenly the whole situation is quickly resolved, leaving things to go back to normal.

So the first act of The Blob introduces us to Steve (Steve McQueen) and Jane (Aneta Corsaut), two teenagers out on a date stargazing. Jane is skeptical that she is actually the first person Steve has taken to this spot, and she seems justified in that, given that Steve McQueen, despite this being his first starring role, really doesn’t look like a teenager. Suddenly, a red light streaks across the sky and lands nearby. The couple goes to investigate, but a man who lives in the woods gets there first and finds a strange rock. He pokes it with a stick and the rock crumbles, revealing a gooey center. He then pokes that goo with his stick and really stupidly gets it all over his hand. The man panics and runs out into the street, where Steve and Jane find him and bring him to the doctor.

The doctor (Stephen Chase) is just about to leave on a trip, but Steve and Jane get there in time and he tries to treat the man with the blob on his hand. Steve and Jane leave to get the police (but not before getting into some street racing hijinks) while the doctor calls in his nurse. By now, the blob has grown so big that the man is gone, which causes the doctor and nurse to freak out and behave incredibly stupidly, simultaneously cutting power to the building and falling into the blob. Steve comes back just in time to see the doctor being killed by the blob, so he rushes to the police station.

The third act is the weakest and goes on for longer than I would have liked. It consists of Steve trying to convince Jane, the police force, and the whole town that the blob is real and that they’re all in danger. There’s some tension in the police force between the chief and one of his officers, who I guess has some sort of reputation from the war and hates kids. A mechanic dies after describing how he wants to go get drunk all weekend. This is definitely the campiest section of the film too, where you’ll get to see stuff like Steve McQueen get sent to bed by his dad and a cop answer the phone by saying, “Hello, police department” because they couldn’t come up with a name for the town.

Steve and Jane eventually find the blob in Steve’s dad’s store and narrowly escape it. They go find other “kids” to spread the word about the blob and eventually succeed in bringing the town together and winning over the police chief. But just then, the blob oozes its way into a movie theater, killing most of the people inside. The people try shooting the blob, but are totally ineffective. Eventually, the blob chases Steve and Jane into a diner and covers the whole building. The police shoot down power lines to try to shock the blob, but even that has no effect, and it looks like the blob will consume the building and everyone inside.

As the building catches fire, the owner tries putting it out with his fire extinguisher and Steve notices that the blob doesn’t seem to like that. So Steve phones outside and tells everyone to use fire extinguishers on the blob. The whole town rallies together, gathering all the fire extinguishers they can and succeed in freezing the alien. Our heroes escape and the military finally shows up, deciding to fly the blob to the arctic where it can never unfreeze itself.

The Blobgave us a movie monster unlike any other, a globby mass that sucks up anyone who dares come in contact with it. And I’m sure that would do Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson proud, since there’s a wide spectrum of possibilities for how aliens could look and act, why settle for little green men? More than that, it’s anti-Communist message actually works today as a warning about climate change.

Think about it, this is a story about the youth screaming that they’re in danger and all the adults in power ignoring them, preferring to focus on long-past wars and authority. The movie even ends with this exchange: Jane says “I don’t think it can be killed. But at least we’ve got it stopped.” to which Steve replies “Yeah, as long as the arctic stays cold.” Then the movie cuts to a shot of the arctic and the words “The End” which morph into a question mark. I mean come on! They knew.