By Caelyn O’Reilly
For some reason, in this time of self-quarantining, I’ve found myself drawn more than ever to the horror genre. In particular, those of the 1980s. “Hellraiser”, “Society”, the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. Perhaps confronting terror in a way thoroughly removed from my own reality by time period and exaggerated, hammy tone is comforting in a way. Whatever the reason, these films have brought me comfort.
But none have scratched this itch more effectively than the 1988 remake of “The Blob”.
Directed by Chuck Russell of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” and “The Mask”, this film may be one of the pinnacles of a particular era in American horror films that has always fascinated me. The era of horror where make-up artists were really getting to stretch their imaginations and the limits of what could be done with latex and fake blood were being thoroughly tested. The time of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and David Cronenberg’s “The Fly”, of “An American Werewolf in London” and “The Howling”.
“The Blob” easily matches these films for sheer practical effects wizardry. The teams led by Tony Gardner in make-up effects and Lyle Conway in creature effects crafted some truly stomach-turning but simultaneously gorgeous setpieces with their surprisingly strict budget of about $19,000,000 (adjusted for inflation). Creating many of the main blob effects by filling silk pillows with – among other substances – an artificial milkshake thickener. Only a handful of green screenshots fail to hold up under modern scrutiny, but even those just add to the film’s old-school charm.
It straddles the line between horror and action. This is the kind of horror movie that features a motorcycle jumping over a ditch, a car crashing into that ditch, and a helicopter flying over the ditch all in the same shot.
Leading a cast of engaging, archetypal characters are Shawnee Smith of the “Saw” franchise and Kevin Dillon of “Entourage”. Shawnee’s intense, wild-eyed performance paired with Dillon’s huggable ‘bad boy’ makes for a pair so perfect they should be used as the standard by which similar movie leads are measured.
“There’s a drive-in movie quality to “The Blob”, just as with its 1950s predecessor. Despite the added bloodshed, at the end of the day, they’re both – by modern standards – old school creature features.”
There are some tenuous links I could make between this film and our modern-day crisis. The opening shots of seemingly abandoned streets and businesses as well as the hurried implementation of quarantine on the town. But really, I just want an excuse to recommend this, one of my new favourite movies that have brought me a great deal of joy while I’m stuck at home.
But why has a film full of people being horrifyingly melted and absorbed by a giant blob monster made me feel better?
The concept of a ‘feel-good movie’ is a bit vague. But it is generally meant to refer to a film that lifts your spirits in times of strife and, well, makes you feel good. There are no specific genre requirements, but when you read listicles of feel-good flicks it’s mostly a lot of light-hearted comedies and family fare. You won’t be seeing a gory horror film on any of those lists. But the genre’s capacity to bring joy should not be overlooked.
“Given the anxiety-inducing circumstances virtually everyone is in right now, there has never been a more crucial time to really expand our horizons when defining what a feel-good movie is.”
There’s a drive-in movie quality to “The Blob”, just as with its 1950s predecessor. Despite the added bloodshed, at the end of the day, they’re both – by modern standards – old school creature features. A giant monster invading small-town America and being fought against by fresh-faced teenagers. A lower budget and lesser script would see this film firmly in “MST3K” territory. The monstrous blob even becomes a full-on stop motion kaiju for parts of the climax. It’s the kind of horror film that spooks you just enough to make you want to snuggle up close to a loved one and chuckle just as often as you scream. It’s a haunted house ride that scares you along the way but ultimately leaves you smiling, satisfied and ready to ride again.
“The Blob” is the kind of practical-effects-fuelled, gory, cheesy, 80s horror flick that feels like it could only exist in rose-tinted memories or in fake trailers that play in the backgrounds of other, far less audacious films. But it really exists and I cannot endorse it wholeheartedly enough. Given the anxiety-inducing circumstances virtually everyone is in right now, there has never been a more crucial time to really expand our horizons when defining what a feel-good movie is.
Explore what movies lift your spirits. Maybe it’s the traditional choices of nostalgic comedies or heart-warming animation, but perhaps it’s something more off-the-beaten-path. Horror of the 1980s works for me. But for you, it could be silent era gangster flicks, 1990s teen-aimed Shakespeare adaptations, whatever. Find your niche, find the weird things that make you feel better. Because now more than ever, you deserve to be happy.