A quick look back at horror’s output in the ‘80s puts one recurring argument among fans to rest; horror remakes don’t always suck. There’s a hardy number of solid horror remakes that prove their worth. The Thing, The Fly, Cat People, to name a few. And of course, The Blob. The latter received a smaller theatrical release, treated more like an indie feature, so it took a lot longer to find its well-deserved audience. Now, The Blob sits among the best horror remakes of all time, for many good reasons. But high among them is the shocking, early death of the hero.
The 1958 original film opened with Steve McQueen’s plucky teen character, Steve, on a date with his love interest Jane (Aneta Corsaut). Their makeout session is interrupted by a passing meteorite overhead, and Steve is determined to find where it landed. On their way, he narrowly avoids running down an older man in the road, who had beaten him to the meteorite and gotten its jelly-like substance stuck on his hand. They rush him to the hospital, where the thing feasts on the man, growing in size and embarking on a feeding frenzy across town.
If you’ve seen the 1988 remake, then you know that the first act adheres pretty strictly to the original. Donovan Leitch plays Paul, a high school football player with a heart of gold. His lady love is Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith), and their first date is interrupted by an older man in the middle of the road, a globule of goo affixed to his hand. Co-writers Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell borrowed a trick from Psycho, though, to pull the rug out from under viewers by the end of the first act; Paul isn’t the Steve McQueen character of this film at all. Meg is. They announce it by killing Paul off in a disturbing, gnarly way. The type of death that made you realize no one would be safe here.
Poor Meg discovers Paul tucked away in the doctor’s office, almost wholly enveloped in the Blob. As it’s dragging him toward the open window, he’s reaching for her while screaming in terror and pain. Only his right arm is untouched, and in Meg’s attempts to pull him free, well, the arm is severed by digestive acids, and Meg falls backward, knocking herself unconscious against the wall. Paul is dissolved alive in the stomach acids of the creature. His death was an elaborate and intricate scene that special makeup and animatronic effects designer Tony Gardner (Zombieland, Freaked, The Return of the Living Dead) saved for last. Specifically, so he and his team could apply every single thing they’d learned during production to ensure it looked great.
When the Blob first crashes on Earth, it’s a pale, translucent thing. The more it devours humans, the pinker it becomes from all the blood consumed. While it digests soft tissue with ease, bone, teeth, and hair take much longer. It’s with this in mind that Gardner and his “Blob Shop” team approached Paul’s death. Some of this scene utilized miniatures from Dream Quest Images. As for the rest, Gardner concocted multiple stages of movement and Paul’s deterioration. It required a collage of techniques that included vacu-form plastic, plexiglass, bladders, and rotating rigs that stretch and pull to give a sense of movement, along with a metal rig for the actor to sit in while the Blob draped over it all.
As for the poor soul getting digested, the victim began as pale and blotchy, then his face started to stretch and become bruised, and eventually winds up a sliding face floating in the gelatinous creature. The detached face was a mechanical element with eyes rigged to roll back into the skull. Paul’s leftover, undigested arm was simply a crew member’s arm stuck through a hole in the floor. The Blob itself was, for the most part, was comprised of what the crew dubbed a “Blob Quilt.” Layers of silk sewn together with pockets and injected with methylcellulose, a food stabilizer and thickener used in things like veggie meat or gravy. The methylcellulose would ooze through the silk framework, hiding it completely, as puppeteers manipulated what appeared to be a fluid blob with precision.
That Paul’s death is only the first of many notable deaths speaks volumes on the film’s enduring quality. Russell and Darabont’s script, under Russell’s direction, complete with a fantastic cast and innovative, practical effects come together to make The Blob an all-time great. In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock shocked audiences to their core with the brutal, early stabbing of Marion Crane. Russell and Darabont made this trick their own by reserving one of the most brutal deaths of all for the definitive nice guy bearing all the typical traits of a hero. If the hero can’t even survive the first act, then the odds aren’t looking so hot for the rest of the town.
Luckily, they had one pissed off cheerleader in Meg Penny.