When it comes to sifting through the countless horror remakes that dot the genre’s history, one that is often overlooked is 1988’s The Blob. Directed by Chuck Russell and co-written by Frank Darabont, this gooey reimagining of the 1958 science-fiction classic has flashes of Spielberg-like cosmic awe crossed with plenty of head-crunching carnage that makes it an irresistibly entertaining roller-coaster ride deserving of your attention. It’s seriously got it all, from horny teenagers to skin-melting encounters with the amorphous ooze that will send horror fans away howling in delight.
The Blob ’88 picks up in the small town of Arborville, an idyllic community where everyone knows everyone and the talk of the town is the big high school football game. One evening, a meteorite crash lands in the woods just outside of town. The meteor is discovered by a homeless drifter, who upon investigation finds a strange substance leaping from the space rock and latching onto his arm. The homeless man bumps into three teenagers, Meg (played by Shawnee Smith), Brian (played by Kevin Dillon), and Paul (played by Donovan Leitch), who quickly rush him to a nearby hospital. Shortly after checking in, the teens make the gruesome discovery that the substance attached to the homeless man’s arm isn’t quite as harmless as they initially thought it was. With this strange organism rapidly growing in size and horrifically killing anyone it comes across, cheerleader Meg and local bad-boy Brian join forces to try to get help. Soon a mysterious government agency shows up at the meteor crash site, but Meg and Brian quickly begin to question the agency’s true intentions.
Eager to strip the harmless fun away from the original’s reputation, The Blob ’88 quickly establishes that it’s not going to play nice. The opening stretch finds Russell establishing a small town flavor that crackles with a Spielberg approach in the sense that there is something extraordinary happening in an ordinary small town that is as American as apple pie. The citizens rally around the high school football team like they too floated down from a meteor, the sheriff flirts with the waitress of the local diner as he sips on iced tea, and the local teens can’t wait for the sun to set so they can venture out for some steamy debauchery. Of course, this youth-in-revolt is also borrowed from the ’58 original, which found Steve McQueen and other teen rebels navigating a small Americana town in the shadow of the Cold War. But like having cold water thrown on you, Russell jolts you with brutal encounters with our gelatinous monster that finds characters having their skin melted, their skulls cracked, limbs eaten off, and other nastiness that make it known this isn’t your grandpa’s Blob.
The Blob ’88 is also quick to be a big-budget effects spectacle with plenty of pulse-quickening action. The second half of the film increases the fireworks with copious shots of the oozing menace attacking a crowded movie theater, an extended chase through the sewers, and a final close encounter that finds the blob growing to massive proportions and attacking the terrified citizens. For a film released in the summer of 1988, the special effects have aged surprisingly well, which prevent it from becoming a chintzy late-night throwaway. The practical effects still have an edge, and the blob itself still looks plenty disgusting as a drips from ceilings and slithers through the streets.
Further allowing The Blob to tower over some of the other remakes out there are the surprisingly memorable performances from a huge cast. Smith and Dillon make for a bang-up odd-couple duo as they dash around hair-raising encounters with the toxic sludge. Dillon owns the greaser attitude, while Smith takes her cheerleader role and elevates it to serious ass-kicker. Leitch is solid as football star Paul, a seemingly nice guy who just wants a shot with the star cheerleader. Jeffrey DeMunn of The Walking Dead checks in as the easy-going Sheriff Geller, a gee-whiz fella who fumbles through asking a gal out and fumes over Dillon’s rebellious Brian. Joe Seneca shines in the second half of the film as Dr. Meddows, a seemingly mild-mannered scientist who has a deep understand of the threat the town faces. Also memorable is Del Close as Reverend Meeker, who goes from hilarious encounters with the horned up teenagers to madman over the course of the film.
While The Blob ’88 isn’t bashful about having a creepy good time, the movie certainly doesn’t forget to pack in the smarts. Much like the Atomic Age original, the film reflects the Cold War chills billowing across America, with a nifty twist put on the slimy antagonist that shudders at the thought of what those who wield the power are truly up to behind closed doors. Still, The Blob ’88 invites you to have a rockin’ good time, and you will no doubt find yourself swallowed up by this shimmering mass of yuck and muck. The only thing missing is that catchy theme song!