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The Blob (1988): The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

The Blob (1988) movie poster The Blob

Theatrical Release: August 5, 1988 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Chuck Russell / Writers: Chuck Russell, Frank Darabont (screenplay); Theodore Simonson, Kay Linaker (earlier screenplay); Irvine H. Millgate (story)

Cast: Kevin Dillon (Brian Flagg), Shawnee Smith (Meg Penny), Donovan Leitch (Paul Taylor), Jeffrey DeMunn (Sheriff Herb Geller), Candy Clark (Fran Hewitt), Joe Seneca (Dr. Meddows), Del Close (Reverend Meeker), Paul McCrane (Deputy Bill Briggs), Sharon Spelman (Mrs. Penny), Beau Billingslea (Moss Woodley), Art LaFleur (Mr. Penny), Ricky Paull Goldin (Scott Jeskey), Billy Beck (The Can Man), Michael Kenworthy (Kevin Penny), Douglas Emerson (Eddie Beckner), Jack Nance (Dr. N. Harper), Erika Eleniak (Vicki De Soto), Frank Collison (Projectionist Phil Hobbs), Robert Axelrod (Jennings)

Buy The Blob (1988) on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

The original The Blob has secured more prestige than just about every other 1950s B-movie. It boasts the first lead role of future matinee idol Steve McQueen and it resides in The Criterion Collection as one of the least respected works to meet the boutique label's definition of "important classic and contemporary films."
Its 1988 remake, also titled The Blob, has not been awarded such cultural significance, but it too has its admirers. Enough to make it one of the quickest Twilight Time Blu-rays to sell out its entire supply, even with a less limited than usual 5,000-unit print run.

The remake opens in the quiet, idyllic, nondescript small town of Arborville. It could be in any rural part of the country, but Wikipedia claims it is in California. It is a place where high school wide receiver Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch) asks out hot cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) in the middle of a game after enduring a hard tackle. And where the sheriff (Jeffrey DeMunn) asks out a pretty diner waitress (Candy Clark) and she says yes via a note on his bill. Arborville has a lot of teenagers and not all of them are at the football game. There's also Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon), a cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking juvenile delinquent with a mullet and an earring.

The Blob attacks a victim in the 1988 sci-fi horror remake "The Blob."

Elsewhere in town that same night, a can-collecting hobo (Billy Beck) with a dog becomes the only witness to a fiery ball falling from the sky and into the woods. At the impact site, the debris has formed a crater with bubbling pink ooze, some of which attaches itself to the old man's hand and won't let go. The unknown can man crosses paths with the footballer and cheerleader on their first date and with the motorcycle-riding Flagg. The four of them head to the hospital, where the hobo's "corrosive acid" emerges as not only his problem, but one that will concern the entire town. The gelatinous goo makes quick work of the old man and another and another, growing in size and moving around the town.

No one believes Meg's incredible, somehow uncorroborated eyewitness account of the hospital incident pictured above, though to a degree she does manage to convince the rebellious Flagg, who is swiftly brought in for questioning in one of the deaths. Rather than seek safety elsewhere, these two disparate teens take it upon themselves to solve the mystery and save the town from this powerful threat. They encounter gun-toting officials in hazmat suits who initiate a medical quarantine and quietly place the value of potential scientific discovery before the safety of the townsfolk.

The Blob is familiar material, not simply because it loosely remakes the McQueen film but because it follows a mold that many monster movies do. A small-town setting and attractive teen leads are two staples of sci-fi-horror. Though this may not be turning over new leaves, it does cover the ground in an engaging and imaginative fashion. The menace manifests in horrific scenarios, involving things like a clogged sink and an engulfed telephone booth. As a 1980s movie, this of course relies on practical effects: make-up, miniatures, mannequins and the like. They're rendered creatively and largely hold up well, with the exception of a very few phony-looking optical shots.

Cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) and rebel Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) conveniently discover that The Blob is vulnerable and resistant to cold temperature.

The movie takes its absurd danger seriously,
but it is not without some on-target humor. There's an amusing encounter where a priest catches an acne-riddled lapsed parishioner jock ordering a pack of Trojans and a Binaca spray from a pharmacy "for his friend", a joke that later pays off nicely. There are also two "slice and dice"-watching blonde preteens who sneak into such a horror movie, only to have it ruined by a loudmouth meathead.

The acting is not always the best; Smith has clearly not been cast for her dramatic gifts, but she's pretty enough you won't mind. Other actors are more on point in less screentime, including recognizable veteran character actors like DeMunn, Paul McCrane ("ER"), and Art LaFleur. The setting and atmosphere have their appeal. And the film does kind of subvert expectations for its kill order, especially if you don't recognize the names in the opening credits' by-significance billing.

This '80s Blob is absolutely a B-movie and wields the baggage that comes with the territory. Within that mold, though, it still manages to be a lot of fun and qualifiable at the very least as a guilty pleasure. Crazy as it may sound, this is superior to the 1950s version in just about every way, a fact that seems reflected by the two movies' near-identical IMDb user ratings, despite the original having precedence and cult classic status on its side.

The film, which performed very poorly at the late summer box office (grossing back less than half of its $19 million budget), did little to advance the careers of its cast, but Dillon managed to recover with "Entourage" and Smith spent six seasons on Ted Danson's largely forgotten CBS sitcom "Becker" and can currently be seen playing Charlie Sheen's ex-wife on FX's "Anger Management."

Chuck Russell, who took his second directing credit and third writing one here, did go on to helm The Mask, the second of Jim Carrey's three 1994 breakout hits. Russell had less success on future endeavors, although Eraser and The Scorpion King did adequate business in spite of icy reviews. Between them, he made Bless the Child, one of the worst-reviewed movies of all time. He hasn't directed anything but a single "Fringe" episode since Scorpion, nor written anything since Blob.

Men in hazmat suits were to be feared and hated in 1980s science fiction movies. Waitress Fran Hewitt (Candy Clark) picked the wrong time to phone a friend. Now she's trapped in a glass case of emotion surrounded by the Blob.

Russell's co-screenwriter has fared much better. Frank Darabont overcame his start in horror B-movies and television to write and direct The Shawshank Redemption, the greatest film ever made as far as the IMDb votership is concerned. Darabont has parlayed that beloved Stephen King-adaptation prison drama and kindred fellow Best Picture nominee The Green Mile into more limited and narrow success than you would imagine. His other, more recent claim to fame is creating "The Walking Dead", though that popular AMC series fired him as showrunner after just one season to no apparent detriment.

Embarrassing confession: as a child, I always assumed the tormented actor on the VHS cover of The Blob was Tom Hanks. It clearly is not, but I can't unsee the resemblance. For better or worse, Twilight Time does not recycle that misleading artwork here.

The Blob (1988): The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, Isolated Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available in 2-Disc The 4-Movie Horror Unleashed Collection DVD ($14.99 SRP; March 11, 2013) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Sony DVD (September 11, 2001)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Only if The Blob marks your introduction to Twilight Time Blu-rays will you be surprised by how good this 26-year-old horror movie looks here. The 1.85:1 picture is a delight throughout.
One brief shot suffered from heavy grain. Otherwise, the element is sharp, detailed, and void of even minor imperfections. Those assuming that the movie would have been better off staying at Sony, whose transfers are often impeccable, are clearly mistaken in terms of picture quality. It's tough to imagine the film looking any better anywhere else.

Just as pleasing as the high-def picture is the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. The film features strong sound design ahead of its time. The immersive mix boasts agreeable channel separation and always perfect volume levels. Again, there's virtually no room for improvement, news that may have those who left to scour secondhand markets kicking themselves for not acting faster.

Director Chuck Russell answers questions at one of CineFamily's Friday Night Frights screenings. The word Blob slowly forms in both theatrical trailers of 1988's The Blob.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On DVD from Sony, The Blob was joined only by theatrical trailers. Twilight Time includes those and more here, all of it encoded in high definition.

First up is "Friday Night Frights at the CineFamily" (18:00), a recent pre-screening Q & A hosted by ShockTilYouDrop.com.
In it, director Chuck Russell reflects on the film's origins, old school visual effects, and reputation to vocal crowd enthusiasm and appreciation from the two Friday Night Frights hosts. The piece is bookended by some low quality promotional clips.

Next come two original theatrical trailers for The Blob: a "green" (1:27) and a "red" (1:23). As you can imagine, those colors refer to the bands that would now preface these trailers, distinguishing them between general audiences and mature audiences (though no such cards are seen here). The latter get slightly more graphic gore, though the previews are otherwise identically narrated and composed. Both are noteworthy for providing glimpses of a deleted diner scene.

Though that is where the menu's Special Features end, there are two further ways to watch the film.

First is Twilight Time's standard isolated score feature, which gives you the chance to watch the entire movie with only Michael Honeig's score playing, sans dialogue and effects in full 5.1 DTS-HD master audio.

The more exciting alternate soundtrack is a new audio commentary by director Russell and "horror authority" Ryan Turek, a feature teased at the aforementioned CineFamily chat. Russell explains in greater detail how this remake came about, his experiences working with Frank Darabont on this and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and the necessary use of practical effects (pointing out some he'd like to revise George Lucas-style with CGI). The director's memories are vivid and positive, giving this reflection warmth and value.

The static menu reformats the cover art to fill the 16:9 frame. The Blu-ray allows you to resume unfinished playback of the film, but doesn't let you set bookmarks. You can peruse the company's full Blu-ray catalog with a navigable gallery.

Finally, it wouldn't be a Twilight Time release without a booklet inside the keepcase. The 8-page, staple-bound pamphlet is, as always, highlighted by an insightful essay from Julie Kirgo. It sings the film's praises as a reflection of the '80s, celebrates the film's comedy instincts, questions overstated claims of a strong feminist heroine, and contrasts it with the Steve McQueen original. It's a nice addition.

On a night that began with a date and death, Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) winds up in a sewer with her younger brother (Michael Kenworthy) and his friend (Douglas Emerson), hoping they can stay alive.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You don't expect a 1980s remake of a 1950s cult classic to be very good, but The Blob is surprisingly not only enjoyable, but actually superior to the B-movie on which it's based. Twilight Time does this horror flick justice with a delightfully-remastered Blu-ray that includes some substantial new bonus features. I would recommend it to interested parties, but it is now sold out and fetching very high prices in the secondhand market. While it may be out of many fans' single-movie price threshold, it's a satisfying disc that will not disappoint those who appreciate the film.

Buy The Blob on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

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Reviewed November 24, 2014.



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