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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Beware! The Blob (1972) – Review

One of the seminal monster movies of the 50s was 1958’s The Blob, produced by Jack H. Harris and starring 27 year old Steve McQueen as a "teenager" leading a group of rebels without causes against an amorphous creature from outer space; that film was a classic example of the genre, and fondly remembered by many, not so much it’s late coming sequel Beware! The Blob aka Son of the Blob. Produced and written by Anthony Harris and directed by I Dream of Jeannie star Larry Hagman this film was quite the tonal shift from the original as it veers from light to broad comedy at times. This is not surprising when you consider much of the cast consisted of improv or stand-up comics; and though Anthony Harris and Jack Woods are credited with writing the screenplay it’s quite clear that most of the actors involved were not working off a script but improvising to their heart’s content. It’s this free flowing goofiness that puts off most viewers but to me this is what gives the film its charm. So let’s take a peek at the return of cinema’s most famous gelatinous monster.


The original film ended with the heroes discovering the Blob’s weakness was the cold, that freezing it was the only way to stop it's unceasing appetite, and then the Air Force dumped it high up in the arctic where it would stuck forever, "Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold." The words "The End" then morphed into a question mark.  Basically your standard "Gotcha" ending.  The sequel opens with oil pipeline layer Chester Hargis (Godfrey Cambridge) returning home after three months working in the Arctic, with him is a container enclosing a frozen sample of the Blob. His wife (Marlene Clarke) isn’t happy about finding this frozen glop in her freezer and she sits it on the counter, which of course allows the thing to thaw. These two will then die horribly, but not before the Blob eats their adorable kitten.


When strawberry jam attacks.

Killing an animal in a film is always a dicey move; audiences can handle dozens of teenagers being hack to pieces by machete wielding lunatics but hurt on furry little animal and they lose their shit. Director Hagman doesn’t help the situation by having the opening credit sequence consist solely of the kitten cavorting in a green meadow as if he was auditioning for Milo & Otis. Spending the opening five minutes of your movie showing us how cute a kitten is, and then killing it in such a horrifying manner, is not the way to win over an audience. The attack scenes with the Blob are all well executed, and will make anyone a little uneasy (getting dissolved alive has got to be one of the worst ways to go), but then it would cut to wacky hi-jinks with a group of stoners, and it’s these tonal shifts from horror to comedy that may cause a bit of a disconnect with the viewer.  One minute we have Scoutmaster (Dick Van Patten) trying to corral his boy scouts into setting up camp and the next we’re seeing someone horrifyingly consumed by the Blob, and though the attacks in this film are unsettling they are certainly outweighed by the comic bits, whether intentional or not. One particular hilarious bit, and one I’m guessing was unintentional, is when the film’s female protagonist Lisa Clark (Gwynne Gilford) walks in to see Chester being devoured by the Blob she quietly stammers out the stupidest question in the history of stupid questions, “Chester, what’s wrong?


“I’m being eaten by the Blob, what does it look like!”

What follows is the standard “No one will believe her” shtick that was in the original movie; her boyfriend Bobby (Robert Walker Jr.) tries to be supportive but he clearly thinks she’s just being hysterical, and bowling alley/skating rink owner Edward Fazio (Richard Stahl) wants her charged with dangerous driving because she ran him off the road during her panicked fleeing from the Hargis homestead. Sheriff Jones (Richard Webb) just sends her and Bobby on their way as he more important things to deal with, like getting drunk one assumes. Beware! The Blob is a very counter culture movie as the oblivious and incompetent police force are on one side while pot smoking hippies are on the other. As many of these children of the 60s are eaten by the Blob I’m not sure just where Larry Hagman stands when it comes to authority.


One stoner gets his hippy length head of hair shortened quite gruesomely.

We do know that Hagman had a very interesting casting process which was basically a case of him walking down to the beach from his Malibu home and asking whatever actor or actress he came across if, “They’d like to get Blobbed.” This process landed him the likes of Carol Lynley, Cindy Williams, and Burgess Meredith, and with that kind of eclectic cast it brought a level of high energy to the movie that it otherwise would not have had.


It also gave us Gerrit Graham in an ape suit.

The movie’s structure is a bit on the rough side with random comic scenes popping up without much rhyme or reason only to be interrupted by a Blob attack; the aforementioned haircutting scene is a prime example of this as improv comedian Shelley Berman takes advantage of a stoned hippie in need of a haircut, it’s a very funny bit but it’s roots in sketch comedy are a little too blatant and out of place in a movie marketed as horror film. At one point the Blob interrupts pro-wrestler Tiger Joe Marsh during bath time leading to a fun and bizarre sequence when he is forced to run down the road naked.


And makes us wonder if we are in a Fellini movie.

Beware! The Blob is not a particularly good movie, and it's the only film that Larry Hagman would ever direct, but neither should it be discarded as a crap sequel, and though it followed the basic story structure of the original, right up to the heroes being trapped until the accidentally uncover the Blobs weakness and freeze the creature, it’s collection of oddball characters keeps the ninety minute movie bouncing along at a nice pace. Relegated to haunting Drive-Ins and Midnight Creature Features over the years this movie has been by now forgotten by most, but I'd like to think that if remade today it would be directed by Christopher Guest and star the cast of Waiting for Guffman, so one could almost say that Beware! The Blob was just ahead of its time.


"Beware of the blob, it creeps, and leaps and glides and slides."

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