Though many a motion picture updating replete with a bit of blood founds its way into theaters during the '60s and '70s, it truly wasn't until the 1980s rolled around when things really started to change in the field of horror remakes. Mainly, these reworkings occasionally boasted not only a vastly reimagined storyline, but usually included an impressive array of special effects ranging from optical to make-up. Sadly, these things have been replaced by CGI and - worse - an endless supply of dulled-down, MPAA-friendly lifelessness in the countless array of contemporary moving picture letdowns that befall us today. A remake today can be written off as a failure even before production begins, but when John Carpenter and David Cronenberg brought us their respective adaptations of The Thing and The Fly in the '80s, things were quite different.
In fact, those grittier takes of classic '50s fright flicks are just two movies that have since been included on many an individual's list of "Remakes That Didn't Suck". It should be duly noted that there really aren't that many titles that have been awarded such an honor to begin with, and a third title, 1988's remake of The Blob, is not always as well-regarded. A reimagining of a silly 1958 independently-made horror/sci-fi oddity that helped to launch the career of a then-unknown feller by the name of Steve McQueen, TriStar Picture's fairly big-budgeted affair (wherein almost half of the film's $19-million funds went into an assortment of special effects) didn't succeed in wowing as many people at the box office when it first oozed its way into theaters; instead managing to creep into our hearts and minds as a late night TV/home video favorite.
Here, filmmaker Chuck Russell (The Mask, The Scorpion King), fresh from his directorial debut with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, opens up this oft-campy tongue-in-cheek modernization of an already lightly-taken title with an as '50s as can be setting. A small, sleepyheaded Colorado town where nothing much happens outside of skiing season apart from the odd high school football game gets a serious wake-up call one night when a mysterious object falls from the sky. A gelatinous pinkish blob of something emerges from the crash site, immediately clinging itself to the arm of a poor homeless man (late character actor Billy Beck). Sadly for this unfortunate soul, The Blob consumes its hosts entirely before moving onto its next unsuspecting victim in the night. And in a place as full of oblivious people such as this, there's a slim chance that anyone will notice the alien terror in time.
Thankfully for the world, Matt Dillon's brother Kevin - fresh from having already saved the planet in Jeff Lieberman's campy cult classic Remote Control - is on-hand with nothing else to do than drink beer, ride his motorcycle around, and sport the most ridiculous head of big hair known to mankind: a gigantic, horrific mass of another texture altogether that could very well be the only form of defense against the eponymous antagonist. Dillon, the town's resident joke of a juvenile delinquent to all, serves to be the film's reluctant anti-hero here, striking an unlikely partnership up with a popular prom queen type of gal (the lovely Shawnee Smith) who is only slightly devastated when her football star of a crush (Donovan Leitch, son of a certain '60s singing sensation) - a character that would normally serve as the hero - meets his demise early in the film.
Retaining several key ingredients of the original film - including the only known weapon against the titular organism; an unsettling scene where it invades the local movie theater; and the actual producer of the first movie itself, Jack H. Harris - director Chuck Russell updates his tale slightly to include something the original never dared to do, underlying the story with the ripe aroma of a government conspiracy as mysterious men in bio suits arrive to (supposedly) save the day. Other highlights of this fun tale of people dying in various gory ways include a man being sucked into a sink drain, a sewer chase (good times for all, right?) that results in a tween boy getting offed (the '80s, when filmmakers could still get away with such a thing), the creature wreaking havoc on the town after a failed procedure to capture it by the military, and a moustached deputy with male-pattern baldness (Paul McCrane) whose uniform hat looks way too much like something a Nazi officer would wear.
Also featured here are Jeffrey DeMunn as the sheriff; Candy Clark; Joe Seneca as the suspicious government scientist, Second City legend Del Close as the local reverend; Art LaFleur, in a rare nice guy role; a couple of Playboy Playmates (Erika Eleniak and Julie McCullough); and one of the many horror movie bit parts character actor Bill Moseley has added to his résumé over the years. Russell also co-wrote the screenplay with The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont, who also penned a number of Stephen King adaptations. Unlike the original, this Blob is able to form tentacles and grab its victims (à la Carpenter's The Thing). Nearly every kind of special effect was employed in the making of the film, from rear-projection, miniatures, practical on-screen gore effects, and even a tiny trace of very early computer effects when we see the crystallized creature.
In the end, The Blob comes out as being uneven when compared to its other notable '80s remakes. Though it clearly mimics and pays its respect to its competitors of the era, it also distinguishes itself from its peers in as much as its cast and crew clearly weren't trying to make an edgy modern-day adaptation. Instead, these guys and gals were just having a good time (something Russell learned with his contribution to the Elm Street franchise), and it somehow rubs off onto (or gets absorbed into, if you will) the film itself, thus giving the viewer a chance to simply sit back and enjoy it. The movie has enough suspense to keep it afloat, while the variety of special effects tends to amuse as much as amaze. All in all, it's a keeper in my book, and after all these years of having to watch the movie via an unflattering Standard-Definition transfer on Sony's old DVD from 2001, a reissue of this remake has been on the wishlist of every fan for quite some time. Fortunately, that day of reckoning is upon us with Twilight Time's new Limited Edition Blu-ray release.
Presented in its widescreen theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with an accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack, Twilight Time gives us a stellar new video and audio transfer that shows us the guilty pleasure horror outing in a new light. Devoid of the distracting grain and noise that made the old DVD issue so unsightly, this improved look is a very clear and clean print, with strong colors for the film's mostly nocturnal setting as well as its inhuman villain. Detail is also quite fine here, and I must confess that I noticed more miniatures this time around than I did in my previous viewings of the film (whereas those rear-projection shots stand out all the more now). Likewise, the Blob itself looks more realistic scarier than before, and when you learn in the disc's included extra that the secret ingredient Russell used to "flesh" out the monster was something McDonald's was putting in their milkshakes at the time, the horror will become that much more frightening.
Said extra is one of several new special features to be found in this Blu-ray release, and it entitled "Friday Night Frights at The Cinefamily". Opening and concluding with a very low-resolution recap of the film's trailer, the featurette is a live Q&A from a recent screening with director/co-writer Chuck Russell, who is surprised to learn during the discussion that the Blu-ray the segment was being filmed for was in the works. Russell returns along with one of his Q&A counterparts, "horror authority" Ryan Turek, for a feature-length audio commentary track presented in 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Yet more information (as well as fond reminiscing) can be heard here, and an additional audio option - an isolated score of composer Michael Hoenig's work - is also offered up in 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Removable English (SDH) subtitles are available for the feature film. The release rounds up with two trailers for the film, a green band (for general audiences) and a red band (for more mature audiences) and some right-on-the-money liner notes from Julie Kirgo.
Sadly, none of the alternate takes or deleted scenes (some of which can be viewed briefly in the trailers) that fans occasionally chat about in heated forums are present here (chances are they no longer exist), but the folks at Twilight Time have made up for that with an unprecedented first. Their previous releases of horror favorites have resulted in numerous people buying as many of the 3,000 manufactured copies as they could to sell on eBay when the title goes out of print. This time, they are issuing 5,000 copies of this recommended '80s cult classic (which makes a fine double feature with the out of print limited edition release of Remote Control on Blu-ray if you can find one) and limiting orders to one per household. This way, everybody gets a chance before this one sells out. (And it will, so act while you can.)
Twilight Time's recommended release of The Blob (1988) is limited to a pressing of 5,000 copies and is available exclusively from Screen Archives while supplies last.