[All this week, leading up to our top ten horror films on Halloween, the staff at Flixist will be presenting ‘Scared Flixist.’ Here we will be talking about movies that really, truly scared us. There’s plenty of great horror out there, but a movie that truly gets into your head and creeps you out for years to come is a rare creature. These are those movies.]
The things we’re afraid of as children usually seem silly or irrational, but if you really think about them, those fears are just early forms of the things you’ll fear for the rest of your life. As you get older, that fundamental dread becomes more complex. It’s the same way that simple life forms, over the course of billions of years, marched out of the primordial sludge and continued to evolve.
How fitting that one of my early fears has to do with something that sort of resembles primordial sludge.
I was probably eight or nine when I first saw Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob. Any time I rewatch the movie, there’s still something that gets under my skin. If it terrified me as a kid on a visceral level, today it’s the idea of it that creeps me out. Even though I’ve intellectualized the hell out of that shapeless creature in order to understand it better, it still refuses to be kept in a single, static mold. In an odd way, that shifting clump of liquefied tissue is all my fears combined.
Prior to this I was scared of the original version of The Blob, even with that hokey theme song. My dad told me about the Steve McQueen flick when I was only seven or so. It was after lunch at a Mexican restaurant, and while walking with my family by a man-made pond, he described the blob sliding onto a homeless person’s arm, eventually turning the guy into goo. There was something about the idea of being consumed — drowned and consumed, really — by a big gelatinous amoeba that got stuck in my head and would not get out. I also remember a similar dread around that age being triggered by Larry Cohen’s killer-yogurt movie The Stuff. You eat the Stuff, and then the stuff eats you.
But the remake of The Blob still gets to me somehow while the original film and The Stuff don’t. It might be because of the people. It’s such a quaint, idyllic population. There’s a lot of innocent small town charm in it for the most part, and I still dig the very 80s pairing of motorcycling outcast Kevin Dillon and cheerleader Shawnee Smith. (Smith is eternally radiant somehow. Even today, she looks pretty much like she did way back in Summer School, which features a scene that also freaked me out as a young child but makes me sort of giggle today.)
Most of the townspeople in the film don’t deserve to die, save for the fondling horndog and the chowderhead talking in the movie theater. Children get melted and eaten. Cornered innocents are crushed and then dissolved. People everywhere get ground, blended, puréed, and frappéd by this bizarre living thing made of flesh and blood. Death can happen anywhere and to anyone and at any time. No one is safe, no one will be spared.
It’s that suddenness and unpredictability of the blob’s attacks that freaked me out the most. As the theme song to the original went, “It creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor / Right through the door and all around the wall.” It comes through the air vents, it darts through the sewers, it gets into the nooks and crannies of any space that’s not airtight or freezing cold. I could be riding my bike in the daylight, and out comes this deformed tongue of a thing from a street gutter. I could be brushing my teeth and down it streams from the showerhead like ground beef extruding from a mincer.
And it makes bodies do things that bodies are not supposed to do. The rules of human physiology are trumped by the creature. It reshapes you as it eats and then forces you to become a part of its shapelessness — the creeping chaos of an insatiable, gigantic single-cell organism. All the certainties of flesh can be rearranged. You are going to die, and horribly, and be disfigured as you die.
The shapelessness of the blob has allowed it to embody all those fears of death, reasonable and unreasonable, I had growing up and have today: food poisoning, car accidents, diseases, terminal illnesses, natural disasters, bullets falling from the sky, vicious animal attacks, suffocation, being trampled by a confused mob.
The shapelessness of the blob also makes me feel like the creature is some abstract version of a large and uncontrollable crowd. Invasion of the Body Snatchers and zombie movies play on this fear of mine as well, but The Blob does it differently. With zombies and the body-snatched, there’s at least a sort of face you can address. They may be a mob, but they’re a mob of individuals and some level of human recognition, even if it’s just superficial, is possible. That was your next door neighbor, or your girlfriend, or your daughter, and so on. These are shapes that, though corrupted, are at least familiar.
With the blob, the individuality and the humanity is stripped away. There is no face, just flesh. It’s the mob mentality manifested as slime, and its only shape is this growing and all-consuming mass. It cannot be reasoned with, and you can be swept up into it.
If the original version of The Blob was summed up by that jaunty song by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, then maybe my feelings of revulsion and terror about the remake can be found in those closing lines to Seamus Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist”: “I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings / Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew / That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.”
(This may be the first and only time that Heaney will be mentioned in the same space as The Blob and The Stuff.)
But the cold, right? The cold can defeat the blob.
It actually can’t. Freezing the blob is a temporary solution since it needs to be kept on ice indefinitely. And once frozen, it can still be thawed and unleashed. Imagine the blob in a major metropolitan area rather than a small town. Bodies, bodies everywhere, the blob spreading like lava from an unending volcano, like flood waters during a Biblical deluge, like a forest fire through a country ravaged by drought.
The pessimist in me wonders about the end of the world that The Blob hints at. (Without giving anything away, I think fundamentalism of any kind is like another strange tentacle of the irrational, shapeless, unreasonable blob.) People could hide in cold climates, sure, but for how long? How long would supplies last? How long could you go if you had no shelter? How long before the weather or seasons change?
Allowed to spread, most of the planet’s habitable surface would be covered in a living mass resembling tumors, open sores, spider veins, phlegm, chicken skin, and chewed bubblegum. No living thing would remain in such places, and the earth beneath would be little more than a bezoar — a catchall name for undigestible matter.
For me, that’s still a terrifying thought.