Saturday, March 24, 2012

Charlie X Is Steven McQueen: Return to Bloblandia (and Something to Laugh About)

In the wake of last year’s Ivanlandia write-up of 1958’s The Blob for the
Monsterthon Blogfest sponsored by the fab Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear,
The National Film Board felt it was appropriate to examine that film’s unofficial, intentionally comedic sequel—and some other stuff, as well…but comedic stuff, so that way it all ties together thematically….

Beware! The Blob! (1972) (a.k.a. Son of Blob, Son of the Blob)
Directed by Larry Hagman
Script by Anthony Harris and James Woods III
Produced by Anthony Harris

If you sniff around the intertubes, you’ll be shocked—no, I won’t repeat myself—at how many reviewers of this film are stymied and flabbergasted that it’s comedic. They seem surprised!
Which is odd, because since the flick’s initial release, there’s no way no one could not know that this movie is a comedy.
(Or supposed to be one—I think it’s funny; others disagree…Fuck ’em.)

As you may recall, at the end of The Blob, the frozen remains of the hungry gelatinous monster were being parachuted into the frozen wilderness of
the Arctic, where the end credit words “The End” transform via cartoon animation into a big “?”

At the start of Beware! The Blob! (my preferred title, although most seem to call it Son of the Blob, or a variation thereof), an oil company engineer has returned from the Arctic with some strange samples, including something that looks like frozen cherry-flavored Jell-O.
Well, you can guess what that is, and OF COURSE it gets thawed out!

And to its credit, the first victim in Beware! The Blob! is the darn-tootingest-cutest l’il kitty-kat-kitten you ever saw.
Shleeep-shleeep, all gobbled up!
I like it when flicks do this—it says, all bets are off.
We’ve killed the cutest kitten ever; try and stop us now.

[The remake of The Blob, from 1988, does this as well when it offs the bratty kid in the sewer.
That flick scared the crap out of me when I saw it on its initial release, but I didn’t enjoy it as much when I saw it a few years ago on DVD; I can’t really remember why right now. Maybe it was Kevin Dillon’s hair….]

Unfortunately, Beware! The Blob! doesn’t really take this ball and run with it—overall, the flick’s a lot of goofy fun—but just as many gags fall flat.
But being a stoner/six-pack movie, it’s allowed to be scattershot, I think.

While there is a through-line of star Robert Walker Jr.’s trying to warn people/stop the blob,
the movie is a series of two- or three-person blackout sketches—
where the “blackout” that ends each skit is the blob devouring the players (or something along those lines).
It would not surprise me if the majority of the scenes/episodes/skits were improvised, either during rehearsals or while the cameras were rolling—which may explain the presence of improv guru Del Close in the cast.
(Short version: so much of contemporary comedy can be traced back to being influenced/taught/coached by Close: from Bill Murray to Adam McKay to Amy Poehler.)

BTW: Close was also in the 1988 remake of The Blob, playing the crazed preacher who ends up with a bit of the blob in a mason jar at the end of the flick. Whoops, spoiler! [snickers like a small child…]

Partially filmed in Pomona, California (mentioned because that’s near where I went to college), in addition to lead Walker (who’d been “Charlie X” on the original Star Trek),
Beware! The Blob! is packed with familiar late-1960s/early-1970s TV and movie faces.

as with any improv comedy performances, some of the skits are sublime (especially Shelley Berman as snide barber; and the boy scout troop annoying scoutmaster Dick Van Patten with the klick-klack balls—the coolest toys that ever wound it being banned: Dude, those things were great!);
some segments are just dumb and goofy (Godfrey Cambridge’s cameo as the ill-fated oil engineer; and the fat man in the tub, played by the movie’s special effects supervisor, Tim Barr, of George Pal and Projects Unlimited semi-fame);
some are self-indulgent, but fun (Del Close, director Larry Hagman and an uncredited Burgess Meredith getting drunk in the barn);
and some are just okay (it’s always fun to see Gerritt Graham).

But the pace of Beware! The Blob! is fast enough, and there’s enough variety that it’s an enjoyable nihilistic horror-comedy that’s perfect for a rainy afternoon with a six-pack or a bong (as befitting the movie’s many hippy characters).

More good info about the movie HERE

With Beware! The Blob!, Larry Hagman joins that interesting list of actors who tried directing—once—and then never again:
It includes
Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter; Marlon Brando, One-Eyed Jacks; LQ Jones, A Boy and His Dog;
Robert Culp, Hickey & Boggs;
Jack Lemmon, Kotch; Bill Murray, Quick Change (co-directed with Howard Franklin);
Paul Frees, The Beatniks;
Tim Carey, The World’s Greatest Sinner;
Walter Matthau, Gangster Story; Edward Norton, Keeping the Faith;
Gary Oldman, Nil by Mouth; Tim Roth, The War Zone;
Richard Pryor, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling;
Frank Sinatra, None but the Brave;
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Anniversary Party (co-directed with Alan Cumming); Dan Ackroyd, Nothing But Trouble (an awful, awful schizoid movie with about 12 minutes of pure, absolute genius scattered throughout);
Anne Bancroft, Fatso (is that ever coming out on DVD?);
Peter Lorre, Der Verlorene (The Lost One);
Eddie Murphy, Harlem Nights; and of course, that master thespian Stephen King and his solo opus, Maximum Overdrive.

(If you have any examples, leave them in the comments)

Sure, some of the films of these “once a director, never again” actors are not that good, but for the most part it seems these movies are on the whole unique or different in some way, definitely personal—or at least offbeat— even when the films are not necessarily autobiographical—
routinely of questionable box-office expectations—
Of course, some of these movies are absolute classics, and we should be thankful they exist at all.

Not that actor Larry Hagman’s sole directorial effort Beware! The Blob! is one of those classics, but if anything,
fans/acolytes of the Upright Citizens Brigade (and those interested in the history of modern comedy) should check this flick out, as it is one of Del Close’s few screen appearances.

Close was the “spiritual advisor” to the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy group when it started in Chicago, and when a reformed UCB, with a smaller and mostly different cast (wisely adding Amy Poehler—although “big” in the Chicago improve scene then, her addition was at first questioned because she was seeing UCB-original Matt Besser at the time, but her addition was later confirmed to be a brilliant maneuver—and history bears this out, with the current proof being her much-liked-around-here show Parks & Recreation),
made the leap to TV, they took him with them, having Close provide narration and occasional voice-overs.

And if you’re not familiar with the Upright Citizens Brigade TV show—about a quartet of superscience superspies working towards increasing the amount of global chaos (fighting the chilling effects of groupthink and conformity), it is highly recommended!
(And when is Season 3—in my opinion, their weirdest, and much better than the second season—coming to DVD? Probably never…Sigh…Better start hunting for it on the Intertubes!)

From the opening credits narration to the Upright Citizens Brigade TV show:
"From the dawn of civilization, they have existed in order to undermine it. Our only enemy is the status quo. Our only friend is chaos. They have no government ties and unlimited resources. If something goes wrong, we are the cause. Every corner of the earth is under their surveillance. If you do it, we see it. Always. We believe the powerful should be made less powerful. We have heard the voice of society, begging us to destabilize it.

It has become a bit of a cliché, popularized by Pulp Fiction and all the flicks inspired by it, but the interconnecting storyline film is one that I always used to enjoy.
The best examples I can think of, without doing any real hard research on the subject, are Repo Man, 1981’s Fort Apache, The Bronx (for reals—the flick is an evil La Ronde!) and Dr. Strangelove (to a lesser extent)—

The Upright Citizens Brigade TV show used to do this really well (and/or weirdly) via the Harold method of improvisational comedy: where each scene subtly mirrors or parallels the previous scenes, through “call-backs” and the “Rule of Three,” until all the varying strands of story come together in the end.

Probably 90% of what wound up on screen with UCB TV started off as a live improvised piece.
While some episodes or sketches were adapted/workshopped from live shows performed during the UCB’s Chicago tenure—like “Bucket of Truth,” or “Thunderball,” and others, like
“Spaghetti Jesus,” or “Saigon Suicide Squad,” had been performed live on-stage in NYC and fine-tuned before being turned into TV scripts,
it could be said that they nearly all came from the UCB’s infamous ASSSCAT shows.
Rob Corddry once told me—yeah, I’m a namedropper—that he was in the audience when the infamous “Ass Pennies” sketch (later used in the superlative “Power Marketing” episode) was created. It started with Ian Roberts’ simply pretending to be relaxing with a golf club.

If you live in NYC or Los Angeles, you could see an
ASSSSCAT show this weekend. After a monolog, usually delivered by a celebrity friend of the theater, the cast—depending on schedules this can include members of the UCB TV show, as well as any friends or colleagues—it can be quite the all-star event.
And it’s never not been a crowd-pleaser.

In 2008, the UCB released Upright Citizens Brigade: Asssscat, an attempt to capture the show’s spirit on video—as well as an attempted TV pilot.

The UCB TV-four perform in this show, joined by many guests, including UCB-Chicago-original Horatio Sanz.

A good approximation of the live Asssscat shows—
I laughed my butt off watching ASSSSCAT: The Movie,
even including the goofs and mishaps, the battles for the spotlight, skits that go nowhere, and the chaos of a live improv comedy show that is only truly enjoyable when you are there
(but that I thought was fascinating to watch via DVD anyway).

Andrew Daly (whose soul I once owned—really!) and Amy Poehler steal the show, and while Sanz doesn’t do enough, he makes some spot-on contributions.

Reviewers at Netflix have griped about the editing of this live performance/documentary, but I think it perfectly captures how your eyes work at one of these shows: sometimes there is so much going on on-stage that your eyes flit back and forth, before finally focusing on the overall skit being performed/created.

If you get the DVD (ASSSSCAT: The Movie is also available to be watched at Nflix Streaming), make sure to watch all the supplemental material; it’s just as good as the main feature, especially if you are interested in learning more of how comedy is created—the whole “where do you get your ideas” is laid low: your ideas come from inside your head.

Students of improvisational comedy need to buy this DVD and pay attention to the commentary track. It’s hardly the standard DVD “we had a great time” commentary:

On it, UCB members Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh and Matt Besser explain and point out of the tools and techniques of improvisational comedy that they use, critiquing the skits and expounding on improv theory.
Roberts has some especially good insights; listening to the commentary is almost like attending one of their classes.

Everyone interested in modern comedy should check out ASSSSCAT: The Movie.
Some of you may not like it (it’s certain not “family friendly”), but it’s a good indicator of where comedy is going (especially with so many UCB Theater graduates getting film and TV deals these days).

(And Full Disclosure: since the late-1990s, I’ve been taking classes/performing with a variety of improv comedy theaters in NYC, including at one point the UCB, go Team CHUD!—where I was lucky enough to have the fab Amy Poehler twice as a teacher. She rules! There I go, namedropping again…)


  1. Cool t-shirt. I dug that movie when I saw it on the 4 O'Clock movies or whatever on channel 7, or was that channel 9?

  2. SqDave: WOR-TV, channel 9 used to show this all the time! That's where I saw it!