Saturday, July 30, 2011

Blobaliciousness: “The Blob” & I

Be careful of the blob
Beware of the blob/
it creeps/and leaps/and slides and glides across the floor/
and through/
the door and all around the wall
a splotch a glotch
Be careful of the blob
Beware of the blob/
it creeps/and leaps/and slides and glides across the floor/
and through/
the door and all around the wall
a splotch a glotch

That was Burt Bacharach’s first professional sale, and it’s the theme song to the 1958 movie, The Blob.

As part of The Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear’s utterly mind-roasting, blast-from-the-past Monster Movie Blogathon,
The United Provinices of Ivanlandia is taking a look at
1958’s The Blob,
a flick that’s not really too good, but that IS a classic piece of American pop culture—a picture that when I screened it specifically for this blogathon, I found it annoying the shit out of me—but one that is the first film to ever scare the shit out of me—
but also a flick that has a theme song SO GOOD, that it was the song my wife and I did our “first dance” to at our wedding. (Just ask Otto Mannix or Toestubber—they were there).

This isn’t a “blogathon”—it’s a BLOBathon! Bwah-hah-hah-hah!

Unlike other genre films from that era that survive and are remembered because they actually have merit (like Them! or Gojira or, my fave, Attack of the Crab Monsters),
The Blob (inspired by the Sherwin-Williams logo (“cover the world”)) is remembered, I think, more out of nostalgia—or MST3K hijinks for newcomers to the movie.

The three factors that have made The Blob a kult kamp klassik are:
Steve McQueen and his subsequent stardom
The theme song (VERY important)
and a cool monster shot in Technicolor—a bright red weird blob. (Getting absorbed—that freaks me out!)

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of The Blob—I’m shocked, shocked!—but there are good synopsi HERE and HERE.

Let’s start with the song: “The Blob” by The Five Blobs.

More than young Steve(n) McQueen or that majestic red goop, it’s the song.
If The Blob didn’t have the song “The Blob” under its opening credits, the flick would not be more than a footnote, perhaps fondly remembered like Kronos or The Deadly Mantis or The Monolith Monsters (a flick I like—another movie about a monster with no “personality”), but only by a dedicated few.
If it wasn’t for the song, The Blob wouldn’t be a Criterion DVD!

The song sets a mood and tone—it’s an unrelenting ditty, impossible to get out of your head—who doesn’t love calypso?—
but peppy and poppy enough—are those bongos?—that it is absolutely an upbeat number…
about the complete inevitability of death! The Blob can get you ANYWHERE!

Sometimes the studios know what they’re doing: The song was imposed on the film by Paramount Pictures after it picked up the movie for distribution.

“That tune…helped make the show,” said director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. “It wouldn’t have made it without that music.”

Bart Sloane did the animated titles as well as the film’s other effects, and while he did not design the series of outwardly radiating blob-like ovals for the lovely pop ditty, the animation really goes well with the song—a fascinating contrast that synthesizes into something goofy, but chilling.

(This shot of the doctor’s house looks incredible in the theater, especially if it’s a clean print—the clouds are pulsing very ominously, courtesy of Bart Sloane’s animation.)

In the reality of the film, the blob is just a hitchhiker on that shooting star, going “anywhere.”
But look at that meteor: it’s hollow, and the clear, pre-human-absorbtion “splotch a glotch” is nestled right in the center of the fallen satellite, like a yolk—as if it was planned that way.
The blob isn’t a stowaway, it’s the passenger!

While it never comes into play in the film itself, I like to think that the blob was sent to Earth on purpose, to clean out this place form some alien force. (Who needs spaceships like in that dumb Battle: Los Angeles?)

Or even better, the blob is itself the alien on a specific mission of conquest—thwarted by some damn meddling teens!

If the blob is on a specific mission, it becomes a more interesting monster (more interesting to me, perhaps)—
it is no longer some dumb hungry beast—
or a natural phenomena gone wild in a new environment (like The Monolith Monsters or the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth)—
the blob becomes an intelligence we cannot even begin to understand—something much more alien than the variety of UFO-flying extraterrestrial bipeds that routinely showed up to conquer around that time.

With a malevolent intelligence at work, the blob becomes more Cthuhlu-like. Something beyond space and time…
As is, it’s still a Shoggoth. And you know how nasty those things are….

(Hollywood aliens of the “malevolent intelligence” variety rarely deviate from the two arms, two legs format, it seems—let me know if I’m missing something—
Even as weird as the Martians from George Pal’s The War of the Worlds were, they still had two arms and legs.)

These Lovecraft-esque themes could be better read in (or superimposed) over The Blob if the flick wasn’t so padded with dull, pointless “teen” hijinx and cornball hot-roddin’ “juvenile delinquent” shenanigans.
The Blob is a flick that would have benefitted from a shorter running time, like 45 minutes to one hour—
Or, those scenes would have been helped by more “coverage,” tighter editing and some decent dialog.

Even at 88 minutes, sometimes The Blob just drags.

If memory serves, The Blob was often shown on WABC-TV’s The 4:30 Movie, and by cutting out all the extraneous junk for Shop-Rite commercials (and to squeeze a flick into the 90-minute timeslot), NYC Channel 7 was doing the viewer a favor.
(That’s a young Ivan, patrolling the forests of Ivanlandia for blobs—note the ray-gun)

But the first time I saw The Blob was on WOR-TV Channel 9
It was probably 1971 or 1972—
my mom had to work late, so my stepdad picked me up from kindergarten. We got home; he turned on the TV for the 4 o’clock movie.
Neither of my parental units were big proponent of the electronic babysitter, but THE BLOB was on: Pop wanted to watch it—
He was into all kinds of crazy shitr and cool junk—and turned me onto a whole mess of counter- and trash-culture.
I had no idea this movie existed, but he felt I would be good for me. So we watched the movie—I was already a fan of spaceships, monster, comic books and dinosaurs, so why not? What could go worng?

It was frightening because the Blob ate you clothes and all! It absorbed you! There was nothing left, like you were never there.
Like maybe you were never born!

And what the hell was it? It was just a…blob…that kept growing and growing

At some point after the movie, I went to bed—
before mom got home from work.

But that night I woke up terrified:
Every shadow on the wall was…the Blob.

And that song! It was stuck in my head! So seductive and cheerful…but so malevolent in its relentlessness!

I heard voices in the kitchen, got out of bed and tiptoed out of my room.

The apartment was one of those giant pre-war apartments off Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.
The place was big and dark.

But at the end of the hall I could see the lighted kitchen doorway, and I could hear mom.
But what’s that shadow on the table?

I screamed and screamed, having a full-on freakout meltdown.

The lights go on, and
I see that the blob is actually one of those long balloons, three or four foot long, and squiggly with psychedelic paint.
It was one of those balloons that you buy from the vendor standing on the traffic islands.
You’d see them by the Holland Tunnel or on Houston Street, and my mom had picked one of these big weird balloons for me, as a gift.
Because she was working late.

Meta-movie sidebar

The blob’s first victim is The Old Man from the (forced perspective) cabin in the woods.
He’s played by veteran character actor Olin Howland, who was also in Them!
In that, he was the dipso bum in the drunk tank who’s seen the big bugs and cackles at the army dudes: “Make me a sergeant, charge the booze! Make me a sergeant, charge the booze!”
(A phrase my stepdad loved!)

So the old drunk survives the giant ants of Los Angeles, and moves to the woods of Pennsylvania to get sober—no more hobo’ing around for him anymore! No more boozing it up on cheap sterno (like that old alkie bum in The Andromeda Strainahhhhh, another unique invader from space movie—and highly recommmended!)

Because he’s sober, he’s not in a drunken haze—and Olin notices the meteor falling.
Then he gets eaten for his troubles.

But despite any gripes against the film itself that I might have, it’s damn wonderful that The Blob has inspired the almost pagan civic celebration of The Blobfest
In Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where the Colonial Theatre (the movie theater the blob attacks and oozes out of) still stands, still “Healthfully Air Conditioned,”
the town celebrates the film, an era and a state of mind—

And the creation of the film The Blob reinforces its Pop Culture Americana status—a truly independent picture, made far away from Hollywood—a “Hey guys, let’s put on a show” situation—off in Central Pennsylvania
[For a monstro-in-depth look at the production of The Blob, visit the always incredible Cinemafantastique]

Driving to the 2011 Blobfest, and passing by towns like Monroeville, you cannot help but think of George Romero, and wonder if there’s something in the water in the Keystone State… “The pure products of America…”

We only spent one afternoon at the Blobfest, and a lot (most) of that time was spent in various drinking establishments—but watch out Blobfest 2012: prepare to be invaded by Ivanlandia!!!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

T.H.E. L.I.S.T.: Exploitation/Monsters/B-movies—or: Hey, This Could Be a Good Syllabus For a Class!

Attention, Kino-Cadets of the National Film Board of Ivanlandia:
On July 6, 2011; Nathanael Hood of the fab blog Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear wrote in a comment here at Ivanlandia:
"You know what would be interesting? If you made a top 100 list of exploitation/monster/B-movies."

The gauntlet has been thrown! Huzzah!

“Exploitation/monster/B-movies” is a wide term, and the National Film Board of Ivanlandia admits to WIDE gaps in its cinematic knowledge—there’s known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.
Then there’s the thousands of flicks we’ve never seen.

But when Super-Nate threw down that gauntlet, we were intrigued—
lists are always fun—
and can start dialogs—or arguments

The Ivanlandia Caveat: This is not being put forward as a definitive, historical, or exhaustively researched—but the National Film Board of Ivanlandia did try to make it interesting—
Some are obvious choices, but we didn’t want to overthink it—
Some readers will complain of what’s not listed (I’m sure I missed something), but that’s what the “Comments” section’s for—
Sure, T.H.E. L.I.S.T. is monster/horror heavy
with lots of biker flicks, disaster movies, gore, noir and weirdness—

NOTE: Flicks with an asterisk (*) are
“The New Exploitation”: often direct-to-DVD (the new drive-in), but usually a helluva lot more intelligent and intriguing than their A-list theatrical counterparts—just like a B-movie should.

Also, and a big factor—
The flicks on T.H.E. L.I.S.T. are movies I’ve actually seen, liked and can recommend (even if they have recognizable warts)

FYI: I’ll be willing to argue the “exploitation/B-movie” merits of any of these pictures,
but only in the “Comments” section below—
otherwise, this post could become encyclopedic in length—
and a man’s got to know his limitations.

T.H.E. L.I.S.T.
(Alphabetically, so’s not to show favoritism, though)
(Oh yeah, I think there's more than one hundred....)

Airport ’77 (1977)

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

Army Medicine in Vietnam (training film, surgery footage) (1970)

At Midnight, I’ll Take Your Soul (Coffin Joe) (1963)

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) (ESSENTIAL)

The Baby (1974) (ESSENTIAL)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979)

Brain Damage (1988)

The Brood (1979)

A Bullet for the General (1966)

A Bullet in the Head (1990)

Burn Witch Burn (1962)

The Candy Snatchers (1973) (ESSENTIAL)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) (ESSENTIAL)

The Car (1977)

The Cat (1992) (ESSENTIAL)

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) (but only the letterboxed version)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Coonskin (1974)

The Corpse Grinders (1971)

Crank (2006) (*)

The Cycle Savages (1969)

Dagon (2001) (*)

Dark of the Sun (1968) (ESSENTIAL)

The Deadly Spawn (1983)

Death Race 2000 (1975) (ESSENTIAL)

The Devil's Rejects (2005) (*)

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

Duck, You Sucker! (1972)

Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Executive Action (1973)

Eyeborgs (2009) (*)

Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Fight for Your Life (1977)

Final Destination 2 (2003) (*)

Five Million Years to Earth (1967)

Flash Gordon (1980; representing the “Star Wars Ripoff” genre—see also Message From Space, Starcrash, The Black Hole and Battle Beyond the Stars)

The Flesh Eaters (1964) (ESSENTIAL)

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)

The Glory Stompers (1968)

Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)

Godzilla Versus Monster Zero (1965)

Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster (1971) (ESSENTIAL)

Gorgo (1961)

The Green Berets (1968)

Head (1968) (ESSENTIAL)

Hells Angels ’69 (1969)

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) (I figure you already know about this one, but its inclusion was so not to give the impression that all of director Wes Craven’s flicks are recommended—the same can be said about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

Hostel 2 (2007)

The Howling (1980)

Ichi the Killer (2001)

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958)

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) (ESSENTIAL)

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Infra-Man (1975)

The Invisible Man (1933)

The Island (1980) (Michaels Caine & Ritchie...and pirates!)

It’s Alive (1974)

I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

Kitten With a Whip (1964)

The Late Great Planet Earth (1979)

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)

Live and Let Die (1973)

The Love God? (1969)

Mad Monster Party (1967)

Martyrs (2008) (*) (A flick I don’t really like, but do respect, and part of the “French Gore” subgenre of the “New EuroGore” genre, which includes Inside, High Tension and [REC]2--which was awesome, by the way)

Massacre at Central High (1976)

Meet the Feebles (1989)

Men Behind the Sun (1988)

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)

Mr. Vampire (1985)

One Million Years B.C. (1966)

Orphan (2009) (*)

The Phenix City Story (1955)

The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972)

The Prophecy (1995) (Christopher Walken’s killer angel, not Frankenheimer’s mutant bear puppets--although you should probably watch that, too)

Psych-Out (1968)

Queen of Blood (1966)

Rambo (2008) (*) (a gorehound's delight! Jeez, just listen to the audio, without watching: it's dizzzzzzzzzzgusting! And therefore, awesome.)

Reanimator (1985)

Robot Monster (1953) (ESSENTIAL)

Rodan (1956)

Rollercoaster (1977)

Salvage (2006) (*)

Satan’s Sadists (1969)

The Sentinel (1977)

Shogun Assassin (1980)

The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989)

The Signal (2006) (*)

Silent Running (1972)

Skidoo (1968) (ESSENTIAL)

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008) (*)

Stone (1974)

Stone Cold (1991)

The Story of Ricky (1991)

The TAMI Show (1964)

Targets (1968)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Them! (1953)

Thunderbirds Are GO! (1966)

The Todd Killings (1971) (ESSENTIAL)

Trick ‘r’Treat (2007) (*)

Turkey Shoot (1982)

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

2000 Maniacs (1964)

The Twonky (1953)

United 93 (2006) (*) (don’t try and tell me this isn’t an exploitation movie!)

Uptight! (1968; Jules Dassin) (ESSENTIAL) (perhaps not really a Blaxploitation film, but certainly one of the best B-movies ever made)

Vanishing Point (1971) (ESSENTIAL)

Witchfinder General (1968) (ESSENTIAL)

Willard (2003)

The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962)

Zardoz (1974) (because every film list should end with Zardoz)

As well as most, if not all of the films of:

…And by the way, The United Provinces of Ivanlandia will be a joyful participant in The 1950s Monster Mash blogathon, sponsored by the always-trouble-makin’ Nate Hood at the Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear blog.
Our entry is scheduled to be published on August 1, and will be about that kamp kitsch klassik The Blob! Stay tuned!

(Of course, coming up with this list of exploitation/monster/B-movies made me realize that The National Film Board of Ivanlandia needs to come up with its own essential viewing list—movies that all inhabitants of Ivanlandia need to see to retain citizenship! STAY TUNED…)