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The Blob The Blob approaches the movie theater

The Blob

1958. A Tonylyn Production. Directed by Irvin A. Yeaworth, Jr. With Steve McQueen, Aneta Corseau, Earl Rowe


The police have refused to believe Steve and the other kids about the monster oozing around town devouring people. But they can't scoff at the hundreds of terrified people who run screaming out of the local movie house. Either the current feature, Daughter of Horror, is a really great scare, or The Blob has gotten loose in the theater.

Once again, a crowd of movie-goers like ourselves, gathered together for some vicarious thrills, gets more than they bargained for. The Blob slurps up the projectionist (every movie-house monster's starting point) and when the screen goes dark and the audience starts looking around, it extrudes itself through the projection booth holes into the theater. The folks who have been laugh-screaming up until now (a pretty mature crowd for something billed as a "Midnight Spook Show") begin screaming in earnest.

The Blob invades the theater for the express purpose of replacing Daugher of Horror with a show of its own. All evening, The Blob has been competing with the Midnight Spook Show for the town's attention. When Steve (Steve McQueen) first heads out to investigate the mysterious meteor crash, his buddies urge him to go with them to the Midnight Spook Show instead. Later, Steve has to pull his friends out of the balcony to help him fight The Blob. A lady who has overheard The Blob struggling with her employer dismisses the idea that there has been foul play: "The people downstairs always have movies on TV. I hear lots of shooting and screaming." And the police continually dismiss Steve's reports of the Blob. "Show's over..." they say repeatedly. "You put on a good act, but..." Even Steve's friends kid around saying things like "Ooooo, a monster's on the loose!" and "Maybe it's from outer space!" A town full of skeptical, media-saturated types seems a sitting duck for a real Blob invasion.

From King Kong to The Tingler to the psycho rifleman in Targets, monsters have terrorized movie audiences by terrorizing movie audiences. The theater scenes within these movies reflect the experience that we ourselves are having— vulnerable spectators, seated in the dark, waiting to be assaulted. We might look at these murderous movie creatures as the physical embodiment of the visual assault that horror movie provide. The horror genre seems to be profoundly concerned with seeing (gaping, aghast spectators are shown far more often than the monster is; we see mayhem reflected in the eyes of others more than we see it directly). Of course, the more affinity we viewers feel with the people under attack in the movie, the more the movie can work its thrills and chills. But there is something else at work here, something that involves peeking at things we fear to see, and this reflects on the very nature of spectatorship.

The Blob is not a good movie, and were it not the first leading role of one "Steven McQueen," we probably wouldn't know about it at all. Still, it engages some of the key issues about the reflexivity of horror movies, especially those that scare their audiences by showing audiences being scared. Unintentionally but quite aptly, The Blob sows confusion about just what the source of the horror is, and who its ultimate victims are.

For example, in the midst of the movie-theater pandemonium scene, two policemen confer on the sidewalk under the marquee. The one who has just come out of the theater gasps, "Don't go in there...It's the most horrible thing I've seen in my life!" A report on the Blob's murderous rampage, or movie criticism?

(10/23/1996)

 

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copyright ©2005 Barbara Bernstein