A Slow, Cheap, Middling Horror Movie Gave the World the Perfect Sci-Fi Monster
Don’t cross the Blob.
Science fiction monsters are rarely elegant. While we all love menacing aliens in films like Independence Day or Alien, the vast majority of monsters, no matter how iconic, all end up feeling sort of similar. They have scary limbs. They have claws. Or jaws. Or pincers, or maybe the occasional tentacle.
But then there’s the blob, from The Blob. In 1958, a strange independent film, one that’s more about ‘50s teenagers being dorky than it is about space aliens, accidentally gave us the best idea ever for an alien monster. Although The Blob predates most of our post-eighties shorthand, modern readers can still think of it as Happy Days meets a very slow episode of Stranger Things. Or imagine George Lucas deciding to give a bit of sci-fi flair to American Graffiti.
In The Blob, teenagers battle an alien blob that’s consuming a small town. Infamously, Steve is played by Steve McQueen in his first major movie, billed here as Steven McQueen, although if you’re looking to start your McQueen cinematic education, you should probably go straight to 1968’s perfect action flick, Bullitt. The pacing of The Blob isn’t just bad for its time; other monster movies from the 1950s were far more thrilling. Even the blob chasing teenagers through a grocery store near the end feels less exciting than it should be. The Blob is a monster movie that often seems to forget it’s a monster movie, which is a large part of why the film has such a mixed reputation.
However, the idea of The Blob is fantastic. The blob is a perfect sci-fi monster. It doesn’t have a goal, it doesn’t look like a monster-ish take on any kind of animal. It can — and will — eat anything. When the movie begins, Steve and Jane observe a meteorite crashing, which is how the blob gets to our planet. What kind of horrifying sci-fi critter could survive on a freaking meteor?
The solution to defeating the Blob is to make it extremely cold, which isn’t too different from how the Martians are defeated with pathogens in The War of the Worlds. In both cases, the seemingly invincible aliens simply aren’t used to our environment. But while Wells was creating an alien that felt exciting, Blob writers Kay Linaker, Theodore Simonson, and Irving H. Millgate created an alien that felt credible.
The story isn’t at all sensational, which is part of its accidental genius. The Blob is about an alien that lands in a boring town, yet it almost destroys the world. It’s a simple idea — a precursor of sorts to The Thing, which apes one of the movie’s more memorable shots — and it feels like there should be a better version of the Blob buried inside The Blob. But what is there remains intriguing decades later, perhaps even more so than the Blob’s creators could have realized.