What Is The Best Blob Movie Of The 1950’s?
THE BLOB was not the only blob movie of the 1950s. By “blob movie” I mean a movie in which the antagonist in a big squelching tub of goo that flops around and ingests whatever it can roll down. Examples are X THE UNKNOWN; the Quatermass movie THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (arguably) and it’s sequel ENEMY FROM SPACE (with a different alien); THE H-MAN; CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER, and, of course, THE BLOB. Others possibly exist that I haven’t seen yet.
Coincidentally, I saw three of these films over a short time period recently, so this post focuses on them alone. It will not exactly provide a definitive answer to the question, but hopefully will clear away some of the brush to make it easier for future explorations in the field.
The three movies in question are THE BLOB (1958), THE H-MAN (Japan: 1959), and CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (Italy: 1959). THE BLOB, as everyone knows, was Steve McQueen’s first film. Except that it wasn’t. It was his fourth, and he’d also done a mess of tv work before appearing in this movie. THE B’s basic plot, aimed squarely at the youth audience, was that no one in authority would believe these crazy kids that something was going around town dissolving people until, finally, it oozes through the movie theatre and basically chases the entire town down the street.
THE B has several problems. McQueen at the time was 28 and he looked like he was on the wrong side of thirty. He looked older than the town sheriff. Hard to play a teen under those circumstances, though he did give it the old college, or rather, high school try. Second, long-time readers of this column may know that I am not fond of child actors (even competent ones) and this film has perhaps the worst child actor in any 1950s sf film. That’s saying something. I don’t want to be too mean to him because, Jesus, he was only a kid, but you’d think that the adults surrounding him would have known better. Anyway, he was awful. He appears at the film’s climactic scene, almost ruining it (though McQueen’s love interest quickly muffles him by sticking him under her coat or something). I wished that the Blob would ooze over his whiny little ass and shut him up, but, alas, it didn’t. Third, the Blob’s first victim had a dog, who then inserted itself in the plot to appear every now and then to be menaced. Long-time readers of this blog know that if there’s one thing I like less than child actors, it’s the blatant use of innocent animals as victims to arouse audience reaction. Fortunately, the dog does finally get away, as one of the teens tells McQueen’s girlfriend that he saw it running down the street. I like to think that it finally found a home with a caring family that kept it safe from ravening alien killers, but then I am admittedly sentimental.
The treatment of the dog is just one example of THE BLOB’s largest problem: a meandering, poorly focused screenplay that was unable to build tension to a climax. It just went from encounter to encounter, showing the Blob gobbling up random citizens, until the big reveal at the movie theater. Basic idea, okay. Its execution in the screenplay needed a little more thought.
Not that THE BLOB was a bad movie. Many of the set pieces are quite good and somewhat squirm-inducing. The movie theater scene is also quite effective (Though if you look closely you’ll see that some of the people running purportedly from the Blob are laughing. Amateurs. They always break character.). Decent and worth seeing: Rating 7.
CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959), opens on an archeological set, usually a plus in my book. It’s supposed to be the ruins of the Mayan city called Tikal, which the movie claims are in Mexico, but are actually in Guatemala. Close enough for movie work, I guess. Anyway, people from the expedition are going missing, so they decide to muck around in the sacrificial pool in the nearby cave, thereby not only finding some neat treasure, but stirring up, yes, Caltiki, the immortal monster, who, sure enough, is the Blob, but who came down to Earth from a comet rather than in a meteor.
They seemingly destroy the immortal monster by crashing into it with an exploding fuel truck (this was a well-equipped expedition). But, don’t worry, one of the archeologists got kind of half-way sucked up by Caltiki, and there was plenty of it left on him once they pulled him away (most of him, anyway) to take a sample, which they kept in an open-topped glass container once they’d returned to civilization.
Meantime, the gorily-injured archeologist goes off his rocker right into a maniacal murder spree, the remains of Caltiki escape the terrarium, ingest some protein and gets big, real fast, and before you know it, we have a double-headed crisis on our hands.
Tense and atmospheric (though the film mistakes Carribean dancers for Mayans for the de rigeur native dance sequence), with great special effects by Mario Bava, who also apparently directed bits of the movie after the first director quit or was dismissed or something. Superior. 8+ rating
THE H-MAN (original Japanese title: THE BEAUTY AND THE LIQUIFIED MAN) is a curious hybrid of crime/sf, also with Japan’s usual 1950s obsession (of course, they had a valid reason for that) with radioactivity. It seems that recent atom bomb tests in the Pacific have cause a really virulent form of acid rain. In fact, it melts human flesh, while leaving clothing and accessories behind. The film’s first victim is a minor hoodlum who gets melted during a heist. The police and his gang are both quite interested in his girl-friend, a nightclub chantreuse, because both factions think that he simply absconded with the goods. No one believes her story that he hasn’t returned to their apartment, except for the mild-mannered atomic scientist who is running down some wild story about a rainstorm at sea (shown in a spooky and very effective flashback) melting the crew of a small fishing vessel. Except, the crew didn’t die, but can manifest themselves as a runny, gelatinous blobs, or, if they want, eerily glowing (still gelatinous and blobby) human forms.
The scientist goes all out to convince his skeptical cop friend of the truth of his theory, we get to watch several swell nightclub sequences of slinky bikini-clad dancers, and various thrusts, feints, and diversions between the H-Men, the cops, and the gangsters. The hesitant budding romance between the atom scientist and the torch singer is quite sweet. A little confusing, but stick with it. Rating 8+.
Best blob movie, by a smidgeon, is THE H-MAN, because of its interesting Japanese sensibilities combined with an equally interesting blending of genres.