Confession: I’ve never properly watched the original THE BLOB nor the Larry Hagman-directed belated sequel, which I must admit I’m very curious about. But curiosity finally prodded us to run Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake, mainly on the strength of Frank Darabont’s co-writing credit, and a surprisingly respectable piece of work it is. Set in a small town in the northwest US (though filmed in Louisiana, presumably for the more comfortably warm nights), it has trace elements of Twin Peaks, and even features a brief spot by Jack Nance (always welcome) — and the casting director was Eric DaRe, not only the son of Aldo Ray, but Twin Peaks’ resident domestic abuser Leo Johnson.
The special effects, mostly under the supervision of Lyle Conway (DREAMCHILD, RETURN TO OZ, LINK) are surprisingly consistent, effective, imaginative and nasty — there are a few clunkers very late on, but by then the film has established its credentials and you’re willing to forgive. The script keeps giving people characterful things to do — if it’s a shame that we lose two of the grown-up characters early on, one has to admit that Darabont and Russell came up with a strongly emotive way of doing it. The pity is that Kevin Dillon, looking like a drunkenly assembled identikit of his brother Matt, and blandly attractive but underwritten Shawnee Smith, can’t compete with the grown-ups for screen value. The script gives them a little more meat than is usual in this kind of thing, and we also get anticipations of the superior Darabont flick THE MIST, as shady government doings start to play a role in the narrative, deepening and darkening the original’s “sinister meteor” gimmick.
Also: Del Close. I’m always glad to see Del Close. I knew he’d played a small role in the Hagman movie, because I remembered a comic strip he wrote about the experience in the very weird anthology comic Wasteland, but I didn’t realize he was in this, nor that he’d actually commemorated the experience in another autobiographical cartoon ~
Close was high as a kite when he filmed his BEWARE! scene, having had his eye scratched by his beloved cat, Grapefruit Head, causing him to take a large number of prescription painkillers including some intended for veterinary purposes.
In the remake, Close plays a preacher who ends up with the film’s coda, implying a distrust of militant Christianity which seems even more appropriate to the Reagan years than the paranoia about satellites and germ warfare.
Confession: the first thing I ever directed, a little project at art school, was an adaptation of a strip from Wasteland adapted by Close from a Severn Darden routine. Maybe one day I’ll put it on YouTube…