Chuck Russell’s 1988 sci-fi/horror remake “The Blob” features an enormous, all-consuming rosy mass making its way to the fictional small American town of Arborville, California. Naturally, a lot of people are plunged into its gelatinous maw, and the result isn’t pretty.
Like Irvin Yeaworth’s 1958 original, the adults are feckless and it’s up to the youths to save the day — except this time, no one is trying to convince us that a nearly-30 Steve McQueen is a cherubic high schooler. But the film’s greatest divergence from its 1958 predecessor (aside from the blob’s homegrown origin, which updated the McCarthy-era alien invasion origin of the ’58 film) was its updated special effects, and the big-screen carnage it enabled. After eating the arm of a drifter, the ever-spreading goo grows with every organism it eats, from boyfriends to sheriffs to children; the shocking deaths earned the movie a spot on /Film’s list of science fiction movies that “go too far.”
Because of the intensive work of the FX team (headed by “Bad Grandpa” makeup designer Tony Gardner), audiences are treated to the sight of still-living bodies dissolving in the goop. The blob fills sinks, air ducts, and phone booths, and swells to such a size that it nearly covers Arborville like a blanket. In fact, it was a series of blankets.
Speaking to Terror at Synth High on YouTube, special effects artist Nick Benson (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master,” “Tremors”) recalls his time spent on “The Blob,” goes long on the small army of special effects techs who would engineer the ’88 monster’s eating spree, and introduces the term “blob wrangler” to the moviegoers’ lexicon.
Secrets of the ooze
Nick Benson has the horror bonafides. He co-engineered the foul human fusions of Brian Yuzna’s “Society” (which made /Film’s 15 Best Body Horror Movies), the underground graboids of “Tremors,” and the sci-fi mayhem of Yuzna’s “Bride of the Re-Animator.” His recollection of “The Blob” is one filled with appreciation for the crew’s hard work, particularly the team that kept the blob goopy and as immense as the scene would call for. He told Terror at Synth High:
“The blob itself was made up of — for a better or worse term, we called them ‘quilts.’ They’re these silk quilts that have these little pockets in them. We hired a s***-ton of what we called ‘blob wranglers’ and what blob wranglers did was they took all of those quilts, and kept filling them full of slime material called Methacil. They’d continually fill all those little postules in the quilts with Methacil so we could continue to shoot. If I remember correctly, we had hundreds of those quilts. We’d take as many quilts as we’d needed for a shot, to make that blob as big as we needed it, and overlap it so that it would become bigger; you’d never really notice that its quilts laying on top of each other because of the way it was painted. As that stuff would ooze out — which it did, a lot — the flattened quilts would go away and re-filled quilts would come out for the shot.”
Had Russell gotten his wish (and had the tech been a little more developed than it was at the time), CGI would have had a much bigger role in the blob’s creation than goo blankets did. But there’s nothing like good old in-camera effects, and few do it better than “The Blob.”