Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Fest 5 (Day Three): Shocker, The Blob, and Beware! The Blob

 Over the years I've learned that a light day is the best way to close out a Fest. After all of the marathon-ing and late nights, it's good to take an afternoon and kick back with three easy-going films that aren't going to send people away in droves (like a, say, ThanksKilling 3). With that in mind, I selected a Wes Craven movie that's just strange enough to be entertaining, a better-than-it-ought to be "alien invasion" B-movie from the 1950s, and its fourteen years later quasi-sequel directed by J.R. Ewing. Good times.

 I already said nearly everything I have to say about Shocker while covering it for The ABCs of Movie Masochism earlier this year, so click on that link to have a gander at what you have to look forward to when you sit down and watch Wes Craven's failed attempt to kick start another franchise (and you should). The one thing I can't believe I forgot to mention was the electric blue lips! How did that escape my recap last time??? If, for some unfathomable reason, you aren't going to watch Shocker,

 Horace Pinker is on death row, moments away from walking "the green mile" and he's managed as a final request to be given a TV set and a pair of jumper cables. Prisons in the 1980s, I guess. So he's doing some kind of evil ritual and out of the TV comes a pair of floating blue electric lips to grant him his wish (they say something to the effect of "If you want it, baby, you got it!") to turn into Electricity Slasher Man. In a movie where our hero (director Peter Berg, he of Battleship fame) runs into a goalpost and gains a psychic connection to a serial killer, something like electric blue lips isn't actually that out of place, but it was worth mentioning.


 In the interest of full discretion, there's another reason I chose The Blob for this Summer Fest. Every year, friends of mine who live in Pennsylvania invite me to come to Blobfest, which is a weekend-long celebration of the film. It culminates with a recreation of the scene where the blob invades the movie theater and everybody runs out, and it sounds like a lot of fun. Almost without fail, Blobfest happens right around the same time I'm getting Summer Fest together, so I've never been. Maybe someday, but not yet, so I felt like The Blob should get some recognition here at Summer Fest. It is the perfect kind of summer B-movie experience, and five years in one could argue we're long overdue to watch it. Also, I love the theme song. For good measure I threw in Beware! The Blob, because what the hell, right?

 The Blob is the story of the worst first date ever. If you're being picky, you could the worst first two dates ever, since they do technically go home and then sneak back out. The "they" in that sentence are Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut). For Jane, it starts out less than great because she's convinced Steve brought her up to Make Out Point to, well, make out, but it turns out he's just really into astronomy and falling stars, so she doesn't even really get to be indignant about his advances. He's too much of a dork to be a horndog. But he does offer to take her back to town and buy her a sandwich after they can't find a meteorite that lands somewhere in the woods. Good on you, Steve.

 They never get that sandwich because the meteorite lands near a cabin where an Old Man (Olin Howard) and his dog live, and inside said meteorite is the titular monster, which promptly affixes itself to his hand. Steve and Jane find him on the road begging for help and take him to Dr. Hallen (Stpehen Chase) and then they go about their merry way, which involves backwards drag racing with some other teenagers. Lt. Dave (Earl Rowe) doesn't really approve of this, but those crazy kids these days, right?

 So we've set up a carefree atmosphere of teenagers being teenagers and police that already have every reason to doubt they're telling the truth about anything, so an audience of twenty aught thirteen should know what happens when the blob eats the old man and the doctor and his nurse. Nobody believes them because the doctor was headed out to a conference and Steve and Jane caught him just in time but we won't know for sure if they made it up or if he really was eaten by a gelatinous space monster until he arrives at the conference (or doesn't). Better sit on that for now. Those crazy kids!

 Well Jane and Steve go home with their respective parents after making statements at the police station but they decide to sneak back out and find out what happened. Meanwhile, the blob continues to eat people, which makes it grow, but it only eats people with convenient excuses about needing to be somewhere else so nobody really misses them. Say what you will about this nearly brainless thing, it knows how to pick victims!

 Anyway I don't want to spoil the rest of the movie because The Blob is a lot of fun in the way that you just don't get with "wink wink" B-movies these days. There's no sense of snark or mean edge to the film, just some basically decent kids trying to save everybody from a space monster before it's too late. There are parents and kid brothers and people who seem like jerks but turn out not really to be so bad after all and the solution to stopping the blob is a pretty good one that you might not immediately think of so that's good too. I hope Jane and Steve went on to have a normal date.

 In reading about The Blob, you invariably find out one of two things: this is Steve McQueen's first starring role and / or that he was 27 when he made it. I guess maybe you're supposed to think it's funny that he's playing a high school student but Aneta Corseaut was twenty four, so it's not that crazy. That was pretty much par the course up through the 1990s (I mean, did you really think the kids in Scream were 18?). He's not quite the Steve McQueen you're used to - in fact, his line delivery at the beginning of the movie is pretty shaky - but he gets better throughout the film and you can see that this is a guy to pay attention to. Before too long he'll be making some really classic movies and then his grandson will be in Piranha 3D. But The Blob is good stuff.


 Beware! The Blob is entertaining for different reasons, and not always good ones. It's not a sequel in the strictest sense, although it does (SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE BLOB) basically start because somebody brings home a frozen sample of the blob and leaves it on the counter. Other than that and an ending that tries to up the ante on the "movie theater" scene, it's not really related to The Blob at all.

 In fact, it's barely a movie: Beware! The Blob is a collection of vignettes strung together by the barest of narrative-through-lines you're likely to see. Mostly it seems like Larry Hagman decided he wanted to direct a bunch of his friends doing stupid things and then sometimes being eaten by the blob (but just as many times not). The "movie" is a who's who of character actors, and even if you don't know the names, I guarantee you'd recognize the faces: Sid Haig, Gerrit Graham, Dick van Patten, Cindy Williams, Burgess Meredith, Robert Walker Jr., Shelley Berman, Godfrey Cambridge, Marlene Clark and for good measure, Larry Hagman.

 After the blob gets out and starts eating people, we jump from one "bit" to another, involving hippies, hair stylists, cub scouts, and even a naked Turkish man (Tiger Joe Marsh) and his little dog. Most of the scenes are terrible skits (the hair stylist gets a dirty hippie who wants a haircut) that end when the blob eats them, or in the case of the scouts, go nowhere at all. Dick van Patten is nowhere to be found at the very end of the film, but two of the scouts are there to use clacking balls to... I don't even remember. Sorry. There's even a birthday party / psychedelic happening early in the movie, because why not?

 Well, if you can have a blob invading a movie theater, why not a bowling alley? And if it's a bowling alley, why not have a full diner attached to one side and an ice skating rink that's "under repairs" on the other side? It makes perfect sense in the same way that the "spa" in Death Spa does. Since there's an ice skating rink and I technically implied the spoiler to how to stop the blob, I'm guessing you can figure out how the young and less interesting couple manages to save the day.

 If The Blob encapsulates B-movies of the 1950s well, then I guess it would be fair to say that Beware! The Blob captures the vibe of the early 1970s. We're not quite into leisure suits or anything people would clearly associate with "the 1970s", but there are still people who hate hippies and the movie is kind of built on a variety show structure of "guest stars" who show up for no good reason and then go away just as quickly. It's not very good and not as much fun as The Blob, and you should probably never watch them back to back (as we did), but if you're in the mood for a very silly movie that also features the blob in it and you already watched The Blob and / or The Blob remake last week, I guess this is a good option.  It was a light, goofy way to close out Summer Fest, and exactly the kind of movie that works in this atmosphere.

 Thus ends Summer Fest 5! It was a great time with a lot of highs and only a few lows. It was ball hugging, bad science-ing, and Ninja-tastic, with just the right does of audience participation. And now we're only three months out from Horror Fest... yeesh, I need to get the lineup together!

No comments: