I have a problem with anti-intellectualism. Maybe that’s because I live in a cesspool of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Or maybe it’s because I consider myself an intellectual. Either way, I have a problem and now it’s yours, too. The 1988 remake of The Blob definitely agitated my condition. Ignoring the itchy, red rash, the watery eyes, the screaming voice, the banging fists, I found the film enjoyable as a monster flick. The title character possessed a pure mindlessness I found refreshing compared to the idiocy of the highly trained, professional scientists.
It was the 1980s. Hair was big. Spandex was big. Shoulderpads in blouses–enormous. Jelly shoes, Member’s Only jackets, parachute pants, JAMS, gold nugget jewelry, Ronald Reagan, and the best damned arcades in the history of the shopping mall–all ENORMOUSLY big. Michael Jackson? Our king. Madonna? Our Madonna. Waiting in the wings? Prince.
We took our news from Geraldo. Oprah was likened to Phil Donahue. Nobody remembered the 1970s. We shopped. We mocked our consumerism. We shopped some more. As if suddenly medieval Geneva popped, zit-like, all over Mid-America, success became proof of the Godly life and the first prosperity “doctrines” (I can’t even bring myself to call it theology) emerged. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell crowed as Jim Bakker fell, followed soon after by Jimmy Swaggart. But still we bought and we bragged, partied like it was 1999, and we waited for the cleansing moment of Light-Brighter-Than-Ten-Million-Suns.
And then The Blob crashed to earth. It devoured everything, the perfect consumer. It was the alpha-predator not merely in gross nature, but in the market, as well. I mean, you can’t trade against it if you’ve been absorbed, can you? It’s shrewd. It needs a decent business card, but it’s shrewd and people in power started to talk.
One of those guys that noticed The Blob was one of its creators, the illustrious Dr. Meddows (played by the incomparable Joe Seneca.) Like a modern day Morgan Freeman, but EVIL, Dr. Meddows emerges to attempt to rein in the monster. Doesn’t he know that the invisible hand can’t be stopped? The market takes care of itself, Dr. Meddows. You could explain things to us, but you’re a dirty, no good scientist. You lied about the nuclear holocaust! Liar! You lied!
I’m sorry, this brought up a lot of baggage from childhood….
Anyway, Dr. Meddows and a team of government scientists appear to contain and ultimately control the monster. We discover that the creature is a biological weapons experiment gone awry, but that Meddows remains pleased with the outcome. In order to contain the creature, the kindly-seeming scientist decrees the townsfolk expendable. He’s like an evil Cliff Huxtable.
Countering Meddows, with his evil graduate school training and his wicked understanding of nature, is Brian Flagg (played by the lucky-to-be-on-screen-with-Joe-Seneca Kevin Dillon.) Brian is young. He rides a motorcycle. He wears a lot of denim. He has long-ish semi-permed hair that gives him a real Adrienne Barbeau bad-ass vibe. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks but his mama loves him and he loves her–though that won’t last. For as much as Meddows knows, Brian feels, and feelings dictate our impulses, and impulse buys bolster sales. So we’re cheering for the know-nothing hayseed from hicktown who develops an amazingly altruistic ethic in the crisis hour. Because BUY, DAMMIT! BUY BEFORE WE’RE ALL SHADOWS!
But I digress, again….
We cheer for the guy who plays hookie. We cheer for the bad-boy. We boo the evil, two-faced scientist. We boo understanding, because understanding brings the unknown monster. And that’s why we’re really booing–this ain’t the way it’s supposed to end. Killed by a murderous, mutated bacteria isn’t nucleonic fire from the heart of reality. That’s NOT how it’s supposed to end, dammit!
And there’s the genius in the film: That’s not how it’s supposed to end. The Blob contradicts our understanding of the End of Days. It’s not nuclear holocaust; it’s something else. Of course, science is behind it, but we’d spent the past forty years getting used to the mouse-trap example of a nuclear chain-reaction. Would we be able to indoctrinate our young on how they’d die now with this unknown, undefined blob? The Eagle Forum would’ve been outraged, I’m sure.
So I have mixed feelings about this film. On the one hand, it panders to anti-intellectualism, casting scientists as not just clumsy or arrogant, but as evil and conniving. On the other hand, it knows its market. The film works because it fits the time and follows the rules for making a good monster flick, but then there’s the OTHER threat from the monster: the threat isn’t merely to us, it’s to what we think we know.
It’s a period piece. You really have to consider when this film was made to appreciate the depth it provides. It was a big middle-finger to a very popular train of thought.