Combustible Celluloid
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With: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corseaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howlin, Stephen Chase, John Benson
Written by: Kay Phillips (a.k.a. Kate Linaker), Theodore Simonson, based on a story by Irving H. Millgate
Directed by: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 95
Date: 09/12/1958

The Blob (1958)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Creature Features

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I was little, my dad used to let me stay up late on Saturday nights to watch "Creature Features" on Channel 2. "Creature Features" was hosted by Bob Wilkins (and later John Stanley), a sober gent who really knew his bad sci-fi and horror flicks.

No matter how many technological advances we make in our science fiction, from realistic-looking space walks in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to realistic-looking space battles in Star Wars (1977) to realistic-looking bullet-dodging in The Matrix (1999), many die hard fans still swear by the low-budget B-films of the 1950's. Two such films, Arthur Crabtree's Fiend Without a Face and Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr's The Blob (both 1958) have now been released on deluxe DVD's with plenty of extras to keep fans engorged for hours.

Fiend Without a Face (Criterion Collection, $39.95) came from a 1930's sci-fi story written by a teenage girl. Crabtree and his team gave it an "Atomic age" twist, and took it all the way home. The movie begins slowly with lots of talking and exposition but when it gets going, at around the one-hour mark, it's unforgettable. A scientist trying to harness the telekinetic power of the mind siphons energy from a nearby Military atomic plant and unexpectedly creates a menace. Strange invisible creatures begin to attack innocent people and suck out their brains. As the creatures become more intelligent, they learn to turn up the power and become visible, appearing as flying brains with spinal cords for "tails." Even though the effects were obviously done with stop-motion animation, you will not be able to tear your eyes from the screen.

The Blob (Criterion Collection, $39.95) fares a little better in the storytelling department. Steve McQueen stars as a 28 year-old teenager who sees a meteor land on earth. Before he can track down its landing site, the meteor cracks open and a red glop of goo climbs out and eats an old man who had been poking at it with a stick. The red goo continues to roll all over town devouring people and growing bigger, eventually attacking a movie theater full of people watching a scary movie(!). Nothing seems to stop it, not acid, not bullets. What I like best about "The Blob" is that I honestly did not know how the special effects were done, which is a mystery missing from most of today's filmmaking. (Today we can assume that all special effects are done by computer.) Thankfully, my questions were answered by the insightful extras included on the disc.

The Blob contains two commentary tracks, one by director Yeaworth (along with actor Robert Fields) and a second one by producer Jack H. Harris (along with film historial Bruce Eder), as well as dozens of stills. A "Blob" fan who lives in the town where the film was shot currently runs a "Blob" museum and donated all his treasures for the making of the DVD. Of the two commentaries, producer Harris is the more animated and energetic. "Fiend Without a Face" contains only one commentary, an interview with executive producer Richard Gordon conducted by Bruce Eder, and it's pretty dull. Fortunately, the disc also contains stills, essays, and trailers for this and four other horror films. Both transfers are fine, though "Fiend Without a Face" shows a few source-print scratches here and there.

Taken as a DVD B-movie double-bill, though, The Blob and Fiend Without a Face are practically unbeatable. I almost felt like I was back watching "Creature Features" again. Pardon me while I warm up a bowl of homemade popcorn...

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