What exactly are blob movies? Do they count as monster movies? Or giant insect movies? Or disaster movies? Or something else?
However you classify them, blob movies comprise a very small but very intense subgenre of science fiction cinema.
I’m defining “blob” broadly enough to encompass not just the classic giant single-celled amoeboid aliens but also malevolent fungi that behave like blobs and humanoid blobs that behave similarly to their more shapeless brethren.
What’s special about these blobs? How do they differ from other science fiction antagonists?
First, blobs are almost always aliens. They are either found in space, on other planets, or as malevolent visitors to Planet Earth. The possible exceptions are the blobs from X The Unknown, Unknown Terror, The H-Man, The Stuff, and the 1988 Blob remake. The blobs in these exceptions might be Earth-born. More about them later.
Next, blobs always grow or propagate. Other alien monsters might increase in strength or destructiveness, and some (like Mothra or Hedorah from classic kaiju films) might mutate, but they essentially remain the same physically. At least they have a physical limit.
Blobs, by contrast, either grow every time they consume a victim or propagate by division or fertilization. This is part of what makes them extra scary.
Next, blobs have indefinite shapes. This is why we call them blobs, of course. Some have pseudopods (like those in Island of Terror), and some take humanoid form (like in Goke or The H-Man), but at heart they are indefinite and changeable. This makes them hard to defeat.
Next, blobs are usually mindless, at least by our standards. Some blob monsters, like those in The H-Man or The Green Slime, seem to exhibit emotions such as anger. But they are mostly mindless eating (or killing) machines.
Because blobs themselves have little personality, the movies must feature good likeable human characters to keep the audience interested. Kaiju movies might carry themselves on the personalities of the monsters alone (like in Daiei’s Gamera series). Blob movies need interesting stories with characters whose lives get disrupted and threatened by the blobs.
Finally, it’s worth noting that blobs are often associated with primal or elemental forces. They are often born from, or vulnerable to, basic forces like heat, cold, or electricity. Fire is usually the best weapon against a blob.
Should I add anything else before getting to the movies? I would note that there are a surprising number of British blob movies, mostly from the 50s and 60s.
Before these British movies, blob stories had appeared in science fiction pulps and comics – they include “The Thing in the Swamp” from Haunt of Fear #15 (1950) or “Slime” by Joseph Payne Brennan in Weird Tales (March 1953). But blob movies might be rightly described as a British invention.
I also thought I’d mention the “Operation Annihilate” episode of Star Trek:TOS (1966) with the flying blobs that ultimately get defeated by UV light.
Now, to the films! I count 17 blob films made from their beginnings in the 1950s thru the mid-late 1980s when my Claws & Saucers film territory comes to an end.
This installment, we’ll look at the three British films that started it all. Next installment, we’ll look at Japanese and American blob films including the Steve McQueen hit.
THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT
(“The Creeping Unknown,” UK, b&w, 1955)
Historically, this picture is most famous as the first big hit for Hammer Studios. But it’s also the first real blob movie.
The blob starts as an unseen spore. It infects a hapless astronaut, and after the astronaut returns to Earth, the spore takes over his body and mutates him into a hideous hairy blob about the size of a car.
The actual blob is onscreen for just a couple of minutes at the conclusion, but the confrontation is very exciting.
X THE UNKNOWN
(UK, b&w, 1956)
Also from Hammer, this is a quasi-sequel to Quatermass, and it features an even bigger and badder blob creature. In the previous film, the blob was only part of the story. Here, it’s the main event.
This blob is more amoeba-like and less tentacular than its predecessor. It’s apparently Earth-born, a mysterious primal underground life form released to the surface after military tests.
Historically, the film is most famous for its gore: one scene where a scientist’s face is graphically melted away down to his skull.
(“Enemy from Space,” UK, b&w, 1957)
Here’s the third blob movie in as many years from Hammer Studios. You wait a while before you see it, but it’s the main event.
Whereas the first Hammer blob was car-sized and the second one truck-sized, this third blob grows to the size of an office building.
It’s probably the biggest blob in film history unless you count The Stuff (which I’ll cover in Part III), since The Stuff is technically found all over the world.