When I say one can learn more about films from the worst movies than they can from the best, I can think of few better examples of this logic than 1972’s Beware! The Blob. This is a movie that has some aspects filmmakers with more experience, or better taste, wouldn’t have allowed. And this picture is all the more enjoyable because of that.
From the very first frame, you can tell how the creative minds behind the camera realized how ridiculous it would be to make a sequel of the 1950’s sci-fi classic. The entirety of the opening credits play over footage of a kitten frolicking in a field. Even weirder is the accompanying music, which is like carnival music as played on a Moog with the most obnoxious jingles from 70’s commercials laid over it.
So who is the moron who composed this soundtrack? It’s…it’s Mort Garson?! The renown electronic composer whose Plantasia is currently being appreciated by a new audience, courtesy of a vinyl reissue which keeps selling out in consequent pressings.
Such deliriously insane music largely fills the soundtrack until more appropriate accompaniment begins creeping it. I wasn’t aware of when this happened, and I’m still not sure it the change is to the film’s benefit or detriment. For most pictures, I would say the best soundtrack is that which does not distract from what is on the screen but…woo-boy, Garson’s work here is noteworthy for just how jaw-droppingly weird it is.
It’s no surprise the kitten will be the first victim of the blob, though this is handled about as tastefully as it could be. The next two victims are a couple where the man had been keeping a sealed sample of the original blob in their freezer. He did not know what the sample, which had been found by somebody on his bulldozer crew in the arctic, might be. Still, I wondered why he brought it all the way from there to his home. At least, I know I wouldn’t keep a sample of something of unknown origin anywhere I keep food.
We’re introduced to that guy (Godfrey Cambridge) as he exiting a camping tent, to emerge into…his own living room. If that sounds like something out of a sitcom, then that is fairly representative of the humor in the film. This isn’t much a surprise, given some of the actors are primarily from television, such as Dick Van Patten as a Scout leader and Cindy Williams as a stoner girl. It’s even directed by Larry Hagman, this being the only theatrical film he helmed. So it isn’t a surprise this could be mistaken for a made-for-television movie.
But such a movie would not have the odd lapses in basic filmmaking technique that happen on occasion here. An overcranked shot has what appears to be an interstate in the background, so those cars seem to be trying to achieve escape velocity. Another shot has a weirdly jerky pull out, as if the crew was learning how to use the equipment while they were actively filming.
With the bar set this low, a couple of technically impressive scenes are made all the more remarkable in contrast. Especially noteworthy is a shot straight-on of lanes at a bowling alley, where the blob oozes evenly across them.
I wouldn’t have thought Larry Hagman would have an unusual sense of humor, yet some of his choices here are evidence of that. There’s an old guy taking a bath wearing a Shriner’s fez, who ends up running naked through the streets. A maintenance man at the bowling alley plays a piano amongst the machinery when he isn’t reading The Teachings of Buddha.
There’s also a great deal of improvisation, which I found to be of service to the film. One bizarre scene I liked has Shelley Berman as a barber who appears dismayed when a hippie type walks into his establishment. Berman declares he is a “hair sculptor” and has to charge $400, which the young man readily agrees to. The last thing Berman says to the young man before the blob attacks is while he’s massaging the scalp during a shampoo: “You sure do groan a lot. I do believe you’re purring”. I kind of wanted to know where that scene would have gone if these guys hadn’t been killed.
I laughed quite a bit during that scene, as well as other moments in the film, which shows how poor my taste is. I keep saying how I’m such an easy laugh, but I doubt many others would even chuckle at a recurring gag where characters keep walking into a metal trash can just inside the front door at one house.
I genuinely enjoyed Beware! The Blob, though I can also understand why most others would not find anything of merit here. With its weird improv moments and occasional lapses in filmmaking technique, the whole affair has a “hey gang, let’s put on a show” kind of vibe to it. Besides, it has such bizarre cameos as Burgess Meredith as a hobo railing against hippies. I believe there is a cult classic waiting to be discovered here, if only viewers would lower their expectations and relax their standards for what they come to believe is a “good” movie.
Dir: Larry Hagman
Starring Robert Walker, Jr., Gwynne Gilford
Watched on Kino Lorber blu-ray