Saturday, July 23, 2016

The film that J.R. shot (until he was absolutely, positively, 100% sure it was dead)


Whatever it is, it just isn't my scene.

Directed by Larry Hagman
Written by Jack Woods, Anthony Harris, Richard Clair, and Jack Harris
With Robert Walker Jr. (Bobby Hartford), Gwynne Gilford (Lisa Clark), Godfrey Cambridge (Chester), Richard Stahl (Edward Fazio), Richard Webb (Sheriff Jones), and a few other people you may or may not remember from drunken bouts of watching Nick-at-Nite

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sometimes actors direct movies.  Sometimes actors are Charles Laughton, and they direct The Night of the Hunter, which is amazing.  He never got to direct anything else, and that's a shame.  But sometimes actors are Larry Hagman—most famous for his villainous oil baron on Dallas—and they also only ever get to direct one feature.  And, in this case, that's got to be the salvation of the world entire.  For Larry Hagman's single film also happens to be Beware! The Blob—a.k.a. Son of the Blob, a.k.a The Blob Returns, a.k.a. a risibly dumb excuse for a bunch of Hollywood people, and pseudo-Hollywood people, to hang out and take drugs during the production of a movie that truly epitomizes what people really mean when they say "hey, it was 1972."

Okay, I'll admit, I can't say with absolute certainty that the people responsible for creating producer Jack Harris' long-delayed sequel to 1958's The Blob were actually high.  But, as the torts textbook says, res ipsa loquitur: the thing speaks for itself.  Frankly, the usual brands of incompetence are simply not capable of explaining Beware!

Essentially, it's not even a real movie.  In fact, it doesn't appear to be an attempt to make a real movie until about twenty or thirty minutes before it closes.  (For what it's worth, it's also about ten full minutes longer than The Blob, and needless to say, this particular quasi-film does not earn those extra ten minutes, in much the same way that it doesn't earn more than a handful of the eighty that accompany it.)  Anyway, to be scrupulously fair, Harris' involvement isn't quite as incomprehensible as it might seem at first glance: after all, that particular Z-grade producer was just two years away from pouring about a hundred thousand dollars into the wide release of John Carpenter's mostly-unpleasant student film Dark Star, and given the similarities between the two projects, the inescapable conclusion is that Harris simply liked this kind of crap.

At the very least, however, this film is kind enough to let you know more-or-less what you'll be getting with its opening credits, which are backgrounded with footage of a kitten frolicking in the grass, whilst some kind of zany early electronica wails and wails upon the soundtrack.  And, indeed, although this kitten is not especially fast, the camera has a whole heap of trouble actually keeping it in the frame.  (Incidentally, this scene is reputed to have been shot by the film's special photographer.  His name?  Dean Cundey.  Well, that's the circle of life, I guess: you start on Beware! The Blob, you go on to shoot Halloween and The Thing and Back to the Future, and then, for your sins, you find yourself lensing The fucking Flinstones.)  Anyway, it does set the mood: this movie has trouble keeping its lackadaisical hippies within its frame too.  Let's not be coy: this movie is aggressively bad—sometimes it's just plain aggressive—and it's very, very hard to watch.

First of all, nearly the whole movie looks like a snuff film, rendered on the kind of filmstock that makes everything, even exterior scenes, look like the deepest, dankest parts of a serial killer's dungeon.  This is before we get into the nicer aspects of filmmaking, like composition, editing, acting, special effects, sound recording, costuming, and plot.

Plot?  What plot?  It sort of has a plot.  Eventually, that plot even manages to fight its way out of a pile of mixed-up nonsense, albeit far too late for it to have any effect.  We begin with a man named Chester, who likes to drink, and who has returned home from (apparently?) the Arctic Ocean with a sample case of Blob material, which his wife finds him keeping in the fridge.  She takes him to task for this transgression, the Blob thaws, and it eats that kitten we saw during the opening credits—then it eats the wife, and soon enough it eats Chester, too, while the original Blob plays on TV, this being the kind of comedic gambit that would have worked reasonably well, at least in a movie that actually managed to be an enjoyable lark for more than thirty or forty seconds at a time.

This takes about twenty full fucking minutes, however, and (in true Beware! The Blob fashion) we're going to stop talking about the story for a while, and talk about something else instead: the editing.  While Beware!'s otherwise-standard (and otherwise-incredibly shoddy) stock horror opening is playing itself out, the film bounces across time and space in a disorienting, positively spastic manner, like it was the anti-Departed of how to do cross-cutting remotely well.  In one of these intercut sequences, we meet our actual heroes (I guess), Bobby and Lisa, a couple of 70s kids in tight pants.  (And the closest we get to the original Blob in their performances is that Robert Walker, best known from the Star Trek episode "Charlie X," is—like Steve McQueen before him—roughly thirty years old.)

Eventually, Lisa has cause to visit Chester (I didn't pick up on exactly why), just in time to witness the poor man getting sucked right into the Blob.  (And in case you thought we were finished with Beware!'s unholy editing, we're not!  In fact, now we get to start talking about the film's shitty sound design, too: there is probably nothing in the whole movie that's more abjectly hateful than the way Chester doesn't actually start screaming until Hagman cuts to an insert shot of Godfrey Cheshire slathered in jam, even though Chester's been sitting right fucking there, getting slowly consumed by the Blob, the whole time Lisa's been wandering around looking for him.)

Well, she naturally freaks out, fleeing back to Bobby, and likewise running afoul of Edward Fazio, the owner of the local ice skating rink (I don't think this is actually mentioned until it's germane to the story; but otherwise, we would call that "foreshadowing").  We also get to meet Sheriff Jones, this Blob movie's inept representative of law-and-order.  No one believes Lisa, of course (it is a Blob movie, so they got that part right, at least), until the Blob has racked up a nice little death toll.  And so we cool our heels a little, while the Blob marauds about town, killing randoms in increasingly wacky ways (it chases a naked, overweight Slavic immigrant out of his bathtub and into the night, thereby prefiguring Borat; it kills a hippie who's finally deigned to get a haircut, by emerging from the faucet during his shampoo; et cetera).

That's right, all sorts of classy stuff.

Ultimately, the Blob heads to the aforementioned rink, and the final showdown begins while we wait for our heroes to figure out the monster's weakness, something which comes across as a little interminable, given that, in this universe, the '58 Blob is actually a docudrama which depicted a presumably quite famous real-life historical event.

Beware! The Blob is, of course, a "comedy," though it is rather mercilessly unfunny; to be more specific, it's the kind of head comedy that you could only make in the late 60s and early 70s, when a sizeable portion of the filmgoing audience was so chocked full of psychoactives that something this dully weird and incoherent might have feasibly entertained them, or at least (and more likely) given them something to do for ninety minutes while they came down.  It's the kind of cult movie that, if I squint really hard, I can kind of understand why it could possibly be enjoyed, as a bizarre and unique object; anything beyond that, however, I can't imagine at all.  Infamously—or at least as infamously as a movie this obscure can get—the original script was more-or-less thrown in the garbage (or used to roll various substances into a smokeable form), and the scenes were mostly put together on the fly, with actors who either lacked experience altogether, or at least weren't experienced with this kind of performance.  Thus the whole damned movie is basically watching the first night of an improv class—that is, grating and endless—and it's probably at its most amusing (which, obviously, is still not very amusing) when it becomes clear that the actor on camera can't come up with anything, not even something stupid, and so simply starts repeating his last line over and over till Hagman finally cuts.

Not being a real movie, it seems somehow unfair to hold it to real-movie standards of production, but, good God, is Beware! The Blob ugly and uninspired, even beyond its high school acting, junior high school cutting, and prenatal sound.  It's certainly not good at all when it comes to its cheapjack Blobbing: typically, it's just a glob of silicon tossed onto an actor, who then poorly pantomimes being in pain.  (Christ, even the color is all wrong: it's a whimsical, eye-rolling cherry.)  And the film's even worse when it comes to its regular camerawork, which is hideous and assaultive, in love with horrifying close ups that put you in the thick of the pores on the actors' faces.

The damnable thing is, even when Beware! somehow stumbles across something worth looking at, you're awfully certain it must have been by accident: the only memorable image that you can be sure was done on purpose is the frankly radical miniature shot of the Blob spilling out onto the lanes of a bowling alley.  More typically, if a shot so much as threatens to be interesting, something happens to fuck it up, reassuring you that, no, it probably wasn't intentional after all.  For a prime example, there's that initially-fascinating long take wherein Bobby plunges down into a pitch-black hallway to search for signs of life, reappearing in the frame only when he flips on the light switches in each adjoining room one-by-one; and for the first time, Beware! manages to actually look passably cool.  The problem is, by the end of it, Bobby's muddy form emerges from the shadows, and you realize it's equally as likely that they just set up the camera at the end of that hallway, never thinking about the lighting in the first place, and that's why it's so fucking dark.

It goes on pretty much exactly like that: the slow strobe of streetlights, as the naked, fleeing bather runs down the road, wherein the camera seems pretty much indifferent to the effect; the lurid red lighting in the ice rink as Bobby clambers over a cable above the Blob, where the effect is so direly incomplete, that it becomes apparent that someone just randomly set a stagelight next to the solid cylinder of translucent silicon that played the Blob; or that tracking close-up of Lisa, as she runs the gauntlet of an oppressive birthday party.  Truth be told, I think this one was done on purpose.  Yet it's so in line with the bludgeoning, clumsy approach of every other close-up in the film that it barely registers as anything more than a slightly more-artful version of what we've already become accustomed to.

I'll say this in Beware! The Blob's defense: its finale, which is pretty clearly the only part of the movie that relied even partially upon any script, is halfway decent, in the sense that it functions on a very basic level as an even-cheaper retread and parody of the original Blob's ending.  But, you know, "functioning on a very basic level, as the recapitulation of a B-movie that functions as a real movie in its own right mainly thanks to the professionalism and enthusiasm of the people who made it," is very close to the most backhanded compliment I could possibly give.  The fact is, Beware! The Blob doesn't even deserve that much praise—honestly, it doesn't deserve to mentioned in the same breath as its legendary predecessor.  I truly don't know why it exists in the first place, let alone in this particular form; and that's especially true when you consider that as unfathomably cheap as the stupid thing already is, a perfectly good booze-and-drugs orgy surely must have been even cheaper still—not to mention, presumably a lot more fun to watch if someone had filmed that instead.

Score:  1/10


  1. You did it! You survived intact! And you liked it even less than I did, which is saying something!

    I don't envy you watching this. Although I do kinda wish I could revisit the virginal experience of watching those kitten credits for the first time.

    "Hey, let's go to your place and get an avocado sandwich, huh?"

    1. "Avocado with bacon this time."
      "Ha ha, I like bacon!"

    2. Anyway, what it reminded me of is a higher-energy version of Manos: The Hands of Fate, and I'm not even sure it's as good a film as Manos: The Hands of Fate. But the point is, it feels like a movie made on a dare.

    3. I honestly couldn't believe it was a real thing. I've seen a lot of bizarre, awful sequels (in fact, last night I watched Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 for the first time), but this one is definitely the créme de la crap.