Fans of classic television will most likely remember Larry Hagman as the menacing J.R. Ewing on CBS’s Dallas, or in his earlier role as Anthony Nelson, the object of Jeannie’s affection in NBC’s I Dream of Jeannie. However, Hagman’s sole filmic directorial effort is as worthy of any praise he received as an actor. Beware! The Blob (1972) is a fantastic emblem of genre film simply because there are so many genres blending in and out of each other: the film is at once a sci-fi horror story, a stoner comedy, a schlocky B-movie, and a surrealist drama. It’s also important to recognize the film as a sequel to Irvin Yeaworth’s 1958 classic as Hagman carefully updates that film for a new era, both in terms of content and cinematic technique. As the film’s 50th anniversary is this year, now seems to be a great time to extol Beware! The Blob’s virtues.
The film begins some years after The Blob (1958) ended; geologist Chester Hargis (Godfrey Cambridge) returns home from the arctic where his team was laying a pipe that, according to his wife Mariane (Marlene Clark), no one wants. Unfortunately, Chester has brought home a specimen of the Blob for later analysis and has put it in the Hargis’ freezer, much to Mariane’s chagrin. The scenes with Chester and Mariane are light and joyful; you can feel the love between the two of them as Chester downs can after can of Miller High Life and Mariane discusses a homemade birthday present—a pair of flowery overalls—for someone in town. This discussion sets the stage for the communal presence in the film. The Hargises are part of something bigger than themselves, and this community is countered by the Blob’s growing presence as it feasts on the townsfolk. And what a town! We are already greeted with two great actors at the beginning of the film, but they will soon be joined by a who’s who of sixties and seventies presences. After their conversation, Mariane unknowingly follows the Blob outside of the home and is devoured; inside, in a metatextual move by Hagman et al, Chester watches The Blob and tries to adjust the television before sitting in the titular creature.
Once dispatching the Hargises, the film shifts focus to party preparation. The foretold recipient of Mariane’s homemade overalls, Bobby (Robert Walker), is being thrown a surprise party by his girlfriend Lisa (Gwynn Gilford). Lisa and her fellow party planners are soon greeted by a plate of pot brownies provided by Randy (Randy Stonehill) and his girlfriend (Cindy Williams, four years before Laverne and Shirley). The two already very stoned arrivals leave as quickly as they came to hunt for acoustics to suit Randy’s everpresent guitar; Lisa eats a brownie and then sets off for the Hargis’ home to retrieve Bobby’s present, unaware she’s about to have a terrible high. Lisa finds Chester in the middle of being devoured and flees to find Bobby; during her journey, she catches the unwanted attention of Edward Fazio (Richard Stahl), a man with self-proclaimed standing in the town. Lisa and Bobby investigate the Hargis’ house, but can’t find any trace of Chester or Mariane; by now, Lisa’s brownie is in full swing and Gwynn Gilford plays the next few scenes as if she’s in a paranoid dream. Even with all of this chaos, the party for Bobby goes on without a hitch, but Lisa and Bobby leave to have a calmer night in before being attacked by the Blob. Eventually, the Blob makes its way towards a bowling alley tournament held in a prime piece of real estate between an old folks’ home and a hospital. The whole town soon realizes they must band together to stop what Sheriff Jones (Richard Webb) refers to as “possibly the greatest personal danger to ever confront mankind.”
Throughout the film, Hagman branches off into tangential scenes showing the oddities of the town. A troop of boy scouts, led by Scoutmaster Adleman (Dick Van Patten) and first introduced during Lisa’s ride to the Hargises, weave in and out of the story on their way to a mountain campground; the shot of Randy’s musical performance in a sewer tunnel makes stunning use of chiaroscuro and Hagman lets the camera linger and speak for itself while Randy and his girlfriend groove to their newly discovered acoustics. Interrupted by Deputy Ted Sims (Sid Haig, in a cameo) these stoners along with the asshole cop are soon absorbed by the Blob, aiding in its growth and also ushering the creature into the town’s sewer system. This results in more opportunities for the film to branch out. The Blob slowly makes its way to a hair artiste (Shelley Berman), who charges a longhaired wanderer $400 for a haircut (plus $200 for the shampoo); there’s no argument about payment, and as the artiste waxes poetic about Michelangelo’s marble, the Blob slowly surfaces in the shampoo sink. The artiste and wanderer are soon devoured. Next, we see a character simply credited as The Naked Turk (Tiger Joe Marsh) bathing in his sickly pink bathroom while wearing a fez; soon, his petite pup makes its way towards the bathroom door as the Blob seeps in. What a way to introduce a character! Unlike the hair stylist and customer, the naked man is able to escape the Blob’s grasp and is soon picked up by Deputy Kelly Davis (J.J. Johnston).
These oddities of scenes match the directorial style of the film. It’s a shame Hagman didn’t direct more often as there is a deft construction present in his compositions throughout the film, albeit sometimes amongst more normative shot structures and techniques. However, the aforementioned genre osmosis present in the film allows Hagman to shift between different styles of filmmaking. Hagman often centers his actors, shooting them from their shoulders up, while using the negative space of these shots to hint at the immensity of the Blob and the space the creature will fill if the characters aren’t careful. This use of space is contrasted in the finale of the film when Bobby and Lisa embrace after the Blob’s freezing: Bobby is framed by a wooden partition and soon joined by Lisa; the threat is over–or so these two believe–so there is a suggestion of safety and comfort provided by this frame to contrast the loneliness of the negatively spaced shots above. The scene with the naked man in the bathtub is filmed in canted angles, adding to the scene’s already unusual air. During Bobby’s party, Hagman swings his camera in and out of the action, and also tilts below or above the partygoers; in another meta move akin to Chester watching The Blob, Lisa’s friend Leslie (Carol Lynley) wishes the audience a hearty happy birthday behind lit candles, and then turns to place the cake in front of Bobby. It’s almost as if Hagman wants to welcome us to the party.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly discuss the film’s score. Composer Mort Garson begins the film with what I can only describe as haunted merry-go-round music, a jaunty tune that is interrupted by various screams. Spacey synths weave in and out of the score throughout the course of the film, with notes more than likely hinting at either the blob’s presence or absence, and sometimes signifying nothing at all. Garson’s music was also used during the televised broadcast of the moon landing in 1969, and his style suggests the Blob’s extraterrestrial and otherworldly origins.
The film ends with two questions, one uttered by Sheriff Jones and the other suggested by the credits. It’s a shame the proposed sequel, Curse of the Blob, was never made and an even greater shame that Larry Hagman didn’t helm more films. However, this lack only makes Beware! The Blob all the more special and more worthy of seeing and revisiting.
Beware! The Blob was released on June 21, 1972 by Jack H. Harris Enterprises. It is currently available to buy on Amazon Prime.