Chuck Russell's CGI Troubles With The Blob Paved The Way For Jim Carrey's The Mask

What's your favorite melt movie? Don't worry, it's okay if you don't have one. It's an extremely specific horror sub-genre and it's certainly not to everyone's taste. The list is short and grisly, and to qualify a movie's narrative must involve several gnarly scenes of people getting destroyed in some horribly gloopy way. One-off melts like the Nazis at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" aren't good enough. There needs to be a bunch so suffice it to say that maybe you shouldn't eat your dinner while watching stuff like "Street Trash" or "The Beyond."

One of the best and most digestible melt movies is Chuck Russell's "The Blob," a gleefully nasty 1988 remake of the '50s so-called classic. I know the original has many fans, its own spine in the Criterion Collection, and a yearly Blobfest in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, but I think it's a film that lives far better in the memory. The big problem is that there is way too much of Steve McQueen looking like a 40-year-old playing a teenager, and far too little actual Blob action. Even the famous movie theater scene, which gets recreated each year at Blobfest, spends more time watching people flee rather than what the malevolent goo is getting up to inside.

Russell fixed all that with his remake, which is often overshadowed by two other great '50s remakes that came out in the '80s: "The Thing" and "The Fly." Russell and his special effects team really let us see the Blob get its melt on in several brilliantly gruesome scenes. Yet if the director had his original way, the Blob would have looked far different.

So what happens in The Blob again?

"The Blob," which Russell wrote with Frank Darabont, spends a decent amount of time introducing us to the people of a small Californian town before the true star of the film arrives. This really pays off when people start dying because we actually know who the victims are, which isn't always the case in this type of horror B-movie. Chief among the characters are college football player Paul (Donovan Leitch), cheerleader Meg (Shawnee Smith), and local bad boy Brian (Kevin Dillon).

Night falls and an elderly homeless person residing on the edge of town witnesses a fiery object falling from the sky, landing in the woods nearby. Investigating further, he discovers what looks like a meteorite filled with a strange pink liquid. Doing what any self-respecting minor character in a sci-fi horror film would do, he pokes it with a stick and the goo attaches itself to his hand.

Our three teen leads later discover the stricken man and rush him to the hospital, where the Blob dissolves half his body before attacking and absorbing Paul, too. Naturally, the police don't take the kids seriously but the Blob is now on the loose, oozing through the sewers, popping out of drains to claim further victims, and growing bigger with each meal. When it kills another man at a diner, Brian and Meg only avoid a similar fate by hiding in the walk-in freezer as the sinister sludge retreats from the cold.

Soon the town is locked down in full quarantine by the military, under the advice of Dr. Meadows (Joe Seneca), who reveals that the Blob is actually a biological weapon that fell to Earth in a military satellite. He's in charge of stopping it, but the teens and the townsfolk are expendable.

Chuck Russell originally wanted the Blob to be CGI

Even when I was a kid, I never found the Blob in the '50s movie all that scary. It looks like a slightly miffed lump of Jell-O and doesn't do much apart from oozing around slowly. Russell's Blob, however, is one seriously badass puddle of muck. This thing can sprout appendages, drag people down plug holes, or snatch them from above (like in the frightening reinvention of the movie theater scene). It is strongly acidic and digests its meals on contact, which does horrible things to the human form. As an extra gruesome touch, it carries around undigested victims inside its glutinous mass like flies in amber.

The special effects are fantastic, bearing similarities to some of Rob Bottin's monstrosities in "The Thing" but also with a personality all their own. They are even more impressive considering that practical effects weren't the first choice for the film, as Russell wanted to use then-cutting-edge CGI. He talked about during a 2014 Q&A:

"This is old-school in-camera effects, folks ... I thought maybe we could do CGI, but it did not work ... [We had] every effects crew in town, including Tony Gardner, helping us out trying to finish this picture, so a lot of heart and soul went into making this movie."

CGI was still in its infancy in '88. The Light Cycles in "Tron," the spaceships in "The Last Starfighter," and the stained glass knight in "Young Sherlock Holmes" were some notable early examples. The year after "The Blob" was released, James Cameron wowed moviegoers with his groundbreaking water tentacle in "The Abyss," which possibly gives us some indication of what a CG Blob might've looked like. If Russell had the budget and technology of Industrial Light & Magic, that is.

What didn't work for The Blob sure worked for The Mask

When you look at what Russell's effects people managed to do with the practical VFX technology at the time, it is very hard to imagine that a CGI Blob could have looked any better. The director elaborated further on the difficulties that his CGI team encountered:

"We did a magical test ... that never happened again. It was very upsetting to the producers because we had to show the Blob ... but the CGI Blob did not make the picture except for, spoiler alert, a little frozen thing at the very end. That's the only CGI but I got to use it all again in 'The Mask' ... based on some of the research from 'The Blob,' so it paid off."

It definitely did in both respects. CGI had developed rapidly by the time Russell made 1994's "The Mask," when Dream Quest Images (which worked on the failed CG effects in "The Blob") teamed up with ILM to realize the outrageous cartoon manifestations of Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) when he becomes the titular anarchic superhero. The effects look dated now but they were integral to bringing the character to life, and the scene where Ipkiss first puts on the mask gives us a further indication of what the CG Blob might have looked like. It warps and wraps itself around his head as he turns to the camera in shock. That's a pure Blob move right there.

As for "The Blob," the shortcomings of the CGI technology at Russell's disposal means that we got some of the greatest and grossest physical special effects of the '80s. As a lover of old-school FX like that, it absolutely melts my heart.