There's generally one rule, and one rule only, you need to observe if you find yourself thinking about remaking a classic of cinema:
Find anything else, literally anything else, you can focus your attention on do that instead. Pluck a script from the middle of the slush pile, take a chance on something weird or outlandish, but for the love of Kratos, do not think you're badass enough to reboot the likes of Robocop, Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Of course, as with all rules, there are exceptions which prove it. John Carpenter's update of The Thing From Another World is phenomenal. Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is excellent. David Cronenberg's 1986 update of The Fly is arguably better than the Vincent Price original. And to that list, I have no problem adding Chuck Russell's 1988 remake of The Blob.
Russell shared screenwriting credit on this project with Frank Darabont, and it was their second collaborative writing effort after the third Nightmare on Elm Street film, Dream Warriors. While both men shared a fondness for the '58 Steve McQueen version, they felt it overlooked the potential for serious horror in order to both comply with the Hays Code and to create a more family-friendly experience. The '58 Blob is good, clean, B-movie fun. But with a thirty year advancement in special effects and the adoption of the MPAA rating system, what was only hinted at in the original could now be shown to modern audiences. With that in mind, Russell and Darabont set out to convert a sci-fi classic into a bonafide horror nightmare. Their ultimate success at this sadly spelled their ultimate failure at the box office.
1988's The Blob opens in much the same way as its ancestor: a blazing meteor crashes on the outskirts of town, where it's found by an old man who discovers why you should never poke rocks from outer space. The titular gelatinous menace attacks him, then goes on a violent absorbing spree throughout the nearby town, growing larger and deadlier the more people it eats. But Russell knew better than to offer up a simple paint-by-numbers, shot-by-shot retread of the original. Everything he puts on screen is in keeping with the spirit of the original, while the script presents us with a new set of familiar characters updated to the modern era.
If the 1950's was cinema's paranoid era, then the 80's was its cynical era. The tumultuous re-shaping of the American psyche through the various social and counter-culture movements of the previous two decades combined with the disastrous effects of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal shattered a fragile trust between citizens and their government. In the 1950's, the cops, the military, the government, and the scientists were supposed to be your friends. By 1988, we'd learned to be wary because their interests often failed to align perfectly with our own. Just two years earlier, President Reagan had quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." The growing pains from wrestling through the thirty tumultuous, intervening years were writ large upon our national mental state. Authority was corrupt, science was curiosity run amok, and the military was just as apt to turn its weapons on Joe Citizen as it was to train them on Comrade Commie. The Blob '88 is a perfectly-preserved time capsule of these societal fears, gleefully perverting and destroying and subverting expectations with every frame.
Thanks to a set-up similar to the original, not to mention an entire litany of horror films which had laid out clear rules about who should live and who should die going all the way back to John Carpenter's Halloween a decade earlier, viewers were shown a nice, clean-cut, all-American high school athlete in Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch). Paul, along with his all-American cheerleader girlfriend Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith), is the hero of the picture, because he's playing the same role Steve McQueen did in the original. Paul and Meg find the old man, Paul and Meg drive him to the hospital, and clearly Paul's going to rally his buddies and put an end to the Blob just as Steve did three decades earlier. It couldn't be more obvious if you had the script in front of you.
Except as soon as you've decided you know everything, Darabont and Russell do this:
The Blob is a master class is expectation subversion. Every trope, every rule, of cinema you take for granted, Darabont and Russell will dissolve them in acid right before your eyes. The film spends considerable time building your affection for certain characters only to obscenely and senselessly obliterate them without a second thought. "Plot Armor? What's that?" you can hear them laughing as they work to outdo one another in slaughtering every cow the genre spent the past decade beatifying.
For everything the movie does right, it's not perfect. While most of the effects shots are downright horrifying and still hold up today, the rear-projection compositions are a weak point in an otherwise solid lineup of practical effects. But when the focus is on the carnage, there's no denying the picture's ability to gross audiences out...and ultimately, I think this is what led the film to flop.
The Blob '88 made a theatrical return of just over $8 million, which is double the original's box office earnings from thirty years earlier, and an impressive take-home salary for any horror film of this era. But The Blob '58 was shot for $110,000 -- The Blob '88 sank a total of $19 million into its production, and earned less than half of it back. Russell's intentions were good; the original screamed for a remake that would give the subject matter a more serious and mature treatment to bring it into alignment with times for modern audiences. But the built-in fan base for such a remake wasn't nearly large enough to support such an expensive, if heart-felt, endeavor. While the 1958 edition was a campy sci-fi B-movie meant to entice teenagers to see it at the drive-in, the 1988 remake ironically shot itself in the foot by eschewing the camp and embracing its R (17+) rating. Teenagers of the 50's who enjoyed the original and could share it with their kids would be downright horrified to introduce their progeny to this bleaker, bloodier reinterpretation. And critics, most of whom were not big fans of horror, were relentless in their savage rebukes. In this, it shared a similar fate to Carpenter's The Thing from six years earlier.
But also like The Thing, it gained a cult following in the home video market, as gore hounds and horror hunters re-discovered it. Today it's rightly viewed as the trope-destroying, expectation-subverting masterpiece it is, and for that reason it belongs on every self-respecting horror aficionado's shelf.
I only own the Japanese pressing of this film on 'disc, but unless you hate subtitles there's really no difference between this and its US counterpart. It's presented in an Open Matte 1.33:1 aspect ratio format (which actually gives you more viewing area than its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect due to how it was filmed), on one double-sided CLV disc, which easily holds its 90-minute run time. The digital and analog sound channels both contain the theatrical Ultra Stereo mix, which sounds fine no matter how you listen. Otherwise, aside from a single-sided black and white insert sheet which talks about the movie's production (in Japanese, naturally), there's nothing else special here. It doesn't even have chapter stops, which is odd for a 'disc released in 1989, but there you have it.
Five gibbering, screaming, dissolving corpses out of five!