The Magazine

Alien Nation

In the Blobosphere, the horror of 1958 lives on.

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By SHAWN MACOMBER
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Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

Unlike many slouching toward middle age, at its 50th birthday bash the eponymous gelatinous mass of the 1958 science fiction camp classic The Blob appeared to have actually lost weight, taking up little more than half the shiny five-gallon Union Carbide steel bucket it has long called home.

Not bad for a ruby silicone dollop whose life story was once nearly titled The Glob That Girdled the Globe, although it is worth noting that a human flesh diet adheres to Dr. Atkins's low carb recommendations.

The loss of magnitude has not, however, translated into a loss of stature: During the ninth annual BlobFest, a steady stream of devoted fans climb the stairs to the third floor of the Colonial Theater to glimpse the amorphous alien, inert as a tiny placid cranberry sauce lake, in the very building where the famous sequence of the blob providing a late-night audience unexpectedly corporeal scares was shot. Harry Houdini and Mary Pickford both performed at the Colonial in its vaudeville heyday, but no appearance is as celebrated as this bucket-dweller's.

"When I first saw The Blob, I liked that it wasn't Frankenstein or one of those movies where the monster is some guy in a rubber suit," says Wes Shank, the self-described "caretaker" of the blob, shooting a quick apologetic look over at Ricou Browning signing autographs a few yards away. Browning, a burly man who donned the scales and gills for the 1954 classic Creature from the Black Lagoon (screened in 3D at BlobFest), appears for a moment prepared to mount a defense of rubber-suited villains. He opts for silent deference instead. This is, after all, the coagulated glop's day; let it have some birthday glory.

Shank purchased the blob and two of the miniature sets used to make it look gargantuan on screen from the film's director, Irwin "Shorty" Yeaworth Jr., in 1965, and clearly revels in the modest celebrity of owning a piece of movie history. He regales fans ad infinitum with semi-trivial trivia--no, there was never enough blob to cover a diner--as his wife sold blob-themed knick- knacks. A picture of him and his ward hangs in the theater lobby. Shank signs it, "To the Colonial--one of the blob's favorite dining spots!" There is something endearing about a guy who can't seem to believe his own luck: "Honestly, when I bought the blob," Shank marvels, "I thought I would be the only person in the world who cared!"

He isn't. Thousands of fans clog the closed-off main drag of this quiet town 30 miles west of Philadelphia for BlobFest 2008. Pins on a map representing visitors predictably cluster around southeastern Pennsylvania, but locales as far away as Alaska, Texas, New Mexico, and California are pricked as well. Several screenings are sold out, with rambunctious audiences gleefully booing square cops, gasping at the monster, and cheering star Steve McQueen in his first starring role--as a heroic teenager, at age 28.

Nearly 600 wildly gesticulating fans participate in the "Running of the Blob," a reenactment of the aforementioned Colonial Theater scene, as thousands more line the street. Dozens enter the Scream and Tinfoil Hat competitions, the latter judged on "originality, craftsmanship and .  .  . ability to protect the wearer from alien rays invisible." A long snaking conga line forms behind Bryan Bickhart, winner of the Steve McQueen lookalike contest, for the Fire Extinguisher Parade--a celebration of the weapon that finally did the blob in--clapping and snapping all the while to the film's theme song written by Burt Bacharach, "Beware of the Blob!"

It creeps and leaps and glides and slides. Bickhart-McQueen punctuate verses with blasts of a fire extinguisher. A woman dances with a dog in a tinfoil hat. Pictures are snapped in front of a fire engine used in the film. Vendors hawk everything from vintage blob books and T-shirts to "collectible" worn plastic Pillsbury Doughboys and lava lamps. Booklets of Blobkus--sample: "Remakes, sequels, sure / But at least the Blob never / Did Hollywood Squares"--are handed out.

"On a scale of one to 10, with one being throw-Jane-at-it-to-give-myself-time-to-escape, and 10 being save-the-town, I'd come in around a five," Bickhart muses when asked how he might stack up against the real McQueen in a blob fight, adding that he has donned the fake mole for the contest mostly at the urging of "a cute girl" and isn't very drama-oriented. "Maybe I can just chill out front and smoke cigarettes. That's what McQueen would've done, right?"