Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on June 30, 2011
Today is the last day of TCM’s month-long celebration of Drive-In Double Features and if you’re anything like me, you’re going to miss spending your Thursday evenings with radioactive monsters, space aliens, sea creatures, giant women and mutant men. When viewers tune in tonight they’ll be able to enjoy some of my favorite ’50s science fiction flicks including THE BLOB (1956), THE H-MAN (1958) and X THE UNKNOWN (1955), which all explore our primal fear of the primordial ooze.
The intense and often irrational fear of gelatinous blobs or slime is so widespread and severe that it’s been labeled, Blennophobia. While it’s extremely common for anyone to have a negative reaction towards slimy substances, individuals who suffer from Blennophobia experience extreme anxiety including heart palpitations, nausea, numbness and deep depression when they come into contact with any kind of gooey materials. So where does this deep-seated fear of shapeless slimy things come from? I suspect that it might predate mankind’s general fear of the dark, which many theorists believe is evolutionary in nature. Humans may have learned to fear predators who could track them in the blinding darkness and this fear continues to be shared in the scary stories we tell each other around campfires late at night and in the horror films we watch. Maybe an older fear associated with birth itself can be linked to our primal fear of the primordial ooze? According to some theorists human life may have begun in a soupy pool thick with micromolecules. Could our natural opposition to all things gelatinous and gooey have begun some 3 or 4 billion years ago? I’m no scientist but it’s sure fun to theorize about the origins of our natural fears!
In the late 1950s filmmakers exploited our fear of shapeless slimy things in one film after another. The infamous House of Horror, otherwise known as Hammer Studios, can take a lot of the credit for kick-starting this unusual science fiction sub-genre. After the success of THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955), which featured a gluttonous space monster that attaches itself to a human being and proceeds to absorb any living thing that it can, Hammer produced X THE UNKNOWN (1956), about a primordial ooze that escapes from the bowels of the earth and wrecks havoc in Britain. These films were quickly followed by a batch of other movies from around the world offering their own slimy scares including THE BLOB (1956), which features a gelatinous monster from outer space that consumes humans and grows at an amazing speed. In Japan, Ishiro Honda created THE H-MAN (1958) that tells the surprisingly adult tale of a group of sailors who are transformed into slimy monsters after being exposed to radiation. In Italy Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda gave us CALTIKI – THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) that deals with an ancient blob-like creature that emerges from a dark cave in Mexico and attaches itself to a helpless victim before it proceeds to grow and multiply. Other films worth mentioning include THE FLAME BARRIER (1958), which features a gelatinous space creature that falls to earth in a satellite and crash-lands in the Yucatan jungle as well as FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS (1960) where a lava-like goo almost consumes a group of crew members while they’re on a space expedition.
There were more slime-centric films to come in the following decades including THE GREEN SLIME (1968), which contains tentacled monsters that aren’t exactly slimy but the title is definitely an attention grabber. Larry Hagman’s sequel to THE BLOB simply titled BEWARE! THE BLOB (1972) failed to generate the scares found in the original but Chuck Russell’s remake of THE BLOB (1988) was surprisingly entertaining and there was also Larry Cohen’s satirical horror comedy, THE STUFF (1985). But nothing can match the quality and quantity of Blennophobia inducing movies that were produced in the late 1950s.
Whatever the reasons may be, I definitely have a fear of slime. It’s not a full-blown phobia but when I watch THE BLOB or THE H-MAN my heart starts to race and I get a little jumpy. I find these classic science fiction films genuinely scary. There’s just something incredibly creepy about a giant mass of ravenous slime that deeply unnerves me and I think being engulfed by a thick gooey substance would be absolutely horrifying. There’s one scene in THE BLOB that I’ve always found particularly disturbing. It takes places in a car garage at night. Ralph Carmichael’s creepy score builds quietly in the background using a two-note progression to create suspense that predates John Williams’ similar score for JAWS (1975) by some 20 years, while we watch helplessly as one of the mechanics talks about his weekend plans to go hunting unaware that he’s been left alone. THE BLOB was a smartly scripted science fiction film and the irony of that scene isn’t lost on me. When the mechanic is hunted down and suddenly consumed by the creeping blob I have to fight the urge to close my eyes and cover my ears so I won’t have to listen to the grown man’s earth rattling screams.
Ishiro Honda’s THE H-MAN is one of the director’s most eerie films and it features some gruesome special effects that were way ahead of its time. While some folks might find the entire premise of the movie just plain silly, I think it rivals Honda’s GODZILLA (1954) as one of the most effective atomic scare films produced in the ‘50s. THE H-MAN isn’t your typical Japanese monster movie. It’s part noir, part mystery and part science fiction. One of the film’s most horrifying moments occurs when a beautiful showgirl is attacked by one of the slimy mutating monsters that haunt the sewers of Tokyo. Beautiful women often portrayed scientists, the hero’s love interest or were merely distracting eye-candy in ‘50s science fiction films but they were rarely victimized in the graphic ways that takes place in THE H-MAN. These gelatinous atomic monsters seem to have no boundaries and their slippery shapeless form allows them to quietly attack anyone at anytime. And that’s really what’s so frightening about these gooey monsters. They can slip under closed doors. Slide through window cracks. Travel through our water pipes and their undetectable nature makes them almost invisible until it’s too late. And when you’re frozen by fear after coming face to face with one of these slimy monsters, they pounce! They seem to know that their formless appearance can generate intense fear in many of us. Including me.
You can enjoy some of these movies during TCM’s Drive-In Double Features this evening but be forewarned, if you happen to suffer from Blennophobia you might want to stay clear of Turner Classic Movies tonight!
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