The film stops. The screen goes dark – then white. A theater filled with laughs now houses nothing but anticipation. In the projector room, the creature has already devoured its victim. One is hardly enough. It squeezes through the openings of the theater’s rear where the light from the projector plays the film on the screen. Such small crevices hardly stop an amorphous monster. Few things can. The teenagers flee. Upon reaching the streets, the teens scream loud enough to alert police. Behind them awaits The Blob, oozing into the streets and searching for the next delicious morsel.
That snippet, The Run-Out, comes from The Blob, a 1958 science fiction and horror B-movie classic. The movie’s plot centers on two young lovers who discover that an outer-space rock has unleashed a slimy, slippery, man-eating creature that grows the more it consumes. Together, the duo hopes to save their small town from certain destruction. In an interview with the AARP, Blobologist Dave Lentz calls The Blob “not a typical ‘50s monster movie. In a very interesting twist . . . the teenagers in the town are actually not the threat, but they’re the hope.” Grossing over four million at the box office in its first release, The Blob became one of the decade’s hits while costing the makers less than $250,000 to produce. Such small movies tend to earn loyal followings, and The Blob is no different.
With many sci-fi and horror fans and apparently even Blobologists dotting the world, the movie may have opened some tourism doors for the more rural regions used for its scenes. Filmed throughout Pennsylvania, The Blob could have become a beloved memory for one of several small towns. Valley Forge, Chester Springs, Downingtown and Royersford each had some share in the film’s making back in the late 1950s. Instead, the ones who celebrate their part in the film are the inhabitants Phoenixville, Chester County.
Phoenixville appears to be an average, not-too-small-and-not-too-large southeastern Pennsylvania borough. A former steel and iron town, Phoenixville has been on the map for over 270 years but has lacked a signature moment or icon that would bring tourists gawking from all over. A couple of famous people did call the city home at one point in time. The original Sundance Kid, Harry Longbaugh lived there and later had family members buried in the city. Former Major League Baseball catcher Mike Piazza attended the area high school. However, Phoenixville wants its current population to feel some pride about the city’s past. So during one weekend in July, this ordinary American town morphs into a scare-filled festival, dominated by activities that any horror fan would enjoy. They call it Blobfest.
Blobfest has been held annually in Phoenixville, Chester County, for the previous ten years. The humble origins of the event began with “just showing the movie, The Blob” according to one of its organizers, Shane Stone, in an interview with AARP. “We ended up with a crowd of people lined up around the block just to get in to see the movie.” Organizers soon realized that The Blob’s popularity in the town demanded far more creativity and preparation. Now, the event encompasses an entire weekend of everything horror and sci-fi related and attracts people from well beyond Phoenixville – and Pennsylvania for that matter. Husbands bring their wives, wives bring their husbands, and many parents bring their kids to the family-friendly atmosphere.
Stone, or Dr. Frank N. Stone as he refers to himself in an homage to Dr. Frankenstein during the festivities, is just one of many on the committee behind the operation. Stone has helped run the events since Blobfest’s inception and has plenty of history with the movie. “I was probably nine or ten when I caught it on a cable show,” recalls Stone in a 2005 interview with NPR. “I remember just being kid of spooked as a kid.” He knows plenty about The Blob, “a big tub of silicon, red gooey gel.” For example, he knows the movie’s special effects were on the simpler side. “They just actually had miniatures of the set, and they would put . . . a blob of this goo on there and actually just tilt the set. So not very high-tech, but it worked.” The same thing can be said about Blobfest.
Blobfest is chock-full of games, competitions and other old-school activities that relive the 1950s era while ignoring any modern equivalencies. Children’s games and activities, especially, are found throughout the weekend. Events include costume, trivia and screaming contests. Another of the committee that runs Blobfest, artist Andee Miskiewicz, created one of the celebration’s signature competitions: the Tin Foil Hat Contast. She is also responsible for the creation of the fire extinguisher parade and the design of the Blob Plaque that commemorates the festival inside the Colonial Theater.
A vintage car show features 1950s vehicles including one or two driven in the movie. When visiting, a Blobfest attendee will notice that though most of the crowd chooses to wear normal clothing, many others opt for the more eccentric look. On any of these three days in Phoenixville, one can witness zombies, Frankensteins and witches. One of them includes Gilbertville resident Julie Pruden, who commented on her desire to paint green on her face and hands to Pottstown’s The Mercury, “I’ve been called a witch by others anyway.” Homemade outfits seem to be the theme of the apparel, and while some choose to scare their fellow festival goers, others just want to stand out from the crowd.
Famous horror personalities in “Saturday Night Dead” host Stella and her butler Hives celebrated their show’s twenty-fifth anniversary at the 2010 Blobfest, which had problems with rain and still drew a large crowd. “I’m just oozing with excitement,” said Stella to the Delaware County Daily Times before the festivities began. At the weekend festivities, the duo hosted a screaming contest and participated in a stage show. Additionally, this year’s Blobfest included another short film competition for the Shorty Awards, where the “Over 17” category winner was Phoenixville’s Ken Schutter. The fire department had another fire extinguisher parade in an ode to the townspeople’s victory over The Blob. “It can’t stand cold,” exclaims McQueen in the movie when he discovers that the carbon dioxide from fire extinguishers can put an end to the town’s nightmare. The parade’s leader dressed like the film’s protagonist, Steve McQueen, for a little bit more authenticity. From officials in the local government to the fire department to small businesses, Blobfest would be nothing without the residents of Phoenixville.
The people in Phoenixville have really organized Blobfest to the town-wide event it is today; people like Walter J. Logan Jr., a sponsor of Blobfest in years past through his company, the Delta Organization, and an original fan of The Blob. “It’s one of those movies that truly sticks with you,” says Logan to the Suburban Wayne Times. People like Logan comprise the hundreds of volunteers who have kept Blobfest up and running each and every July for the past decade. “We had extensive Blob training,” claims Kirsten Van Vlandren to The Mercury. Van Vlandren is one of the people help keeping the event alive but adds, “We have great organized volunteers.” The widespread knowledge of Blobfest can be put down to the work of volunteer PR person, Joan Kelly. Unsurprisingly, with such devotion, the weekend festival has attracted over three thousand people each of the last few years. As Dave Perillo, an artist from Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, puts it to the Associated Press (AP) in an article in The Daily Decatur of Alabama, “These places are our new historic sites for the ADD generation.” This type of appreciation for the movie stems from an appreciation for Phoenixville and its history. One much-appreciated item in the town’s history is the Colonial Theatre.
In 1903, the Colonial opened its doors. Since then much of it has remained the same. The theater is a rarity, using original film to play horror movie classics such as The Blob and remains the main choice of venue for horror-movie seekers in the Phoenixville area. However, the Colonial housed far more than reels of old classics in the years before The Blob was filmed there. According to the book Cinema Treasures,“Harry Houdini, many musicals, a local orchestra, local recitals and much more” were put on inside the Colonial’s doors to the local Chester County audience.
However, things hit a low point for the Colonial just as it did for Phoenixville. For years, the building just got weaker and weaker heading into the late 1980s and early 1990s. Elsewhere in the town, Phoenix Iron & Steel shut down in 1987, and over 2,000 workers lost their jobs. In a piece on Phoenixville’s resurgence, fourth-term Phoenixville mayor Leo Scoda adds, “the closing of BF Goodrich in Oaks and the Army Hospital in Valley Forge affected the town.” Phoenixville experienced many of the same problems as other steel towns when the plants closed: high vacancy rates and a rundown appearance in many parts of town.The jobs and changes to Phoenixville were matched by the lost customers and lack of change to the old theatre. The Colonial Theatre was now an afterthought, an antique in the negative sense, a forgotten commodity.
Then Mary Foote arrived. As the leader of the Association of the Colonial Theatre (ACT), a non-profit group, Foote was a driving force in restoring the Colonial. Her group started reconstructing the theatre in 1996. Holding on but in terrible shape, the Colonial resembled the lackluster state of the entire city. “A gem like this,” said Foote in a 2008 AP article that appeared in The Bismarck Tribune, “can transform a city.” The theatre’s restoration included public tours of the theatre in 1998. Extensive changes were made in 2001, and the Colonial, much like the town, is far better because of it. Not only did the ACT bring back the Colonial Theatre, they additionally created the foundation of Blobfest. 2002 Phoenixville councilman Louis Amici told The Phoenix, “It was a cornerstone for the town,” and indicated such a change to the Colonial would have impacts elsewhere in Phoenixville. He was dead on. Small businesses opened shop around the Colonial and a once-forgotten area became a somewhat-sprawling downtown hub. Blobfest has only expanded that interest. “It’s cool to have all of this coverage,” says Foote to West Chester’s The Daily Local News.
The Colonial was the main feature in the film’s most memorable scene in 1958, The Run-Out. As a result, on a Friday night in the middle of July, an imaginary version of The Blob returns to Phoenixville’s local theater. The full house consisting of 500 people of all ages gathers inside the century-old theater to relive The Run-Out as if it were 1958 all over again. Mark Stuart, a Blobfest fan, recaps his time before The Blob’s showing in an interview with the AARP, “This is the seat where Tony sat and his girlfriend when Steve comes running up to tell them a monster has entered the city. We have to come here three hours early.” What is Stuart’s reasoning for such an early arrival? “My daughter Natalie, she’s four years old . . . insists that we sit in these seats.” If hundreds upon hundreds like the Stuarts show up early just to watch The Blob, think how many want to participate in its re-enactment. The lucky few who do enter try their best to cherish the tense final seconds before the big moment.Some of the most loyal fans repeat the movie’s lines for an even more realistic experience. YouTube videos document the faux screams and fake terror as 500 people trip and fall over each other as they exit the theater just like the original extras forty-plus years ago.
The story behind The Blob may be as interesting as the festival. The whole movie started with its producer, Jack H. Harris. The Philadelphia-born Harris put up his own money to make The Blob, including taking out a mortgage on his house and some money from his and his children’s life insurance policies. Asked why he spent so much time, money and effort on The Blob, Harris replied, “This movie will outlast us all.” That prediction did not appear very realistic at the beginning. In the book Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers, Harris sums up the grind from the inception to the difficulties with making The Blob in 1958.Working around him were people who “had never done a feature film. . . they had the technical facility to know what a camera was.” The lead actors – McQueen and Aneta Corsaut – entered the premises with minimal experience. Harris’s eventual director, Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., was the son of a minister, had performed in radio as a child, and produced religiously-themed educational materials for Good News Productions to “promulgate the Word.” Harris “convinced them . . . that the more notice they got, the more Word they would be able to transmit.” Thus, Yeaworth, “a Methodist minister,” became director of The Blob with newly-formed Valley Forge Studios.
Shot in thirty days, the movie chose a locale close to the studios near Philadelphia. Its producer Russ Doughten mentions in Science Fiction Confidential, “the doctor’s house . . . was in Phoenixville. The drag scene where they backed their cars through the stoplight was also shot in Phoenixville.” He adds, “We had excellent cooperation from all the local people, the local authorities, the firemen and the policemen and so on. Everybody was really helping us” make the movie. When asked what was in it for the townspeople, he replies, “There wasn’t a lot.” Indeed, Phoenixville and the other areas that allowed Yeaworth, Harris and the rest of the gang to film The Blob did it in hopes of seeing themselves on the big screen more than “some fees” and a “very low” budget.
While the producers, directors and other makers of The Blob would resemble celebrities to festival attendees, the real celebrity of the event is the man with the gel. Wes Shank is the proud owner of the actual blob from The Blob. The Delaware County resident and memorabilia collector bought the amorphous jello-like creature from the movie’s director, Yeaworth, in 1965. Shank had not seen the movie until 1965, when he found out a local studio was the location of many of the scenes for the movie. As a “science fiction, horror and fantasy” enthusiast, Shank called the studio up, sought a tour and earned a conversation with the movie’s director. Yeaworth pointed to a can, and as Shank puts it in a 2001 article from Norristown’s The Times Herald, “Oh, by the way, The Blob is in that can,” before revealing the red silicone gel. After agreeing to a price, Shank became the self-proclaimed “Co-caretaker of The Blob.” The Blob now makes its rounds around Blobfest in the same 1965 container Shank in which he had purchased from Yeaworth. “It’s not every day that you get to meet a real movie monster from the ‘50s.”
All things considered, The Blob may not be the most well-known horror flick to ever grace the silver screen. However, every one of its successors owes a little bit to one of the first scary movies to use color. For example, the idea that teenagers could save a town and not sit back idly and endure the end certainly comes through in films like I Know What You Did Last Summer.Similarly, The Blob now has Phoenixville to thank for a few more viewers and interest in the movie. “I couldn’t believe I never watched it before,” says Chicago resident and the Blobfest 2009 script-writing contest winner Drew Dir to The Daily Local News. Slowly, the annual festival has picked up speed and developed an impressive following. Phoenixville has been a huge beneficiary of people’s curiosity for the past decade, and Blobfest has devoured the town in the same way The Blob did in 1958. It is doubtful, though, that anyone plans to douse this ever-growing monster with fire extinguishers any time soon.
The Center would like to thank the Blobfest Committee and Tarzan Paul for their help in illustrating this article.