HOW A MOVIE BECAME AN IMPROBABLE HIT AFTER STARING IN, ANOTHER, IMPROBABLE HIT MOVIE
Many people have said that The Blob in The Blob is communism. The big red alien infiltrates and consumes a wholesome American town, just as McCarthy warned.
The growing mass with an insatiable appetite could also be seen as a metaphor for capitalism, though. The Blob is driven by an endless, entrepreneurial hunger to be bigger and dominate your screen. In that pursuit, it assimilates people, buildings—and other movies, like the 1955 black and white horror art film Dementia.
Dementia is the movie within a movie playing in the theater when the Blob oozes into the projection room. The clip shows a woman with wide, terrified eyes as hands grasp at her. “Now all the images of horror, the demons of your mind crowd in on you to destroy you!” declares the snarling voice of Ed McMahon(!) In the glimpses afforded Blob viewers, Dementia looks like a melodramatic campy jump scare low-budget popcorn date-night flick, much like The Blob itself.
In fact, Dementia, has more in common with the movies of David Lynch than with those of Irvin Yeaworth. Writer/director John Parker based the movie on a dream related to him by his secretary, Adrienne Barrett, who he then cast as the lead in the film.
The narrative is imagistic; a woman wanders around Los Angeles’ skid row as she witnesses and is subject to a fugue of misogyny and violence. She see a man arrested for domestic abuse, she’s accosted by a pimp, visits a burlesque house, and remembers her father beating her mother. She is picked up by a wealthy man (Bruno Ve Sota), who she stabs and kills, just as she stabbed and killed her father. In his death throes the rich man grabs her necklace, and in death he holds it so tightly she has to cut his hand off to get the evidence back. She wakes up back in her bed, thinking it was all a dream. Then she discovers the hand and the necklace in her drawer.
The movie has no dialogue; the only voice is that of singer Marni Nixon, whose high eerie vocals are incorporated into a moody score by renowned classical composer George Antheil. The style is expressionist and surreal. The actor who plays the woman’s father (Ben Roseman), also is watching the dancers in the burlesque club and plays a policeman who pursues her after she commits murder. Father is not just one man, but a patriarchal ghost, haunting his daughter for her crimes, chief of which is that she is a woman.
In one striking sequence, the rich man’s head is shown smoking in the foreground; the cigar endpoints at the woman’s crossed legs as she sits, miniaturized in the background. The image is queasily sexual and infantilizing, like the rich man is an ogre-devourer about to consume her like the chicken he ate at dinner.
Dementia is a poetic parable about a woman trapped in a nightmare world controlled by men. So how did it end up smack dab in the center of an exhilaratingly goofy monster flick like The Blob?
The answer is not aesthetic but commercial. Jack H. Harris had acquired the rights to Dementia after its release. In an effort to attract a more traditional horror audience, he retitled it Daughter of Horror. He also added that hammy narration by Ed McMahon, which sidesteps the Dementia’s Freudianism and its vision of patriarchal monstrosity, instead emphasizing the woman’s deviance and insanity. The art film about how women are trapped in a monstrous reality was turned into a horror shocker in which the woman was the monster.
Or that was the idea anyway. Even with Harris’ edits, Daughter of Horror was still too odd to work much box office magic. But Harris didn’t give up. The scene in The Blob in which movie-goers watch Daughter of Horror can be seen as a kind of wish-fulfillment, as Harris imagines Daughter of Horror packing seats in a way it probably never did in real life. And, of course, lots of real-life movie-goers have watched at least a little bit of Dementia when they’ve watched that cult classic, The Blob.
Improbably, then, Dementia became something of a hit after all. The red ooze seeping into the theater is capitalist promotion coming for Dementia. Adrienne Barrett screams as Jack Harris swallows her up into his quivering, ever-growing money-making venture. Whether it’s communism or capitalism, no one escapes the Blob.