When art director Bill Jersey reflects on the making of The Blob, the cultish 1958 film in which a young Steve McQueen saves his town from (you guessed it) a huge, gooey, people-eating blob, what he treasures most is not the cinematography but the close-knit community of Phoenixville that brought the movie to life.
“It [was] a kind of wonderful sort of community experience about something that probably [didn’t] have any great significance socially, cosmologically, etymologically, or any other logically,” says Jersey. Instead, the film was significant in that it created a bond between a group of hard-working directors, producers, actors, and set-builders, whom he credits for putting the heart and soul into the movie. “[There is an] emptiness of so many films today that try so hard to be serious, or wise, or clever, or funny,” says Jersey.
This authenticity seems to be what attracts festival-goers to Blobfest every summer, a special celebration of the movie held at Phoenixville’s Colonial Theatre, where The Blob was filmed.
This year marks the 19th annual Blobfest and the 60th anniversary of the film’s release. Festivities commence with a “run out” on Friday. It’s a reenactment of one of The Blob’s most famous scenes: when the monster’s unconventional body oozes over the screen at the Colonial Theatre and causes moviegoers to run out in terror.
In the first few years of the festival, the “run out” was a free-for-all event. In 2007, when lines of Blob enthusiasts became long enough that they circled the block of the theater, the event became ticketed. This year, all 500 tickets sold out within two minutes.
On Friday, ticket-holders will enter the theater to watch a variety show hosted by Cinema Insomnia host Mr. Lobo and later rush out in screams. While The Blob will not be screened on Friday, the variety show will be an interactive performance that pays tribute to the movie and other monster movies of its kind, including a Miss Blobfest pageant. Also in Friday’s variety show, Dr. Frank N. Stone, a mad scientist played by Blobfest committee member Shane Stone, will announce winners of the “Shorty Awards,” a short film competition for nonprofessional filmmakers to submit short, family-friendly, sci-fi clips.
Without a ticket, fans can still watch the “run out” across the street from the Colonial Theatre, or attend any of the other Blob-related events taking place all weekend long. These include a street fair on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and double-feature monster movies (including The Blob) playing at the Colonial, White Rabbit, and Berry theaters on Saturday and Sunday. The fair includes live music from Dibbs and the Detonators, a Fire Extinguisher Parade, costume contest, and interviews with both Jersey and Matt McGinnis, from Mystery Science Theatre 3000. From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Steel City Coffee House, guests can listen to free storytelling performances by The Patient Creatures. Two original vehicles from The Blob will also be on display at the fair. Events inside the theater require the purchase of a wristband, but attendance to the street fair is free. Tickets must be purchased for any of the double-feature films (the “run out” is sold-out).
Outside the event venue, local restaurants — including Downingtown Diner (previously Chef’s Diner), another original filming site — come up with Blob-inspired menu items such as curiously shaped pancakes drenched in strawberry syrup.
Blobfest has “steadily grown to where the whole town embraces it,” says Stone. “We have 4-year-olds participating in the costume contest up to 104-year-olds. We have people that were older when the movie came out [who now] bring their kids and grandkids. That’s one of the things we really strive to keep is to keep it a family-friendly event.”
Even millennial viewers are not too cool for the goo. Stone says with a laugh, “We always thought, ‘When are they going to become so jaded that they don’t like this?’ But it hasn’t happened.”
Though it accumulated a rich following, The Blob had humble beginnings. Good News Productions, the original producers of the film, was a nonprofit corporation that Jersey describes as “religious,” with a background in Christian film production for stars such as Billy Graham and George Beverly Shae. The Blob was a new type of film for Good News (the film was later bought by Paramount). “We worked for nothing, essentially,” says Jersey. “We got paid part-time; we got food and lodging … it was [the] people who really stuck together to do things that we thought were worth doing.”
He has fond memories of his team, particularly of an 86-year-old carpenter named Eli, who cut wood tirelessly for eight hours a day.
Keith Almoney, who played 5-year-old Danny Martin in The Blob, says the enthusiasm of the crowd at past Blobfests was extraordinary.
“They were aficionados of the movie!” Almoney says of the people. “They knew it better than I did.” He adds that the family atmosphere of the event made the day especially fun, as children asked him about being a child actor in the movie.
Jersey and Almoney will be joined by Ricou Browning, who pays the underwater creature in Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Wes Shank, owner of the physical “blob,” as special guests for this year’s Blobfest.
For Jersey, however, one guest appears more important than all others: his son.
“My businessman millennial from New York City is going to watch The Blob with his old man in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania,” says Jersey.