Mention The Blob and the first sounds likely playing in your brain come from the film's theme song, co-crafted by a young Burt Bacharach and performed by The Five Blobs (who else?), and while not deep or sophisticated – the lyrics are goofy, mouth pops punctuate the catch-phrase “Be-ware of the Blob” – like any evil music, it worms its way into your subconscious, ensuring that even while you're sleeping, that looped tune will be the first thing to which you wake up.
A classic corkscrew tune with no finale (it's basically an intro replayed three times), it was never the filmmakers' intention to use a self-mocking song for what they had designed as a straight-faced B-movie, and while their (mostly) serious film and hammy dialogue evoked some great unintentional laughs (chief of all is Steve McQueen playing a pouty teenager), every so often one would notice the sincerity of Ralph Carmichael's score, and get drawn into the film's mood of a giant thing smothering a town with an unending appetite for living flesh.
So, it shouldn't be a surprise that Carmichael did write a proper cue for the film's opening titles, but unlike the Bacharach jingle, it specifically sets the viewer up for a very different B-movie – something more akin to the Universal-International chillers (though not as inane as Monster on the Campus), and perhaps closer to Warner Bros.' classic giant ant movie, Them!
Certainly in the case of Them! Bronislau Kaper's score deflated our urge to chuckle at the oversized, felt-covered bugs, and both films do share a common theme of an initially small creature(s) growing to monstrous scale, ready to clear-cut humanity with the eerie indifference of self-preservation.
Carmichael's unused title cue also recalls a bit of Carmen Dragon; the brass surges in Carmichael's unused “Main Titles” evoke a bit of the menace prevalent in Dragon's stellar Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), but with very sparse use of percussion – a notable stylistic choice that saves percussion (usually cymbals and timpani) for sudden crescendos signifying an assault, or a shocking revelation.
Carmichael 's score is quite short, running just over 30 mins. (and some cues were repeated in the final reel), but it's engrossing and moving because it was written with the full intention to support the film's drama and characters. The short “Love Theme” that underscores two teenagers kissing in their convertible in the film's first scene is very tender, with gushing strings recalling that rhapsodic theme fragment in Bert Shefter and Paul Sawtell's underrated title music for The Fly (1958).
It's a vintage fifties romantic style that was eventually pushed aside when orchestral jazz scores started to encroach on the more classic approach to scoring love and horror, something even Carmichael indulged in, quite effectively, in his gem 4-D Man (1959), the second exploitation film made by producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth. (The pair's third and final genre effort, Dinosaurus! was scored by the great Ronald Stein.)
Because The Blob is comprised of very short cues (some less than ten seconds), the CD tracks have been edited to feel like longer cues without affecting the score's dramatic flow. Immediately following the first love theme statement, there's eerie, sustained high-pitches around which woodwinds and gliding strings wiggle and worm, and Carmichael plays with some distinct colours, notably the woodwinds that play very low, shifting from a short collection of notes to long chunks of chordal unease.
“Empty Crater / House of Trouble” offers another short burst of melody before a potent brass and percussion finale, whereas “Weird Menace / Horror Bridge ” shape-shifts through a stalking motif with subtle percussion and brass, and modern chamber-styled sections before rising strings amp up the terror factor. “Darkness” is even more chilling with its ascending strings and looming clarinet, and the dark shading of Carmichael 's writing evokes the sparse scores written by Morton Stevens in the original Twilight Zone show, and Pete Rugolo's unsettled string and brass stings in his Thriller scores.
As the finely detailed and witty liner notes by co-producer David Schecter explain, the production team and crew had prior experience making religious-themes dramas, and The Blob was their first effort to cash in on the monster drive-in films of the era that had become immensely popular.
In the commentary track on Criterion's DVD of the film, director Yeaworth beams with glee when he explains Paramount's interest in handling his little film, but he also adds how Carmichael's main theme was replaced by the studio because it was a more direct marketing ploy towards the broad teen audience. The Bacharach tune has endured as a catchy, cheeky spoof on the monster film it was designed to sell, but it's refreshing how Carmichael's score has maintained its strong impact, and demonstrates the composer's versatility and skill beyond the religious dramas and popular music that made up much of his work.
MMM could have filled out the CD with another genre film score (by another composer, too), but they've done something truly surprising and novel by including previously unreleased cues from the Valentino Production Music Library, featuring a number of cues that were used in director Joseph Green's seminal trash shocker, The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962).
With a long experience in dissecting, identifying, and familiarizing himself with myriad genre scores, Schecter expertly identifies the cuts related to Green's bonkers take of a mad surgeon's efforts to find a body for the all-talking all-cackling decapitated head of his once-hot assistant and girlfriend, and the suite is expanded with further stock music cues by familiar names such as Italy's Mario Nascimbene and A. F. Lavagnino (whose “Birds in Flight” is a major highlight); their interpolated cuts create a suitably moody score for a non-existent weird thriller or horror film, and one gets a nice sense of how music editors had fun crafting mood-themed scores for films like Brain, The Green Slime (1968), and Terror from the Year 5000 (1958).
The Roger cues are the real treat among the lengthy lot, and hearing “Escape in the Night” after having seen Brain immediately thereafter elicits major giggles, because its loopy melodic waves are now cemented to the sequence where the demented surgeon rescues his babe's head from a burning car before wandering like a drunken dope all the way to the family cabin, where the head will be revivified in a photo developing tray and chemistry protractors. Also included is “Mob Scene,” a jazz band tune by Samuel Allen, that plays when the dope drives too fast and causes the accident that separates the babe's noggin from her long neck.
(The final batch of cues become increasingly loopy, and veer into very weird moods like spacey environments and a travelogue cut reminiscent of Victor Young's Around the World in 80 Days, but they form a fun wrap-up to the diversity and stylistic kitsch that lies dormant in many large music libraries.)
This disc, alongside MMM's Herman Stein's The Intruder (1962), mark the label's first foray into original soundtrack releases, and The Blob is a must-have album fans that will give repeated play.
Bacharach's tune is a fun novelty, but producers Schecter and Kathleen Mayne have made a wonderful tribute to several unsung film and mood music composers. All cues are beautiful mastered from crisp and clean mono sources, and the CD includes the entire Blob score, plus some rare full-length source cues, including “ 46 th Street Stomp” which also made an appearance in Brain.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan