If the genre of horror and the remake film were forced to choose a relationship status, the result would inevitably land in ‘It’s Complicated’ territory. Notoriously dramatic and fueled by subjectivity, fans have long debated the merits of revisiting previously tread trails. However volatile and ongoing the discussion may be, the fact remains that some remakes are just plain good. Given enough distance, time and fresh perspective, many remakes have found themselves standing toe-to-toe or even surpassing the original source material. While films like The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986) and even 2013’s Evil Dead are often held up as shining examples of this fact (all with incredibly well executed scores), there are many often overlooked remakes worthy of similar praise. One such film is Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake of the 1958 monster movie classic, The Blob.
Although quite similar to the original 50s version in many ways, Russell managed to adeptly update the drive-in classic by understanding his target audience and embracing modern trends. Given the gift of a decent budget, Russell was able to bring in key players that would not only elevate The Blob, but grow it into something else entirely. For the film’s cinematography, he brought in Mark Irwin, who worked on films like Videodrome, Scream and RoboCop 2. For The Blob‘s elaborate and essential special effects, he brought in a team of talented young individuals who had worked with some of the industry’s best, including Stan Winston and Rick Baker. He turned the original’s Steve McQueen character into a strong, capable final girl played by a young Shawnee Smith (Saw). And for the music, Russell called upon the talents of the innovative German electronic musician, Michael Hoenig.
Incredibly curious and intrigued by the developing West German Krautrock scene, Hoenig began experimenting with electronic music at a young age. Rather than taking a traditional route into the world of music, Hoenig forged his own path by approaching this new frontier of sound as the new and unique entity it truly was. With no classical musical training of any kind under his belt, Hoenig was able to play with tape recorders, wires, microphones, sound generators and synths unshackled by the constraints of historical music theory.
This fresh, unhindered approach coupled with Hoenig’s innate talent quickly established him as an up-and-coming talent within the burgeoning scene. After joining the experimental and boundary-pushing electro-centric band Agitation Free in 1971, Hoenig’s skills and opportunities began to rapidly develop. Upon the band’s dissolution in 1974, Hoenig wound up touring with the iconic Tangerine Dream for a spell. Soon after, collaborations with Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching of Ash Ra Tempel would follow. After a well-received solo album in 1978 and a giant move to L.A., Hoenig was primed and ready to enter the world of film scoring.
By the time The Blob opportunity rolled around for Hoenig, the film industry was finally starting to catch up on the electronic music trend that had been brewing for nearly three decades. After John Carpenter set the horror score world on fire with 1978’s Halloween, synth scores would come to define the next decade of genre fare. That being said, Hoenig was no amateur at this point in his caree, not even in the world of film music. After a successful run of film scores that included The Wraith, The Gate and Night Patrol, Hoenig was an impeccable choice to reintroduce The Blob to a fresh new audience. After 30 years of experimentation, growth and expanded musical horizons, Hoenig had developed a unique and varied skillset that had been highly cultivated and curated. This extensive background resulted in a score for The Blob that expertly blends traditional sonic elements with trendy electronic sounds that not only engage, but serve and support the story in remarkably effective ways.
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Hoenig’s score is the way it develops as the story progresses. To dive into this idea further, let’s take a look at our initial introduction to The Blob with the film’s ‘Main Title‘ track. As the mysterious object approaches Earth, slow and deliberate tonal shifts play out through reverberating synth elements. Spacious echoes of sound become tinged by harp-like runs conveying the limitless wonder of space. As the film begins to visually pan around the small town of Arborville, electronically synthesized vocalizations permeate the otherwise vacant town implying a presence of life in some shape or form.
Drenched in haze, this atmospheric opening doesn’t paint the small town with the idyllic rose-tinted glasses viewers are often so used to and immediately plays off the original’s tone. Anchored by low, distorted sounds, there’s a generous sense of space and loneliness to the scene. Foreshadowing later events in the film, this stark introduction immediately introduces the idea of ‘The Other’ and simultaneously ties it to the world of synthetic sound.
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The connection between electronic music and otherworldly or supernatural entities is a deep seated one. When looked at logically, the association makes sense. Historically and traditionally, across cultures and continents, acoustic instruments have long dominated the global sonic soundscape. Obviously, this fact is mainly due to the technology factor needed for electronic instruments to exist. However, as electronic instruments did begin to evolve, they developed the ability to sit outside our natural realm. Where as many acoustic instruments like piano, clarinet, percussion, violin or trumpet require human breath or human interaction to function, electronic instruments are not quite so limited. If set up appropriately, synthesizers and electronic consoles have the ability to develop and function (even if simplistically) with limited human involvement. This unique ability makes Hoenig’s electronic elements in The Blob‘s score work with natural human associations. And he plays with them to perfection. Before we see The Blob or have any inkling of its power or motivations, Hoenig’s music sets the tone and allows us to subconsciously classify the being.
As the film progresses, Hoenig adapts his score to work with the action unfolding onscreen. While The Blob sneaks and slithers along the ground, low droning tones accompany. Familiar harp runs imply and support the feeling of mystery as the young teens struggle to make sense of what is happening. Hoenig forgoes recognizable melodies for a diverse action-oriented listening experience, reiterating the underlying story that it is The Blob initially in charge here.
Snare drums come into play along with the hazmat suit wearing government agents, a subtle and effective sonic connection to the military. And as The Blob continues to grow in both size and strength, its body count begins to rise. As the creature begins to violently dissolve, absorb and ingest human after human, it invariably becomes more and more saturated with human elements. Mirroring this disgusting but important point, Hoenig slowly introduces more and more traditional acoustic elements into the score to highlight The Blob‘s increasingly organic connection to humanity. Eventually putting all these components into play, we get the track ‘Chase in Sewer.’
After The Blob has wreaked havoc on the local movie theater, it follows Shawnee Smith’s character, Meg, into the sewer with two young boys. Incessant and persistent bursts of rhythmic keyboard notes create an anxiety inducing sense of dread while low blasts of horns, high pitched synth bursts and a veritable tangle of electronic noises suddenly collide with strings, reverberating percussion elements and discernible melodic progressions. Ebbing and flowing, building and subduing, Hoenig works with the action to create a highly synchronized set of elements. Incredibly diverse with his palette of sounds, it’s easy to recognize nods to John Carpenter, Bernard Herrmann, and John Williams. But just as quickly as they appear, they then dissipate, dissolving back into the incredible globule mess of sounds swirling around the sewer floor.
Once the town of Arborville finally gets its act together, Hoenig’s score evolves once more. As The Blob becomes contained, its reign of terror extinguished by simulated freezing temperatures, the power once again resides with humanity. This shift in power dynamic, story direction and emotional tone requires a very different sound. Consistent to the very end, this concept becomes beautifully encapsulated in the film’s final track, ‘When the Lord Gives Me a Sign.’
Much more melodic and traditionally structured than previous tracks, there’s a discernible direction and unity to this particular piece. Stunningly emotional progressions of sound convey a sense of calm, but become punctuated by precisely laid harp runs or crescendos of sound. Utilizing both acoustic and electronic sounds simultaneously, this potent texture creates a bewitching sense of misleading calm. Despite the threat of The Blob becoming neutralized for the time being, Hoenig’s score leaves no doubt about its dormant and dangerous potential.
Due to the overload of synth-driven horror scores that came out in the 80s, it would be easy to overlook or dismiss Hoenig’s contributions to The Blob as just another run of the mill film score. However, to do so would be a truly unfortunate mistake. Incredibly versatile and well-versed in electronic music’s limitless possibilities, Hoenig understood exactly what The Blob‘s score needed and perhaps most importantly, how to deliver it. And deliver it he did. Fusing traditional film sounds with progressive and complex sounds of the future, Hoenig created something entirely unique and defining for The Blob. Coupled with Chuck Russell’s focused vision and his expertly selected team, Hoenig helped unify The Blob into an incredibly engaging viewer experience that manages to stand firmly outside the shadow of its predecessor.
“Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Hoenig’s score is the way it develops as the story progresses.”
Another example of an incredible film score that remained hidden away for inexplicable reasons, The Blob was initially released on CD and cassette in 1988, but remained dormant until 2011. Then re-released on CD by La-La Land Records, it wouldn’t be until 2018 that One Way Static Records would finally, thankfully, release Hoenig’s score on vinyl. Available in a plethora of colored vinyl versions, the score remains relatively easy to track down through sites like Discogs despite it being currently out of print. If 80s synth-drenched electronic film music is your bag, I can’t recommend this score enough.
What are some of your favorite horror remake scores? Want more score recommendations? Check out our previous installments of Terror on the Turntable, where I dissect an iconic horror score each month! Talk all things The Blob with us over on Twitter or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group!