Still Alive: Phoenixville Remembers The Blob at Blobfest
By Scott Orris
The Blob is still alive. After fifty five years of attempting to freeze the amorphous monster, The Blob still provokes audiences in Phoenixville, PA to run out of the theater in fright (Shank 18). In an event dubbed the “run out,” unnerved participants have the unique opportunity to reenact the iconic run out scene from The Blob in its original filming location, Phoenixville’s Colonial Theater. The theater also appears exactly as it did in the film, complete with “Daughter of Horror, Also Bela Lugosi” on the marquee and the “healthfully air conditioned” banner. As the doors burst open and the people run out screaming in terror, it’s difficult to believe, it’s not the movie itself (see link below). The run out is all part of the fun and festivities known as Blobfest.
Started in the year 2000 by the Colonial Theater, Blobfest is a three-day celebration of the theater’s famous connection to the classic film (Shank 85). The event includes activities like the tin foil hat contest, (tin foil prevents aliens from reading your thoughts) where participants both young and old compete to create the best hat for cash prizes. There’s also a CO2 fire extinguisher parade (cold temperatures are the only way to stop the Blob), costume contests, live music, vendors, and the opportunity to watch The Blob, in the same theater it was filmed! In perhaps the most famous scene from the film, the Blob invades the theater from the windows in the projectionist’s booth. When the scene plays during the screening, many people in the audience often turn their head, and look up at the windows. But by far, one of the most unique attractions at Blobfest, is actually being able to see the Blob itself! The Blob’s kindly caretaker Wes Shank graciously exhibits the Blob, for all those interested in getting an up-close view of this iconic monster. Being the caretaker of the Blob is a great responsibility and an undertaking Mr. Shank does not take lightly; “I have to keep it in a large walk-in freezer,” he laughs, but Shank assures me it is completely safe at room temperature.
Shank acquired the Blob in 1965 from the film’s director Irvin “Shorty” Yeaworth after a tour of the local Valley Forge Films Studios. He was originally quite surprised to learn that such a well-known film wasn’t made in Hollywood, but actually close to his home in Chester County. Shank explains:
"I saw it (The Blob), and I’m one of those people who sit there and read the credits on the film, and it said made by Valley Forge Films. I said, “Wait.Come on, all films are made in Hollywood, aren’t they? But I went home and looked it up. Valley Forge films was in the phone book, and we called up, and a friend and I called up and spoke with the director Shorty Yeaworth and asked if we could come out and take a tour of the studios” (Shank).
It was towards the end of the tourthat Mr. Shank had his first encounter with the monster:
“In a dark corner of one of the sound stages in Studio C was this black five gallon can. He (director Shorty Yeaworth) says Hey, Wes, ‘the Blob’s in there!’I said what!? And we went over to it, and takes the lid off and here’s this red sticky substance in here, he said this is the stuff we used for making the movie, I said WHOA! I went home, he gave me a little bit in a jar that day, and took it home and put it on my shelf in my bedroom, I thought you know I’m afraid it’s going to get thrown out down the road, somebody’s going to clean up the building and throw it out and I’d like to save it for posterity as corny as it sounds, around that time I started collecting movie memorabilia back in 1960 started out with movie posters and the 8/10 glossy publicity photos and so on, and thought hey I could branch out into an actual prop from a movie so I kind of badgered him for a few months, and he didn’t want to sell it at first, but I eventually caught him at a weak moment and we agreed on a price in November. 1965 is when I purchased it, and I’ve had it for all these years, and at that same time he included the miniature set of the exterior of the Colonial Theater and included a copy of the shooting script” (Shank).
The fact that such an iconic movie was filmed in a small independent studio in Chester County, Pennsylvania, is the source of great pride among locals. “There’s a lot of local interest in Chester County. The film was made entirely in Chester County, and there’s locations here in the city of Phoenixville,” Shank explains, "I meet people every once and a while and they say, 'I was in the run out in the film you can spot me there.” According to Shank’s book on the film, From Silicone to the Silver Screen: Memoirs of The Blob (1958), the film’s director Shorty Yeaworth remembered using over three to four hundred local teenagers in the scene (Shank 47). One such teenager Maryann DeCarlo who participated in the run out recalls; “The famous run-out scene was advertised at my father’s place of employment,” she said. “He came home and told the family about it. We decided to go over to the Colonial to see if we could get our mugs in the film” (Shank 47). According to Maryann the instructions were simple; “We were all told to run as fast as we could and scream, and really feel as if something was after us” (Shank 48). The scene took four takes to complete, with Maryann falling down on the third (Shank 48). Marryann explained the experience; “It was a mad rush. I don’t know exactly what I tripped or fell on, but I really did a flip. I think it was the third take”(Shank 48). The other filming locations in Phoenixville took place at a large Victorian house, at 3rd and Main Streets which served as Doctor Hallen’s House in the film, the inside of an auto mechanic’s garage at 1045 Schuylkill Road, and the Memorial Junior High School which is now Samuel K. Barkley Elementary School at 320 Second Avenue. There was also one small scene filmed on what is now located on Phoenixville Hospital property (Shank 40-43).
More crowd scenes were filmed at the then Jerry’s Market, and at a street corner (4th and Main Street) in Royersford. There were also sequences shot at a diner in Downingtown. All the non-location scenes were shot at Studio A and Studio C at the Good News Films/Valley Forge Films studios in Chester Springs, as well some shots on Art School Road, which is right outside of Studio C (Shank 35, 38).
In touring these filming locations and celebrating Blobfest, people are given the opportunity to personally connect with the dream world of the movies, and share that experience with others. In a film that starred the legendary Steve McQueen (in his first leading role in a feature film), The Blob has garnered a lot of positive critical response (even being selected for a Criterion Collection release). This enthusiasm for an independent B-movie released fifty five years ago demonstrates the connection that people both young and old share in their admiration for this classic. The Blob still lives at Blobfest, so if you do visit, remember to heed Mr. Shank’s advice; “Always keep your CO2 handy” (Shank 99)!
Shank, Wes. Personal Interview. 13 July. 2013.
Shank, Wes. From Silicone to the Silver Screen: Memoirs of The Blob (1958). 2009. Print