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June 28, 2024

For 25 years, horror fans have been re-creating 'The Blob' in Phoenixville

Blobfest, which returns July 12-14, always features screenings of the 1958 Steve McQueen movie and an audience 'run out' that mirrors a famous scene.

Movies Festivals
Blobfest Provided image/Colonial Theatre

Audiences at Blobfest run out of the Colonial Theatre at a previous festival screening.

A gelatinous monster from outer space seeps into the projection room of a movie theater, sending teenagers screaming from the building. This scene from 1958's "The Blob" is now considered a classic of the sci-fi schlock canon, and it has inspired an annual tradition at the Blobfest, the Phoenixville festival held every summer at the theater that started it all.

Blobfest is a three-day event held at the Colonial Theatre in Chester County, where the scene was originally filmed. The main attraction is, naturally, a screening of "The Blob." After the movie plays, audiences re-create the '50s characters onscreen by running out of the theater in mock terror. It's happened at every single Blobfest, including the first one 25 years ago. But the inaugural "run out" in 2000 was spontaneous.

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"Somebody suggested, why don't you show 'The Blob'?" said Bob Trate, director of programming for the Colonial Theatre. "So we showed it, I believe in June by itself, and people ran out of the theater afterward. There was nothing planned. They just showed the movie and they ran out. And (we) thought hey, that's a good idea."

Now, the festival is much more than a single screening with a funny twist. The 2024 edition, which will take place July 12-14, promises multiple screenings of the original "Blob" and a Spanish dub, as well as showings of the 1988 remake and 1972 sequel "Beware! The Blob" The latter screening will feature a live riff from Joel Hodgson, Emily Marsh and Matt McGinnis of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the long-running comedy series that mocks infamously bad movies. Another '50s monster movie, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," will also play in 3D. 

All those films are augmented by a live show from horror host Aurora Gorealis, a retro Blob Ball, a street fair featuring horror-themed vendors and a cosplay contest — where, thankfully, entrants can dress as more than an amorphous alien. The festivities officially commence with a fire extinguisher parade, where patrons, volunteers and staffers march to the theater entrance with fire extinguishers and let them rip, in what Trate calls "our own version of daytime fireworks." This, too, is a nod to the film; the monster is finally vanquished by the cool carbon dioxide in fire extinguishers that the town pools from the fire department and local high school. 

The Colonial Theatre apparently caught its big break by accident. As Trate tells it, the "Blob" production crew was filming in the area and needed a place to watch the dailies. The theater's projectors made it the perfect location, and when the time came for the movie theater sequence, the Colonial seemed like the natural choice.

"They paid them a measly sum of $75 for three days," Trate said. "The owner at the time was insulted by that, and the producer, Jack Harris, said I'll make it famous, don't worry. So that $75 has gone a long way for the history of the theater and preserving it and making it a landmark."

Now, people come from not just the Philadelphia region but all over the world to watch "The Blob" in this landmark space. Over the years, the Colonial Theatre has welcomed fans from Florida, Los Angeles and Canada — and when the festival went virtual for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, its global footprint expanded even further. People from 32 states and two countries (Canada and Scotland) attended remotely in 2021, sending in clips of their own run outs at home. Some of them came to the Colonial for the first time after the festival resumed in-person activities in 2022, according to Trate.

What inspires people to travel far and wide for "The Blob"? At this point, the theater staff acknowledges, it's about more than the movie, or its star Steve McQueen, in his first leading role. It's about the unique vibes that only '50s special effects, fire extinguisher parades and goofy audience participation can inspire.

"It's not just 'The Blob' anymore," said Carly Polizzi, the theater's marketing manager. "It's the offbeat, the weird. All of our vendors are super creative and quirky and it's a safe space for people who like horror. ... It brings families and generations together. It's a really fun spot where everyone can see new things, try new things, but it's still a hometown feel." 

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