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Rot From The Stars: “The Molten Meteor”, and Real Life Blobs From Outer Space

In 1958, a rather atypical horror film appeared before moviegoing audiences. It featured no vampires, wolf men, or creatures strewn together from the parts of the deceased, brought back to life by mad science.

No, this monster was just a mound of carnivorous jelly from space… and the more it ate, the bigger it got.

The Blob, which features what is still regarded as one of the most unusual movie monsters of all time, tells the tale of an alien gob of jelly from space that begins to feed on the citizens of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, growing larger throughout the film. Originally titled The Molten Meteor, it is said that one of the film’s actresses, Kay Linaker, was overheard referring to the film’s extraterrestrial subject simply as, “the blob”, and apparently the name stuck.

But where, precisely, did the idea for the film come from?

According to Den of Geek, “Accounts seem to vary as to who came up with the idea for The Blob.” One story attributes its conception to Irvine H. Millgate, who according to Kim Newman, wanted to “make a movie monster that is not a guy dressed up in a suit… some kind of a form that’s never been done before.”

Or in the case of “The Molten Meteor”, perhaps something with no definite form whatsoever!

After several days of brainstorming, the idea finally emerged that a mineral that “can absorb your flesh” would be a good idea, and the rest, as they say, is history.

There is, however, an interesting real-life Fortean connection here, which bears remarkable similarity to the story outlined in The Blob and its successive remakes over the years.

In Welsh folklore, there had been an unusual phenomenon known as “pwdre ser” (meaning, essentially, “rot from the stars”). This, according to some accounts, was believed to be the literal star-stuff that fell to Earth after a meteor was seen streaking through the sky, after which a gelatinous slime would occasionally be found in fields amidst grass and undergrowth.

Star Jelly?

Reports of this “star slime” date back to at least the 14th century, and although many descriptions describe it as apparently being an earthly substance, in its various names it nonetheless appears to associate the the mystery jellies with shooting stars; English names used since the Middle Ages include star-falling (also “star-fallen”), star-jelly, star-shot, star-slime, star-slough, star-slubber, and star-slutch. 

The unusual, and often sudden appearances of large amounts of “mystery slime” have been the stuff of Fortean fodder for decades, with a number of notable incidents involving strange deposits of slimy material of unknown origin over fairly large areas. Whether this is the same phenomenon as the “pwdre ser” of yore is uncertain, as many of the modern “slime rains” and other anomalous falls are often attributed to industrial activities in the general vicinity of the incidents.

One notable example occurred in 1979 near Frisco, Texas, when Sybil Christian found several purplish colored mounds of jelly on her lawn (interestingly, this discovery was made coinciding with the height of the Perseid meteor showers that year). The explanation behind the blobs on Christian’s lawn, it was believed at the time, lay behind a variety of caustic soda used to clean lead impurities at a battery processing plant nearby; however, some have contested this explanation, asking how mounds of the soda-byproduct would have made their way all the way from the factory outside town, and onto Christian’s lawn.

While even some of the more famous “mystery blob” reports like the Frisco, Texas incident appear to have been connected loosely with meteors, the question remains: did any of these real-life reports of “molten meteors” help inspire the making of The Blob? 

According to a 2009 San Francisco Gate article, there is indeed a more definitive connection between the so-called “pwdre ser” and The Blob films:

Gelatinous meteors, also known as the Pwdre Ser phenomenon, are rare but not unknown. On September 26, 1950, Patrolmen John Collins and Joseph Keenan saw one of these things land at the corner of Vare Boulevard and 26th Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The light-emitting blob was also observed by Sgt. Joseph Cook and Patrolman James Cooper and was seen oozing its way up a telephone pole. This incident became the basis for Steve McQueen’s 1958 horror movie, The Blob.

Although the article quoted here (featured as part of a regular column called “UFO Round Up”) was taken offline, an archived version can be found here.

If accurate, the incident it describes does seem to confirm what many suspected all along: that one of the weirdest sci-fi monsters of all time has further history in the annals of Ufology and Forteana. With little doubt, old Charles Fort himself probably would have found this little historical footnote rather amusing.

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  • Croach The Tracker

    Or, you know, it could’ve been the fact that they stole the idea from Joseph Payne Brennan’s short story “Slime.” It was the cover story of the March, 1953 “Weird Tales” and is pretty much “The Blob.” The resemblance did not go unnoticed, and Brennan successfully sued Paramount, receiving a not insubstantial settlement. The story is available online, and is well worth a read.

  • Eric Hinkle

    It is? I’ve been looking for that story “Slime” for years, thanks for letting me know it’s out there online.

  • mph23

    I always assumed The Blob was based on HP Lovecraft’s Shoggoths. Or some similar gelatinous horror he and his cohorts wrote about well before the 1950’s.

    As far as “star jelly” goes, my favorite (probably false) theory is that they are the remains of sky jellyfish. The more realistic theory is that it’s either pranks (you can buy packets of pellets that absorb 50 times their weight in water. It looks and feels just like “star jelly” when activated in water. It could also be some weather/meteorological thing too.