In between the 1958 original The Blob and the 1988 remake The Blob was Beware! The Blob, a goofy ’70s sequel that stands out for little more than being an early example of what would later become a horror cliché: the black guy dying first.
In truth, black characters in horror movies typically don’t die first. They might die second, third, fourth or even fifth! I’m not sure where the perception that they’re always the first to go came from, but movies like Beware! The Blob probably contributed to that belief. In fact, this particular film goes a step beyond by having the first TWO deaths be black characters.
The victims in question are a married couple played by a pair of prominent African-American stars of the era, Marlene Clark (Ganja and Hess, The Beast Must Die!, Lord Shango) and Godfrey Cambridge (who I still say deserved an Oscar nomination for the great Watermelon Man).
Cambridge is Chester Hargis, an oil pipeline layer who returns from his Arctic assignment with a strange specimen he vows to keep frozen until he can take it to a lab. Unfortunately for everyone, he’s completely irresponsible and leaves it out to thaw, at which point it devours a fly, a kitten, Chester’s wife Mariane (Clark) and then Chester himself before escaping to terrorize the town — although frankly, nothing in this film is as terrifying as the rambling, ad-libby dialogue in its wannabe comedy script. (The four-minute conversation between a shaggy-haired customer and a barber who insists on calling himself a “hair sculptor” made me question my will to live.)
Despite dying within the first 20 minutes of the film, Chester and Mariane’s appearance actually represents a bit of progress from a racial perspective. In previous decades, there wouldn’t usually be a black character (much less two) to kill off, and if there were, they’d be a nameless African villager or a domestic servant dismissed callously within a minute or two. Here, the couple is made up of middle-class professionals in a loving relationship that’s detailed over several scenes, and the roles aren’t at all stereotypically black. If anything, they’re race-neutral — as indicated by the names Chester and Mariane.
They’re the first characters introduced in the film, and for a while, it seems like they might be the stars. It turns out they’re not, of course, but unlike a lot of creature features that open with a disposable, anonymous character being dispatched by the monster, Beware! The Blob takes time to establish them as real people. This undoubtedly is a reflection of the then-current Blaxploitation movement, whose influence seeped into mainstream, non-“black” films by increasing the number of roles for people of color. I doubt anyone would want to take credit for anything else in this campy stinker, though.