Author Archives: Paul O'Connor
If you were on the staff of Malibu Comics, twenty years ago today you would have found this memo in your mailbox:
That memo from Malibu Comics President Scott Rosenberg was supposed to mark the end of the beginning for Malibu, but it ended up being the beginning of the end. Founded in 1986, Malibu had made their mark for a wide-ranging black & white comics publishing slate, before launching Image Comics and later publishing the Ultraverse, but by 1994 the handwriting was on the wall: Malibu needed to sell. Narrowly surviving the comics crash of 1993, Malibu was on borrowed time, and had for months been in secret negotiations to sell to DC Comics, before Marvel got wind of the deal and swept in to grab Malibu from their rivals, a largely-defensive purchase intended to protect Marvel’s comic book market share.
Few of the optimistic predictions of the “Employee Fact Sheet” would come to pass. Marvel would file for bankruptcy in 1996, and after a brief attempt to meld the Ultraverse with the Marvel Universe, Malibu Comics would shutter in 1997.
At its height, Malibu Comics employed approximately 150 full-time employees, including a film division, an interactive division, and offices in both California and England. They also provided work for hundreds of freelance writers and artists (including your humble narrator!). Malibu’s vast library of superhero properties — including the Ultraverse — passed on to Disney when they acquired Marvel in 2009. Disney has been mum on any plans to develop Malibu’s properties for film, but that didn’t stop us from identifying “Prime” Ultraverse candidates for the big screen!
It is interesting to speculate what might have become of Malibu had their sale to DC Comics gone through. DC’s purchase of Wildstorm in 1999 shows the company was able to support an autonomous west coast publishing studio, and many of Wildstorm’s people and properties remain a vital part of DC Comics to this day.
Malibu, on the other hand, has vanished into the halls of Disney, vaulted away like something from the last shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Is there hope for the Ultraverse in an era when unknown properties like the Guardians of the Galaxy are a box office smash?
Keep the faith, Ultraverse fans! Wilder things have happened!
One of my favorite parts of Halloween Month is the old monster movies that pop up on cable television. The American cable network TCM ran a couple horror films from Hammer Studios recently and it was fun to see them again after all these years.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) is the film that put Hammer on the map as a horror movie force in the 1950s. Universal had stopped making horror pictures a decade earlier, but Hammer found there was a whole new audience hungering for classic monster pictures, now in lurid color and promising a dollop of sex and blood. Nowadays I suppose we’d call these movies “reboots” … but by any name, Hammer’s horror pictures were a fresh new take on monster movies when they debuted, and they remain nostalgic viewing to this day.
This picture marked the first of a dozen Hammer horror films that would star Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing is in fine form here, playing the Doctor as an amoral son-of-a-bitch, while Lee is a bit less memorable in a role that gives him little more to do than flail his arms around and catch on fire, though the first appearance of Lee’s Monster still packs a punch …
The Monster’s appearance must have been startling for 1957 audiences, particularly when red, red blood gushes from that white face when the monster is shot in the head, but this Monster’s design hasn’t aged well, particularly with his pea coat and mop-head hairstyle that makes Lee look like an undead fifth Beatle.
Christopher Lee as the Monster by William Stout
The actors all deliver their lines in a crisp, British thespian style, which serves to class up the movie quite a bit, and whether through stylistic choice or limited budget, the camera rarely moves, resulting in long scenes without cuts that lends the movie the sense of a stage play. This movie can’t lay a finger on James Whale’s Frankenstein pictures, but it is still an enjoyable gothic melodrama, and necessary viewing for any horror fan if only because of the place it holds in Hammer horror history. Keep an eye out for young Melvyn Hayes as the child Victor von Frankenstein — he looks so much like a young Peter Cushing that you’d swear the filmmakers had a time machine. It is a disappointment that Christopher Lee has so little to do in this picture, but he’d get his revenge a year later when he stared opposite Cushing in what would prove his signature role in The Horror of Dracula.
Later in the week I book-ended my little film festival with one of the final Hammer horror films in 1971′s Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb.
This is a peculiar picture, slow even by the standards of mummy movies, and a bit of a cheat in that it is a mummy movie that doesn’t even really have a mummy in it! Peter Cushing was to have headlined this picture, but had to withdraw due to his wife’s illness, and his absence is keenly felt — the movie could have used his icy glare and intense delivery. But if you are patient and in the right mood, it is still fun to watch this movie unspool, with its gothic tale of a girl possessed by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian priestess.
But really, the main reason to watch this picture is for screen starlet Valerie Leon … and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let Bruce Timm explain why:
Valerie Leon in Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, by Bruce Timm
Halloween Month is nearly complete here at Longbox Graveyard, but there is still time to enjoy a monster mash of horror comics goodness before the big night!
… the classic Wein & Wrightson era of Swamp Thing …
… and I walked with the Walking Dead!
I also paid homage to Godzilla, the King of the Monsters; examined the very monstrous Martians of Killraven’s War of the Worlds; and even reflected a bit about the time I got to write a couple issues about Rune, the Malibu Ultraverse vampire Prince of Void!
And don’t forget my horror and science fiction-themed Pinterest Galleries: Tomb of Dracula, Swamp Thing, Mars Attacks, Science Fiction Pulp, Killraven, Ghost Rider, Monsters, Famous Monsters of Filmland, The Spectre, Godzilla, Monster Comics Covers, Hammer Horror, and Universal Movie Monsters!
Enjoy your Halloween!
Halloween Month is fast drawing to a close here at Longbox Graveyard, but there’s still time for me to duck in a little mini-review of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon, which I attended late last month in San Pedro, California.
My son, Jack, and I attended the festival on a whim. Jack’s mad for H.P. Lovecraft, and I enjoy him in small doses. A festival, of course, is anything but a small dose, but while the focus was on all things Mythos, the films on offer provided straight horror tales as well as the expected stories about half-mad Massachusetts antiquarians. Mostly the festival screened short films, which were never less than earnest and frequently quite good, especially “I Am Not Samuel Krohm” by Sebastien Chantal — an atmospheric short about a man or may or may not be the lynchpin of a monstrous conspiracy — which claimed the festival’s coveted “Most Lovecraftian” award.
The festival was held over three days, though the bulk of the film programing was on Friday and Saturday nights, with Sunday reserved for a brunch, lectures, and gaming. I’d characterize the gathering at somewhere between a large party and a small convention (the organizers pegged the crowd at 400), and in all it was a friendly affair, with plenty of opportunities to meet and mingle with your fellow enthusiasts, if that was your thing. My son and I were content to just huddle in the dark and watch movies with our fellow Beard-Os and Weird-Os, but there were pub crawls and trivia and all sorts of after-hours events that also sounded like fun.
The high point of the weekend for Jack and I wasn’t a movie, but instead … a radio show!
Saturday night featured a live stage presentation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth by Dark Adventure Radio Theater, a thoroughly professional troop of voice-acting enthusiasts who offered a very faithful adaptation of my favorite Lovecraft story with scores of sound effects and the full-throated participation of the audience, who provided their own Deep One grunts and groans when a lighted sign on the stage implored them to, “Croak!” Dark Adventure Radio Theater has about a dozen Lovecraft radio plays available for download or on CD, and I expect a few of their shows will make their way into Jack’s stocking this Christmas.
A critical component of the Festival was the venue, the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro, a landmark 1931 art deco movie palace.
The theater was spectacular, and the perfect setting for the Festival. The seats were a bit cramped (pro tip: for more leg room, seek out the first row of the balcony!), but it was like a trip through time to visit this wonderfully-restored theater and remember when movies weren’t all about multiplexes and podmalls. San Pedro’s 6th Street, where the theater was located, was also a trip — shadowed storefront after storefront, full of pubs and tattoo parlors, wonderful hobby shops, unique book stores, and crazy art galleries. That strip of town is worth a visit all by itself, but was even more fun late at night after the Festival, when the theater disgorged its hoard of Lovecraft loonies to mingle in this vibrant district of hipsters, bikers, drunks, and Deep Ones (I could swear I saw a couple!)
This was the fifth year for the Los Angeles Festival (the original version has run for decades in Portland, Oregon), and the festival has promised to return to the Warner Grand in May of 2015, as it moves from a Fall to a Spring schedule. That tight turn-around might be too quick for Jack and I to return, but I will keep this show on my calendar, and shouldn’t be surprised if before too long I heed the Call of Cthulhu and return to the very pleasantly bizarre H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival!