From Horror Movie To Horror Comic: The Mole People

The Universal Monsters are in some of my most favorite Horror and Science Fiction films and have been something I have really been into since I was a very young kid. Looking over my list of comics to choose for a “From Horror Movie To Horror Comic,” I quickly decided on the Warren Photo Comic Magazine for The Mole People as I think they are very underrated when it comes to classic monsters and are sadly often forgotten when fans talk about great Universal Horror. So for this update we are going to showcase the Mole People and let them shine in the spooky spotlight of Rotten Ink. So if you’re ready, let’s go underground and visit with the Mole People!

Let’s first take a look at the Mole People who are the film’s bad guys and also good guys as they walk the line. The Mole People are a race of humanoid moles who walk upright and are underground dwellers who have been forced to be slave labor to the Shadow Dynasty who are a batch of albino people who think they are the only living people. The Mole People have a very odd appearance with a lumpy style skin and have big eyes plus weird mouths. The Mole People, while slaves, do act out and have ideas and motives of their own, and they are also very much a horde society that have a history of eating human flesh! The Mole People, while slow and lumbering, use their weird appearance to scare victims with their main source of killing coming from their massive clawed hands that can rip and tear human flesh with ease. They also can burrow deep underground to travel faster and can pull victims under with their raw power that is well above an average man’s. But while The Mole People are killing machines when pushed, they also have some intelligence that makes them loyal to not only each other but also those who are nice to them. But like all things the Mole People do have some weakness like sunlight that blinds them and can possibly also burn them to death. They can be beaten with items as well as killed like any normal human, as they are not immortal. And let’s not forget that they can also be kept at bay with a flashlight that hurts their eyes. The Mole People’s slowness also makes them easy to get away from while walking on land, and they can also be starved to death as they do need to eat in order to get energy like any normal living thing. So while Mole People are not the most brutal nor vicious monsters we have covered here, they still are very efficient when it comes to killing humans.

So now that we have taken a look at The Mole People, we should dig our way into the film that spawned them. As always we will be taking the film’s plot from our friends at IMDB and after I will share some production notes as well as my thoughts on the film as well as other cool little information about it. So if you’re ready, let’s dive into some talk about this great Universal Science-Fiction Horror flick!

The Mole People (1956)

“On an archaeological dig in Asia, Dr. Roger Bentley finds a cuneiform tablet referring to an ancient society, the Shadow Dynasty, that was destroyed. An earthquake soon after reveals an ancient artifact and the scientists discover the ruins of an ancient temple world on a remote mountain site. It leads them to an underground world, lost in time, where people have adapted to low light. The High Priest Elinu doesn’t welcome the presence of the new arrivals and wants them eliminated.”

In the 1950’s Universal had moved away from Horror Films that dealt with Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster and headed toward giant insects, atomic age and mixes of science fiction and horror. And in 1956 they made such a horror film when they released The Mole People to the cinemas all across America. The film was written by Laszio Gorog, and produced by William Alland with the directors chair going to Virgil W. Vogel who was originally an editor for Universal, and this was his first film as a director. The film would cast John Agar, Cynthia Patrick, Hugh Beaumont and Alan Napier as its leads and was one of the first Universal Monster films to show a woman disrobing, pushing the limits of what they did for their monster films. Rumor also has it that the film’s budget was $200,000.00 and its returns are unknown. When the film was done, it was released on December 1, 1956, and in some places it was shown with the jungle monster film “Curucu, Beast Of The Amazon”. The film was released the same year as these other classic Horror Flicks: Creature Walks Among Us, Bad Seed, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Godzilla, Rodan and Indestructible Man to name a few. The film over the years has had a very mixed response and mostly is met with negative reviews by critics and fans that enjoyed when it was blasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The film went on to be released on home media like VHS and DVD and Blu-Ray in our and foreign markets.

The Mole People is a film I learned about at a young age as I used to read any and all books I could get my hands on that featured classic Universal Monsters and many of them featured The Mole People. One of the books I remember the most was the Crestwood House book that was all about The Mole People and acted almost as an adaptation of the film. Sometime later I can remember seeing the film on broadcast TV and was drawn in by the Mole People themselves and was angry when the Shadow Dynasty were on the screen being mean to them. Some years later I found the film on VHS at an event called Belmont Days from a small video store that had a ton of Horror Films for sale on VHS when it was still king of home media, and in 2014 I got the film on DVD thanks to Universal’s Vault series of releases. Over the years I have shown Mole People to friends who enjoy classic horror and even have toyed with the idea of doing a fan film sequel to it…but that will never happen. So while this film was released many decades before I was born, for some reason it has always been in my life…for some reason I also remember my Mom talking about this movie when I was a youngster! So if you have not seen this film, do yourself a favor and track it down and give it a watch.

So as you can see, the Mole People, while not bloodthirsty, can and will murder and eat humans when the time is right! We also learned a little about the film and my connection to it, and now we are at the point of reviewing the photo comic magazine. I want to first thank Mile High Comics for having this magazine in stock and making this update possible. I need to also remind you all that I am grading this comic on a star scale of 1 to 4 and am looking for how well the comic stays to the source material, its entertainment value and its art and story. So if you’re ready, make sure to grab your flashlight to fight off the Mole People and let’s get into this From Horror Movie To Horror Comic update.

Mole People # 1  ***
Released in 1964       Cover Price .35     Warren Publishing     # 1 of 1

Researchers Dr. Roger Bentley, Dr. Jud Bellamin, Dr. Paul Suart and Prof. Etienne Lafarge along with others are in Asia looking for artifacts from a lost civilization, and get their dreams fulfilled when they find a tablet and lamp connected to them. They head to the mountains as that is where their finds lead them, and after an earthquake happens at the sight of ruins, a hole opens up and Dr. Suart falls to his death and Bentley, Bellamin and Lafarge are trapped underground! Once down in the dark only armed with a flashlight, they wander the caves and find buildings from the old world, and when they decide to get some rest, a race of humanoids called the Mole People attack while they sleep and drag them underground. When they awake, they are met by two albino guards who take them to see the High Priest who orders them to death as he claims they do not have the food to feed them! Our heroes fight and escape their albino captors and find themselves in a place that has Mole People all around who are being treated like slaves by albinos with whips. While trying to escape, Lafarge is killed by a Mole Person and Bentley and Bellamin figure out that the flashlight hurts both the albinos and Mole People giving them power and are now in the favor of the albino king. Once back at the kingdom Bentley meets a young normal servant girl named Gizelle who he saves from a whipping, and she is given to him by the King as a gift. The pair of doctors try to figure out a way to return above ground and even save some Mole People from being beaten by the albinos, but while they save them, the flashlight also goes dead as its batteries die! The High Priest dislikes the outsiders and thinks they are not gods like the King does but just normal guys and even sacrifices a group of woman to the burning light in order to please their god. The High Priest is able to convince the King that the Doctors are mortal and not gods, and they drug their dinner and set to murder them. But luckily for our heroes, Gizelle runs into the caves and tries to get help from the Mole People who have grown to respect the doctors for saving them from beatings and death sentences. The Mole People attack and kill the albinos, and the Doctors along with Gizelle escape the underground and once back to normal life another earthquake hits and a stone falls and kills Gizelle before she could even live a few moments of life above ground and our tale ends.

This is one cheesy and yet fun Photo Comic that blows through the movie really fast and delivers an entertaining quick read for readers that holds true to the film for the most part, but also adds its own touches with a few twists not from the movie. Our story has a group of doctors on the hunt to find a lost city that end up falling into a hole in the ground that leads them to the lost city as well as to the people still living there and a race of humanoid mole people. The doctors must fight for their lives to find away to escape, and their only weapon is a flashlight that is getting low on power! Dr. Roger Bentley is our main hero and the one with the flashlight. He is also the one who is saving peoples hides from beatings as it’s clear he does not like the albino people of the lost city and their cruel and selfish ways. The one down side to Bentley is that at times he as well comes off as kind of full of himself, and I think gets a slight god complex as he knows he has the power. Dr. Jud Bellamin is a smart man who clearly follows the leader as he is a fish out of water when it comes to the underground world. Prof. Etienne Lafarge is an old goof who leads himself to his own death and also is the weak link of the group and his dead body is also the one who leads the albinos back to the headhunt of our heroes as it showed they are also mortal. Slave woman Gizelle, who is normal, is also very sweet and is the true hero of the story as she is the one who gets the Mole People to help the doctors. The Albinos are very cruel and keep slaves, beat and kill those who cross the King and treat the Mole People like scum. The High Priest is the worst of the albinos as he is very much the one who pushes for cruel punishments and hates the power the Doctors and their flashlight had over the King. The Mole People are starving and will attack and kill people and yet also have a loyalty to them as they will help those who help them. Some of the changes made in the magazine are noticeable and are nice surprises, and I will not spoil them for you readers as you should read it and catch them yourselves. The comic downplays the horror elements and does have some blood via a massive scratch done by one of the Mole People and does have death as many albinos die during the final attack. The cover is eye catching and is that classic 60’s Horror Magazine look, the picture layouts is done by Russ Jones who also did the script for this photo comic. Over all this is one of the better Photo Comics I have read and is cool retro Universal Monster item for a Science Fiction Horror Movie that is often forgotten. Check out the panels below to see they style used in this magazine.

So while many comic readers don’t like Photo Comics (Magazines) and others view it as a dated style of comics, I for one find them fun and enjoyed reading this one. Plus it’s been very fun talking about the Mole People as well as the first time I have covered Warren Publishing here at Rotten Ink. But I fear it’s time we walk away from the underground world of the Mole People. We will be heading to the old west for my next update as we take a ride with the one and only Rawhide Kid from Marvel Comics! So until next time, read a Horror Comic or three, watch a Universal Monster Movie or two and as always support your local Horror Host. So hope you’re ready for a western done Marvel style!

Anne Francis Stars In…Our Look At Forbidden Planet

Pop quiz time, Rotten Inkers! Can you name the ten films that are referred to in Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Science Fiction Double Feature”? It’s okay, I’ll give you a minute to sing through it in your head. Done? Alright. Even if you didn’t get all of them, I can bet that one you did catch was in the chorus. Sing it with me, “Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet.” This musical exercise is my less than clever way to introduce today’s update, all about seminal science fiction film Forbidden Planet. I’m Juliet, occasional co-pilot here on Rotten Ink. As you may guessed by now, having read my prior contributions to Rotten Ink, although I have massive love and respect for the horror genre, my earliest and continuing love is for science fiction. If Matt’s the Monster Kid of our house, I’m the spaceships and robots kid for sure. So it’s perfect that we’re about to dive into a film, and the comic books adaptations of it, that not only feature spaceships and robots but really influenced all of the spaceship and robot things to follow it. We’ll start with some history.

Forbidden Planet was released in 1956 by MGM and was shot in Eastmancolor and CinemaScope. It was written by Irving Block and Allen Adler (who was blacklisted from Hollywood during the second part of the Red Scare), directed by Fred M. Wilcox and stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen. It was the first science fiction film to take place entirely on an interstellar planet that was far from Earth, and the first to show humans traveling faster than the speed of light in a ship of their own creation. These are two of the many reasons Gene Rodenberry names Forbidden Planet as one of his main inspirations for Star Trek. You can also see its visual and design influence on the Star Wars franchise. And remember, this film was released 13 years before the moon landing and five years before cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel to space.

Another first for Forbidden Planet is its score. It was the film to have an entirely electronic music score, though at the time, it was referred to as “electronic tonalities” to avoid music guild fees. The composers, Bebe and Louis Barron were discovered accidentally when an MGM producer was visiting New York and saw them perform at a beatnik club and then hired them on the spot to create music for Forbidden Planet. Many people think that the pre-Moog synthesizer electronic drones were created with a theremin, similar to part of the score for Hitchcock’s Spellbound, but the effect was actually created by electronic circuits and modulators that Louis Barron built himself. For this and their work, Heavenly Menagerie, which is considered the first piece of electronic music committed to magnetic tape, the Barrons are considered pioneers of electronic music.

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Robby the Robot is notable for both his design and characterization. Robby’s design was developed from initial ideas and sketches by MGM production designer Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie, art director Arthur Lonergan, and writer Irving Block. The concepts were refined by production illustrator Mentor Huebner and perfected by MGM staff mechanical designer Robert Kinoshita, and Robby was built by the prop department. For his time, Robby sported one of the most complex robot designs moviegoers had ever seen, comparable in design only to Maria, the Menschmaschine in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (another of my favorite robot films). MGM spent a reported $125,000 on Robbie, which with inflation is about $1.1 million today, and compared to the overall budget of Forbidden Planet, he remains of the one most of expensive single props compared to the overall budget of the film he’s in. The suit itself is unique; made of three pieces that completely surrounded the actor and contained all of Robby’s electronics, it could be filmed from any angle without a reset unlike Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still, whose suit had to be reset for different angles to cover special fastenings that allowed for movement.

As a character, Robby was one of the first science fiction robots to have a distinct personality and to be considered an integral supporting character in his film. Again, Maria from Metropolis and Gort are good precursor comparisons. Contrary to Forbidden Planet’s poster and much of the advertising leading up to the film, Robby isn’t the villain, and in fact, follows a version of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics throughout the film including (and most important to the climax of the story), the fact that he cannot kill a human being. He is portrayed as physically strong, benevolent, extremely loyal to Alta and Dr. Morbius, and, at times, he’s a bit sassy.

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It’s unknown whether Robby takes his name from Fantastic Island’s Robbie – a mechanical decoy used by Doc Savage or from the Asimov story of the same name, which was published in 1940. However, after Forbidden Planet was released, Robby became a pop culture icon. He had another starring film role in MGM’s 1957 movie The Invisible Boy and makes a cameo in Gremlins. He appeared in many TV shows, including the The Addams Family, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mork and Mindy. He and and several props from Forbidden Planet were used in the “Uncle Sam” episode of The Twilight Zone (the original Rod Serling version), but Robby donned an alternate head for that appearance, based on one of the original, rejected models created for Forbidden Planet. Robby also appeared in several episodes of Lost in Space, in which he battled Robot B-9 (aka Robot), who he’s sometimes confused for. In 2004, Robby was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame.

If you haven’t seen Forbidden Planet, by now you’re probably wondering what the heck it’s about. Based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the story follows the crew of the starship C-57D, lead by Commander Adams, as they travel to Altair IV with the goal of discovering what happened to an Earth expedition sent to the planet twenty years prior. When they arrive on the planet, they find its only inhabitants are Dr. Morbius, his beautiful daughter Altaira, and Robby, their robot servant. But something sinister lurks on the planet, and Dr. Morbius is keen to keep it a secret. I’ll leave the story at that for now as we’ll dive further into it when we review Innovation’s comic book adaptation of the film.

As I mentioned above, I am a lifelong scifi fan, and I’m particularly fond of space stories and robot stories so it wasn’t hard to fall in love with Forbidden Planet. I first saw it when I was around thirteen years old. In 1996, MGM re-released the film on VHS and laserdisc with a special widescreen presentation for its 40th anniversary. My dad got the VHS as a gift, and one day I decided to check it out. At the time, I didn’t know about Forbidden Planet’s place in science fiction history, how really important it was the genre and how it influenced the creators of many of the things I already loved. What I knew back then was that it was a great movie. It’s lush, beautiful and puts you completely into its world. All of the characters are smart, including Altaira who is naive about certain things, having never lived with other humans, but can handle her own with the ship’s crew. Robby has such personality, and his look, as well as that of the other props, is yet another argument for practical effects and design over CGI. The story gets at all of the great science fiction questions of forbidden knowledge and its power, the ethics of being an outsider in someone else’s world and how far artificial intelligence should be allowed to go without human intervention. Forbidden Planet instantly took a space in my top five all time movies where it’s remained ever since.

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After Forbidden Planet was released, Robby the Robot became a pop culture icon and a favorite for collectors of science fiction merchandise. He’s been a toy, a Funko pop figure, a talking bank, and a bobble head, among other things (I own all of those, by the way). There are also model kits for both Robby and the ship. The iconic Forbidden Planet poster (a reproduction of which hangs above my bed) has made its way onto lunch boxes, t-shirts, and variety of print formats. The film itself has been released on VHS, laserdisc, DVD and BluRay, and the soundtrack is available on CD and both vintage and new edition vinyl.

In 1992, Innovation Comics, in association with Turner Entertainment, released a four part comic book adaptation of Forbidden Planet.  These comics are the subject of today’s update, and Robby reminds us that here are at Rotten Ink, comics are graded on a scale of 1 to 4 stars and that we are looking for how well the comic stays to the source material, its entertainment value and its art and story. So let’s prep to board our spacecraft and journey to the Forbidden Planet.

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Forbidden Planet  # 1   ****
Released in 1992      Cover Price $2.50      Innovation     # 1 of 4

Commander J.J. Adams and his crew have been traveling the vast unknown of space for over a year on a mission to find out what happened to the crew of the spaceship Bellerophon, sent to Altair 4 twenty years prior.  Upon approaching the planet’s orbit, Adams’ ship receives a message not to land, but they do so anyway.  At first the planet appears to have no trace of any survivors of the Bellerophon, but the crew is eventually greeted by Robby the Robot, who takes Adams and his command crew, which includes Doc Ostrow, to meet his master Dr. Morbius.  Morbius is cautious, if not downright suspicious of the newcomers, informing them that, while he is the only survivor from the Bellerophon, he is not in need of rescue.  The issue ends as Adams and his companions meet Altaira, Morbius’ nineteen year old daughter who was born on the planet.

This first issue, titled Relief Ship, is a really nice start to our adaptation of Forbidden Planet.  David Campiti’s script follows the beginning of the film faithfully and closely, so you don’t miss anything that’s been shortened or adapted to work in comics.  Daerick Gröss’ painted artwork really captures the distinct look and feel of the film, and the way the panels are structured loosely on larger, more atmospheric backgrounds is really interesting.  I’ve not seen that done in other books.  My only hesitation is that occasionally Innovation’s adaptation books get too artsy and lose the story completely, and/or worse, the art slows down the pacing of the storytelling and the title is cancelled before we get a complete adaptations (I’m looking at you, Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour).  So I’m proceeding cautiously because I don’t want that to happen with Forbidden Planet.  Hopefully the association with Turner for the publishing helped move things along a bit, and we’ll get the full story in these four issues.  So I guess it’s a good time to move on to Issue 2 and see if that’s the case.

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Forbidden Planet # 2 ***
Released in 1992      Cover Price $2.50      Innovation     # 2 of 4

Commander Adams and crew learn more about Altaira, Dr. Morbius’ daughter who we (and they) met at the end of issue #1.  Altaira is nineteen and was born on the planet.  Until this point, she had never met a human other than her father, and that combined with mysterious properties of the planet have somehow given her the ability to communicate with the animals residing on Altair 4.  This begins to change, however, as Altaira becomes intrigued by the crew of young men currently stationed on her planet, in particular Commander Adams, who at first spurns her rather naive advances but is ultimately unable to resist her charms.  Dr. Morbius is concerned for his daughter and for what her newly awakened passions might mean for all of their fate.

This is another great adaptation issue that, although it moves a few things around from the movie for a better page flow, once again stays faithful to the film’s story.  This issue, called The Innocence of Altaira, focuses on Morbius’ daughter.  This particular storyline is really interesting in both the film and the comic, and takes a scifi approach to the age-old story arc about the loss of innocence through the gaining of knowledge, either literal (which we’ll see more of soon) or sexual…or both.  Although she isn’t drawn to look like Ann Francis, the comic book version of Altaira is faithful to the film version, both highly intelligent and a bit naive and with a sassy relationship with Robby.  Once again the painted artwork is fantastic and full of the vibrant colors we expect from this portion of the film.  We’re at the halfway mark for this comic book series, and I think, if done correctly, based on our current pacing we could get the full film by the end of issue 4.  So onward, to Issue 3.

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Forbidden Planet # 3 ***
Released in 1992      Cover Price $2.50      Innovation     # 3 of 4

It’s time for Dr. Morbius to finally explain the truth to Commander Adams and Doc Ostrow, that Altair 4 does, as they’ve been suspecting, hold a dark secret.  Taking them through a passageway in his office, Dr. Morbius leads the spacemen into an old laboratory belonging to the Krell, a long dead race of super beings who inhabited Altair 4 in the planet’s ancient past.  The Krell were highly advanced and had managed to harness the power of their own minds to build a great civilization and in turn use the machines they created to further enhance their minds. But in doing so, they unlocked the Id, a powerful monster born from their own thoughts that was eventually responsible for the downfall of the Krell and the deaths of the crew of the Bellerophon.  Morbius is concerned that through his own actions and the arrival of Adams and his crew, the monster has once again awakened and will destroy them all.

In this issue we get the Krell mythology and the origin of the Id monster, and again, although a few things were slightly rearranged for the comic, by and large this reveal worked in the comic just like it did in the film.  The one minor place where I felt like the comic felt a little short, however, is that I don’t feel like the artwork has the same impact as the graphics in the film when it came to depicting just how vast, advanced and intricate the Krell technology was.  Don’t get me wrong, it beautiful artwork, but in the film, you could really feel the size and scope based on the both the design and the camera set up.  But don’t let my complaints fool you into thinking this isn’t a great comic with great artwork, it really is – and, unless something goes completely haywire next issue, it looks like we are poised to get the whole film adaptation in the scheduled four issues.  So let’s get to it!

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Forbidden Planet # 4 ****
Released in 1993      Cover Price $2.50      Innovation     # 4 of 4

With the secrets of the Krell revealed, the Monster of the Id is growing stronger and threatens to destroy all of Altair 4.  Commander Adams and his crew are left with a choice: to flee the planet or to stay and fight.  Morbius, knowing that his own dabbling in Krell technology is in part to blame for the monster, encourages them to leave and to take Altaira with them.  As they try to make their escape, the monster attacks and Robby is unable to defend them because of a protocol that prevents him from harming Morbius or his family — you see, the Morbius has become part of the collective Id from which the monster is formed. So all hope is lost for the doctor.  Altaira and the recovered Robby agree to flee with Adams and his crew, and the ship blasts off into space as the planet implodes.

And there we have the epic conclusion to the comic book adaptation of Forbidden Planet, and yes, Innovation made it happen in the scheduled four issues.  This final issue holds the bulk of the action as our heroes must escape Altair 4 as the Id Monster grows stronger threatening to destroy them and the entire planet.  In this issue we see Altaira making the difficult choice to leave her father and Morbius having to reckon with the consequences of the damage he’s caused.  We also see Robby put to the test in a great example of Asimov’s Laws of Robotics when he cannot kill the monster because it and Dr. Morbius have become one in the same.  The was a great conclusion to a great comic book adaptation of the film.  From the script to the artwork, everything was done with care and respect for the source material which makes it a great read for fans and newcomers alike.  Take a look below at some of Daerick Gröss’ artwork.

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Often comic book adaptations of films are really hit or miss, but Innovation’s Forbidden Planet is definitely a hit for the casual or diehard fan.  Be sure to track this one down and check it out.  For our next update, we’re leaving outer space and landing back in the U.S.A. for Rotten Ink’s annual Fourth of July update wherein Matt will return to once again look at a title with a patriotic theme.  This time around he’s going with a classic, and I do mean classic – a reprint of the very first issue of Captain America.  So get your grill out and your sparklers ready (though keep them away from comic books for safety’s sake!) and get ready for our next update here on Rotten Ink.Captain America Logo 00