With Marvel’s living vampire due soon on the big screen in Sony Pictures’ Morbius, vampire hunter Blade returning in his own MCU film and the Werewolf by Night expected in a Disney+ Halloween special, it’s a fun time to remember that horror characters have stalked Marvel pages for decades. Sure Daimon Hellstrom is already battling evil on Hulu alongside an archive of the brief FX series Legion and more eerie touches are coming with Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch. But there’s still much more Marvel spookiness to be mined!
The crypt gates really re-opened in the early 1970s when the Comics Code relaxed a bit. Shambling through were a string of dark creatures and antiheros with unique environments and adventures all their own.
Not as familiar to all audiences as recent headliners, many lesser-known Marvel properties offer intriguing possibilities for horror films or TV series adaptation.
Simon Garth – Tales of the Zombie
In the 1970s, following a two-issue black-and-white Spider-Man trial run, Marvel rolled out a line of black-and-white magazines in the vein of Warren Magazines’ Creepy, Eerie and the original Vampirella. Morbius himself starred in a series of stories in the anthology Vampire Tales. Blade turned up there as well. For their zombie comic, Marvel summoned Simon Garth back from the grave and the pages of a pre-code horror title called Menace from the company’s forerunner Atlas Comics. The magazine stories begin with a bit of a prequel to the Menace appearance that can be found in original form on Marvel Unlimited. The prequel introduces Garth as an overbearing New Orleans coffee company executive. He’s tough on the job and his beautiful 23-year-old daughter. A disgruntled Gardner turns Garth over to a voodoo cult secretly headed by the executive’s secretary. Garth is killed and brought back as a near-mindless walking dead figure, ultimately on a quest to break the curse. Stories jump from New Orleans to a coffee plantation in Hati. Despite the occasional giant spider, an exciting refreshing and personalized variation on familiar zombie tales could make for an interesting stand alone film or series. The Garth zombie has returned in other Marvel storylines as well, including a Marvel Zombies tale, so one way or another we may see more of him in motion soon.
N’Kantu, the Living Mummy – Supernatural Thrillers
N’Kantu is another cursed anitihero, a towering African king enslaved by the Pharoah Nephrus in a “lost era” of Egyptian history. He’s forced to aid in construction of a pyramid-type monument. When he leads a rebellion, N’Kantu is drugged with a paralytic, embalmed and turned into a mummy just as an earthquake shatters the pharoah’s world. N’Kantu is awakened from suspended animation in the midst of 1970s’ unrest in the Middle East and falls into the hands of Doctor Skarrab, and archaeologist who happens to be Nephrus’ descendant. N’Kantu escapes, clashes with law enforcement and regains a higher state of consciousness than Garth. Eventually he’s transported into a weird realm called The Palace of the Gods with a host of superbeings, but the initial story could offer a familiar-made-fresh arc. N’Kantu appeared in a Spider-Man cartoon, but a live action 300 and Spartacus blend complete with Egyptian court intrigue juxtaposed with a modern day clash with Skarrab could provide a re-invigorating excursion.
See Also: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller Ghosts delivers eerie spiritual chills with “The Promise” [Review]
Theodore Sturgeon’s It! – Supernatural Thrillers and Masters of Terror
More like Swamp Thing or Man-Thing than Stephen King’s It, the Marvel adaptation of science fiction great Sturgeon’s 1940 short story could offer an interesting template for a creature feature. The creature is a man re-born in the depths of a dark swamp to stalk the landscape, but above all, the tale is a rural family drama. The young daughter, Babe, is ultimately the focus of the story as her father Cory hunts the thing that took his dog and brother. There’s a will, a lawyer and a possible payout for the cash-strapped clan, so ample material exists there to fill 90 minutes in atmospheric fashion. The tale was re-purposed in black and white for Marvel’s Masters of Terror magazine, and that comes off with an additional air of creepiness.
Robert E. Howard’s Valdez – “The Monster from the Mound” – Chamber of Chills and Masters of Terror
This is another adaptation. It’s based on a Weird Tales story from Conan creator Robert E. Howard, but the Marvel treatment offers a film-ready structure and setting with a script by Gardner F. Fox and art by Frank Brunner. Think From Dusk ‘Til Dawn territory. The place is a dusty border town with a burial mound the locals avoid. Newcomer Brill suspects reported haunts shroud what’s really beneath the dirt: conquistador gold. A descendant of a conquistador himself, he’s driven by greed to unearth treasures. What he awakens instead is Valdez, a conquistador bitten on his travels and buried by crew mates. When Brill’s friend Juan Lopez is killed, Brill discovers the full back story in a journal and sets out to face the nigh unstoppable Valdez in an action-packed final battle. This is not the angst-ridden Morbius. Valdez is a killing machine. Once again the black-and-white reprint in Masters of Terror which with its deep, dark shadows is even more terrifying than the color version in Chamber of Chills No. 2. Masters restores Howard’s title also – “The Horror from the Mound.”
Dracula – Tomb of Dracula
Speaking of dangerous vampires, sure a new Dracula film is on the way with Nicholas Cage. But there should be room in the world for a film adaptation of Marvel’s iteration of the count. The 1970s comic brought the Victorian figure to the modern age with a fresh cast of vampire hunters, sometimes including Blade. One arc in the series involved Dracula’s infiltration of a Satanic cult for his own ends with his unholy wedding to a cult member as a centerpiece. A tale of corporate greed and the creation of another deadly creature is juxtaposed. All elements seem like ripe material for a comic-to-screen adaptation where elements get reimagined a bit. Just like the Spider-Man Brand New Day arc became No Way Home. Turn the cult into something a little more timely and exotic than ‘70s Satanists and make the corporation a more contemporary-style threat, and the possibilities get exciting. Plus, many of the creatures we’ve been talking about here follow a Frankenstein-style troubled monster approach. Dracula is a real baddie and thus a different matter altogether.