By Justin Humphreys
© Justin Humphreys - 2008
Please note that this interview with Paul Schilola took place in 2008. Ultratumba ceased production in 2009. - Alan Bussie
Over two decades after his death, the delightfully lurid cinematic monstrosities of creature creator (creaturist?) Paul Blaisdell remain perennially popular. Rather than lumbering, shambling, or fluttering around dive-bombing victims as they did in their original movie habitats, they generally sit stock-still these days… In effigy, that is, courtesy of Ultratumba Productions.
Ultratumba is releasing a series of 50s and 60s-era movie monster models that have, among other things, resurrected Blaisdell’s monstrous menagerie—creatures like “Beulah” the Venusian from It Conquered the World, and the titular BEM from Invasion of the Saucermen with its head like a bundle of vines from a freshly-picked pumpkin patch with a hideous trademark Blaisdell scowl.
Author George Clayton Johnson once told me that “Pulp never dies,” and that’s uniquely true of unique pulp. And nowhere has pulp been more unique or lovingly rendered than with Blaisdell’s monsters. Bizarre, bulbous, bug-eyed, scaly, or all spines and crackly surfaces, they remain a lasting tribute to Blaisdell’s furious imagination. They are 30s “Amazing Stories” covers sprung to life.
Ultratumba’s Angry Red Spider Resin Kit
At first glance, they might appear ridiculous. One modern horror director and movie aficionado has said that an attack by a Blaisdell monster on-screen resembles an assault by a cartoon. But monster kids know better: after all, a caricature can tell you far more about its subject than pictorial realism, something that Blaisdell’s marvelous oeuvre had very little to do with, thankfully.
Ultratumba has also crafted a splendid little replica of other triumphs of the pulp imagination gone berserk: the Martian bat/rat/crab/spider of Ib Melchior’s The Angry Red Planet, and the title character from the utterly loopy Mexican monster number, El Baron del Terror (aka: The Brainiac). As is obvious by now, Ultratumba’s stock-in-trade is the stuff that hyperbolic movie ads of yesteryear once gloried in.
Built-up kit of Ultratumba’s Brainiac
I spoke with Paul Schiola, Ultratumba’s mastermind, lately, and in the interview that follows, he reveals the sources of his obsessions with these grotesques and why he loves resuscitating them so.
Monster Kid: What fascinates you about Paul Blaisdell, in particular? And likewise Mexican movie monsters?
Paul Schiola: My fascination with Paul Blaisdell stems from me being very impressed with his creatures as a boy reading Famous Monsters and the other monster magazines. Also the somewhat melancholy career he had in the movie industry. I share a sort of kindred spirit feeling with him: although I never made it to Hollywood or worked on films, I have struggled as an artist for 25 years or more now hoping that some day it will be my full time job. Yet has that day come but I keep my fingers crossed and hope that it will. Besides that, Mr. Blaisdell’s imagination was outstanding– what he did without the great materials we have today and on a shoestring budget was fantastic! He created some of the true icons of 50’s Sci-Fi and Horror that left indelible marks on fans such as myself. I do not want his spirit not his creatures to die under a wave of digital effects. So in a way I hope to keep his legacy as well as his creatures in the public eye.
Ultratumba’s Invasion of the Saucer-men Kit
As for the Mexican horror movies, I was lucky enough to grow up in Colorado where, at one time, we had three Spanish language channels, one being UHF. I am not and really never was into sports so when my father and brothers where busy watching the “game,” I would huddle around a small black and white TV my father had and search for horror or sci-fi movies. I stumbled upon the Spanish channels and found Mexican wrestling movies as well as horror!
Details from the Saucer-men kit (click any photo to enlarge)
I had read some about them in Famous Monsters so seeing some of the same creatures in the magazine then stumbling across them on a snowy UHF channel or any of the others was a goldmine. As I got older and VHS came about, I started to seek out these movies and was obsessed with them. So in effect my traditional horror and sci-fi influence was doubled up by the Mexican counterparts.
MK: Do you think that the Mexican movie monsters haven’t been produced enough in garage kit form? (I do!)
PS: This was the reason I got back into garage kits. No one was giving them the time of day, and I felt that they where as good or at least as campy as the American-made movies and in fact had some of the weirdest monsters I can recall. My first kit—getting back to the hobby– was El Baron which has been very well received and still holds its popularity. The second was Popoka from Robot vs. Aztec Mummy. I really wanted to do a whole Aztec mummy series but due to some disagreements, I had to can the other two kits based on that series. It actually soured me a bit on one of my favorite mummy series of films………..I would like to return to the Mexican movies and have many ideas for pre-paints as well as model
So to really answer your question “NO”, there are not enough garage kits done of these wonderful monsters. Hopefully I can do something about that soon!
MK: Where does the name “Ultratumba” originate?
PS: Ultratumba translates to “From beyond the Grave,” which is what I feel I am doing with the creatures that I make. Again, making sure these images carry on to future generations. So in effect raising these monsters from there celluloid grave and back into the Monster Kid iconography and vocabulary.
MK: What do you use for reference material?
PS: For the Mexican movies I use screen captures from the DVDs. Before that, it was multiple screenings of the same movie and me sketching and rewinding. For the Blaisdell creatures I have been very lucky to have met Bob Burns who has been so forthcoming with images as well as insight on the particular creature I am working on. If it was not for Bob I could not make the creatures as accurate as I have. I just love that guy!!!
MK: What is the production process like on a typical Ultratumba kit?
PS: It usually starts with me getting a movie of creature stuck in my brain! Then the only way for me to get it out is to make the creature. So I start with concept, and then work on rough sketches to come up with a design and layout. From there I gather reference material and study it and print it out for my studio. Next is the armature and at that point I am thinking about part breakdown and any changes in the pose. Once that is set then the sculpting starts, which takes the most time. This is followed by the finishing which involves sanding and adding any detail or design changes. Once completed, then it is off to the painter. Then it is returned to me where I pack it up very carefully and ship it off to production. While the kit is in production, I design the box layout and the instruction sheet. I hand off my design sketches to my nephew, Jamie, who them creates the box art in PhotoShop. At that point, I also enlist my wife, Barb, who helps me set up the instructions for copying. Once all the kits come back from production them I insert instructions in them all and number them, if need be. Then I collapse from doing all this on top of a full time job.
MK: Are you contemplating making more Blaisdell-related kits?
PS: I have about run the gamut with Blaisdell kits. I do have one more I am currently working on to be hopefully released next year.
Thanks, Paul—we can’t wait to see what other beasties await us!