First there was “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.”
Now, get ready for “Steamboat Willie” horror films.
The 1928 version of Mickey Mouse entered the public domain on Monday, and indie horror producers are wasting no time in capitalizing on it.
Steven LaMorte is set to direct an untitled horror-comedy based on Mickey’s cartoon debut. In it, a sadistic mouse will torment a group of unsuspecting ferry passengers. Production is set to begin in the spring.
“Steamboat Willie has brought joy to generations, but beneath that cheerful exterior lies a potential for pure, unhinged terror,” LaMorte said in a press release. “It’s a project I’ve been dreaming of, and I can’t wait to unleash this twisted take on this beloved character to the world.”
LaMorte previously directed “The Mean One,” a horror parody of the Grinch.
“It all comes from our love of these characters,” he said in an interview. “Filmmakers — we’re all kids in the sandbox. We love taking them and playing with them in different ways. It’s not a desire to ruin these characters or make a quick buck, but to love them and honor them and show them in a new light.”
Disney‘s copyright to “Steamboat Willie” expired Monday along with its right to the original versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. But it still holds copyrights for the later, more familiar versions of the characters.
Disney has said that it will also be vigilant in defending its trademarks. The company could sue over any perceived endorsement or affiliation with its brand.
“We will, of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright, and we will work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters,” the company said in a statement last month.
LaMorte said the producers are working with a legal team to make sure they stay well within the law.
“We are doing our due diligence to make sure there’s no question or confusion of what we’re up to,” he said. “This is our version of a public domain character. It’s a scary thrill ride with heart and humor, based on this character that everybody knows.”
In the film, the character will not even be called “Mickey Mouse.” Instead, he will go by “Steamboat Willie.”
“The Mean One” came out in 2022 and grossed about $1 million in theaters worldwide. The producers on that film — LaMorte, Amy Schumacher, and Martine Melloul — are teaming up with Steven Della Salla and Michael Leavy, producers of “Terrifier 2,” which grossed $15 million.
The announcement follows the release on Monday of a trailer for “Mickey’s Mouse Trap,” another public domain horror-comedy directed by Jamie Bailey. That one, which is set an amusement arcade, appears to already have been shot. In a press release, the filmmakers said they don’t have a release date yet, but expect it to be out sometime in March.