Fumetti Nightmares: Sex, Drugs and Shambling Mummies in Ulula

Fumetti Nightmares: Sex, Drugs and Shambling Mummies in Ulula

As a warning, this article is most certainly not safe for work: the comic discussed here includes explicit depictions of sex and violence. In my previous posts about Ulula, an Italian erotic horror comic from the 1980s, I covered the first and second issues. Taken together, these covered the origin story of the lycanthropic heiress

As a warning, this article is most certainly not safe for work: the comic discussed here includes explicit depictions of sex and violence.

In my previous posts about Ulula, an Italian erotic horror comic from the 1980s, I covered the first and second issues. Taken together, these covered the origin story of the lycanthropic heiress Ulla: she was unwittingly turned into a werewolf by her scientist uncle and subsequently killed him, resulting in her inheriting his wealth.

Cover of Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Ulula #3, bearing the title “Cocaina avvelenata” (“Poisoned Cocaine”), begins another two-part story. The cover shows Ulla wearing the swimsuit-and-cloak combination seen in the catwalk sequence at the start of issue 1; she never dons it in this particular story, and it was presumably depicted as a signifier that this is a sexy-horror comic.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

As the story begins, Ulla is enjoying a cruise on a luxury yacht, having been invited there by a wealthy financier named Karkoggi.

On board the ship, Ulla is visited by a man and a woman who are performing a routine check to make sure that nothing suspect is on board (judging by the man’s rifle, Karkoggi takes no chances when it comes to security). The woman, named Zarah, feels the need to grope Ulla’s crotch during the search. Our anti-heroine is understandably surprised.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

We are then introduced to Karkoggi, who spends his establishing scene engaging in group sex and snorting cocaine. In the hedonistic world of Ulula, these pursuits are the primary signifiers of the man’s luxurious lifestyle.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Zarah arrives on the scene with information about Ulla. “Have you checked whether she’s wide or narrow?” asks Karkoggi; “Narrow”, replies Zarah.

“Marvellous,” exclaims Karkoggi, although whether he is referring to Ulla’s snatch or to his drugs is unclear; the two sources of carnal delight appear to be blurring together.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Zarah joins in the orgy, but despite her best efforts she fails to please Karkoggi. “Don’t show your face until the party tonight,” he yells. “Before then, don’t you dare appear in my presence!”

He then sits down to watch the naked Ulla through a spy camera.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Karkoggi is clearly inspired by Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi businessman who was popularly thought of during the 1980s as the world’s richest man. The fictional character is drawn to be rather more conventionally handsome than his real-life counterpart, however, with chiselled features and a well-muscled body; his immense wealth is imagined in purely hedonistic terms, affording a lifestyle of sex and drugs against an exotic backdrop.

While Ulula #3 may have moved a long way from the gothic castles and mad-science laboratories of the comic’s earlier issues, it still fits firmly within exploitation tradition.

The pseudonymously-written and purportedly autobiographical 1964 novel Emmanuelle started a craze for erotic fiction depicting total sexual liberation in far-flung locations. Amongst the coat-tail riders was Emanuelle nera (Black Emanuelle – note the copyright-friendly change in spelling), a 1975 Italian-Spanish film in which Laura Gemser played a reporter-cum-sex tourist. This film in turn inspired a string of sequels and cash-ins, some of which freely incorporated elements from more violent exploitation subgenres.

Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali (Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, 1977) riffed on the contemporary cycle of Italian cannibal films, typified by Cannibal Holocaust (1979), while Violenza in un carcere femminile (Violence in a Woman’s Prison, 1982) and Emanuelle fuga dall’inferno (Emanuelle Escapes from Hell, 1983) fit into the women-in-prison genre. Strongest of all, however, was the innocuously-titled Emanuelle en America (Emanuelle in America, 1977), directed by schlock-horror maestro Joe D’Amato; this film saw the hedonistic heroine running into a ring of snuff pornographers, whose productions were shown in unflinching detail. At this point it is quite easy to imagine a crossover with Ulula’s exploits; Emanuelle Meets the Wolf Woman, perhaps.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

While aboard Karkoggi’s ship, Ulla is once again accompanied by her gay friend Jo. As Ulla is invited to sit at Karkoggi’s table during the party, Jo heads off in search of some love. He succeeds in finding it – by grabbing a complete stranger in the crotch, a method that I must strongly advise against attempting in real life.

This is followed by an off-colour comic relief sequence that serves to further establish Karkoggi’s untrustworthy side. During a poker game, Karkoggi goes up against a man who gloats upon beating him. The fun-loving playboy then calls two armed men to the scene and orders his poker rival dead: “Guards! He offended me! Execute him!”

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

“I give up my winnings! I give it all up!” pleads the man. The gunmen fire at him – but turn out to have been merely shooting blanks. The guests laugh at Karkoggi’s droll little joke while the victim mops sweat from his brow, although Ulla declares that she found it to be in poor taste. Considering her personal history, that’s saying something.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

While all this has been going on, the full moon is coming out. Ulla makes a quick dash for her cabin, locking herself in so that she cannot do anybody any harm. “Strange, I thought I heard howling” comments the captain.

The comic then introduces its first fantasy element since Ulla became infected with lycanthropy. Karkoggi’s adviser Nasir has a vision of a gigantic cobra, and begins singing its praises:  “Oh powerful Kabach, your wishes shall be fulfilled,” he says. “Karkoggi shall never arrive in Egypt!”

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

“So it must be done!” replies the snake. “Remember that I do not allow mistakes! The smallest error shall be punished with a painful death!”

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

While having sex with his new beau Senofonte (the comic is certainly not stingy when it comes to boy-on-boy action) Jo hears Zarah and Nasir plotting to murder Karkoggi by spiking his cocaine with cyanide. Zarah is initially reluctant, but goes along with the plan out of fear of Kabach’s wrath.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Kissing Senofonte farewell, Jo heads off to meet Ulla – who, it turn out, has transformed back to normal. “I feel that it’s going to happen again,” she says. The idea that a werewolf can change multiple times under the same full moon is unusual, but convenient for the purposes of this story.

“I think Ulula will do justice”, proclaims our anti-heroine upon hearing of the murder plot – thereby establishing that Ulla’s werewolf form can perhaps do good as well as evil. And so, as Nasir puffs his pipe beneath a full moon, he is attacked and killed by Ulula.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

After changing back to her human form between panels, Ulla bursts into Karkoggi’s cabin and finds him about to snort some coke as Zarah watches on.

“Get your nostrils away from that stuff!” yells Ulla, a line that probably sounds better in Italian. “There’s cyanide mixed with your drugs!”

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Zarah denies the charge, but Karkoggi puts her to a fairly airtight test: he forces her at gunpoint to sniff the coke herself.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Before inhaling the fatal powder, Zarah offers a dire warning: “Alright Karkoggi… but know that terror awaits in Egypt …and you will not escape! Death counts the hours, Karkoggi… in Egypt… the terror is in Egypt!”

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Karkoggi then spills the beans in a mighty infodump. He reveals that he owns a papyrus showing the way to the treasure of Pharaoh Kabach, and the Pharaoh’s spirit has been trying to prevent him from reaching this goal.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

With all of the immediate problems solved, the story reaches the point where – in a cheesy 1980s TV show – the characters would join together for a good laugh. Since this is Ulula, however, the characters instead celebrate with sex.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 3, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

The storyline continues into the fourth issue of Ulula, entitled “Terrore in Egitto” (“Terror in Egypt”). This issue’s cover (painted by fumetti superstar Emanuele Taglietti) depicts Ulula grappling with a mummy, giving a preview of the monster-mashing contained within…

Cover of Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Illustration by Emanuele Taglietti.

Notice how Ulla’s swimsuit is now red and lacks a cape – perhaps this is to make her look less like a vampire, although it has the ironic effect of making her look more like Vampirella. This became her definitive outfit for future covers.

The issue begins in Cairo, where a lavish party (attended by “the best of the jet-set, rich Arabs and black princesses”) in honour of Karkoggi.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

The festivities end with Ulla and Karkoggi having sex, while Jo and his squeeze Senofonte explore a bazaar. They get into a brief squabble, resulting in Jo going off on his own.

Jo then encounters a handsome Egyptian man, who makes a limp-wristed gesture; “our language is international,” thinks our homosexual leading man. The two head off into a building together…

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Meanwhile, Ulla and Karkoggi visit a local expert named Saggio Sakorin to get Karkoggi’s papyrus translated. As well as pointing the way to Kabach’s gold, the document contains the standard-issue warning that those who try to loot the tomb will be killed.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

When night falls, a sinister figure stalks the hotel with deadly designs upon Karkoggi (“Karkoggi will die tonight, as wishes the mighty Kabach!”) Fortunately for the treasure-hunting playboy, the night happens to be yet another full moon, and the murder attempt is thwarted by Ulula.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

When night falls, a sinister figure stalks the hotel with deadly designs upon Karkoggi (“Karkoggi will die tonight, as wishes the mighty Kabach!”) Fortunately for the treasure-hunting playboy, the night happens to be yet another full moon, and the murder attempt is thwarted by Ulula.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

“Kabach had taken possession of your will,” states Ulla. “How is that possible, when he’s been dead for 3000 years?” replies Jo, who has clearly not seen enough monster movies.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

While Kabach rants about this latest failure, the Egyptologist Sakorin gets jiggy with a harem. The women are decked out with jewellery, as though they have emerged straight from Arabian Nights iconography.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

Here, Ulula is making use of a hoary (or should that be houri?) old Orientalist trope, one that equates Arab culture with extravagant fleshpots. It would appear that the orgy Karkoggi held aboard his ship was not simply a facet of his personal playboy lifestyle, but rather (so the comic implies) the kind of thing Arab men in general get up to.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

After this, the group of characters arrive at Kabach’s tomb near Karnak. Ulla, Karkoggi and Sakorin head into the catacombs, while Jo and Senofonte opt to stay outside and have sex, apparently undisturbed by tourists.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

While Senofonte is busy exploring Jo’s temple of doom, skulduggery is afoot in Kabach’s resting place. Confronted by the sight of the Pharaoh’s loot, Karkoggi pulls a gun on his two comrades: “The gold is mine alone! I’m sorry, but I have to kill you!”

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

“Your greed has betrayed you,” he gloats. “I am the guardian of the shadows, he who watches over the grave of Kabach!”

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

He then brings a nearby mummy to life. This sequence does not stray far from the conventions of the mummy-movie subgenre, with Sakorin and the mummy offering a typical double-act.

The 1932 Boris Karloff vehicle The Mummy showed its mummy transform into a fez-wearing magician; its 1940 semi-remake The Mummy’s Hand split the character in two by having a magician control the mummy, a pattern followed by numerous imitators. In films of this type the magician would generally be serving some Egyptian deity or another; in Ulula, that role is taken by the spirit of Kabach. The story, which started out as an Emanuelle-like story of sex and crime in an exotic location, has morphed into a hyper-compressed entry in the mummy subgenre, finding time to hit all the right beats in a remarkably small space.

The mummy picks up Karkoggi and hurls the wealthy financier to his death, his head hitting a piece of masonry with a sickening crok.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

That just leaves Ulla. “Begone, woman,” says Sakorin. “Your punishment will be to wander forever in this pyramid!”

As Ulla flees the sorcerer, she encounters a convenient hole in the wall that reveals a similarly convenient full moon. Her subsequent transformation gives her the strength necessary to claw her way to safety.

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

She then changes back to normal in time to be reunited with her gay buddies. “The three speed away,” reads the final caption, “leaving behind them a world of magic, of mystery, and of death!”

Excerpt from Ulula issue 4, published by Edifumetto. Artist uncredited.

The two-part story spread across Ulula #3 and #4 was faced with a fairly tricky question: how do you make the mummy subgenre sexy? After all, a shrivelled, bandaged corpse is not as easy to eroticise as a vampire or succubus. The story handled this problem by combining jet-set hedonism with stereotypes of the Arab world as a land of exotic sexuality.

Rather curiously, while the first earlier issues explained Ulla’s lycanthropy using technofantasy (specifically, a blood transfusion from a wolf), the Egypt storyline abandons any pretence of being science fiction and portrays a spirit, a magician and a walking mummy as unambiguously supernatural entities. In the process, it reveals the world of Ulula as a place where any kind of monstrous entity could be lurking… waiting to be encountered on her globe-trotting sex tour.

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