Worm men, burrowing up from underground.
A number of years ago I was staying with friends in Brooklyn — I was looking for something to read and I found a book called “The Mole People” on the shelf. It was a real page burner — I think I read the whole thing in one night. The author, Jennifer Toth, claimed that there were thousands of people living beneath the city of NYC in old subway tunnels, access tunnels, sewers, etc., and human habitation went up to seven levels below ground. These people were mostly hermits and the homeless, but Toth also claimed that there were some who never (or rarely) came out and had descended into a state of madness that included acts of cannibalism.
(The image above left is from the 1956 film, “The Mole People,” which has nothing to do with Toth’s book. “The Mole People” movie featured Hugh Beaumont, who I think was also the dad on “Leave it To Beaver.” The image below right is, of course, a drawing of “The Mole Man” by Jack Kirby.)
Although the book was criticized for being short on evidence and long on sensationalism, there was a brief period of time during which the book was flying off the shelves — I think people were enjoying it the same way they enjoyed a good horror film… and perhaps it was fun to imagine cannibals and genetic throwbacks living a brutish existence beneath your feet for many New Yorkers at the time.
The concept of life underground has always fascinated me. Back when I was in Gradeschool, I and my friend Eric Piccione used to draw our own comic books for our mutual amusement. One of my favorite characters was Jack Kirby’s “Mole Man” villain. He had been human but was so ugly that human society rejected him, so he set off to explore the farthest reaches of the earth since human kindness was denied to him. He eventually found his way underground, where a race of bald yellow dwarfs with bad eyesight followed him. His eyesight degenerated but his hearing and other senses became extremely sharp; the Mole Man and his minions were always using fiendish traps like pits that opened beneath your feet or boulders that fell from above to kill those who would intrude or interfere with the plots for revenge against the surface dwellers. He and his followers were blind in daylight and had to wear special glasses, like an eskimo’s snow goggles, in even the dimmest light, but to gain advantage they would simply shut off the lights. I liked Kirby’s mole people so much, I ripped them off for my own comic books — calling them “Grobes” and giving them some sparse hair. Like Kirby’s mole men, my Grobes would work with ant-like fervor beneath the ground, undermining the structures of the surface dwellers until they collapsed. Or something like that. I can’t remember. I think there are still some copies of my old comics in the attic back in my parent’s house in St. Louis.
There was also a 1951 Movie called “Superman and The Mole Men” (which I have never seen), and, one of my favorite beer-and-popcorn films, Marebito (based on the works of one of my heroes, Richard S. Shaver) with ‘Dero’ instead of mole people.