In the world of exploitation filmmaking, is doesn’t pay to wait. Whenever there’s an idea or trend to be exploited for a b-movie, if you’re not first, you might as well be last. So, it should come as no surprise that on the very day the 1928 Disney cartoon Steamboat Willie entered into the public domain, the announcements for mouse-based horror movies began. First to the party was Mickey’s Mouse Trap which already had a trailer ready to go on January 1st, 2024. Check it out below.
Judging from the trailer, Mickey’s Mouse Trap appears to be a straightforward b-movie slasher that just happens to have a killer wearing a Steamboat Willie/Mickey Mouse mask. It could be fun, but it leaves plenty of room for other movies to dig deeper into Steamboat Willie connections. Speaking of which, on January 2nd, just one day after the trailer for Mickey’s Mouse Trap dropped, Variety reported that an untitled Steamboat Willie horror-comedy is in development with Steven LaMorte attached to direct.
Steven LaMorte is best known for directing the 2022 horror-comedy The Mean One starring David Howard Thornton (Terrifier‘s Art the Clown) as a version of The Grinch. La Morte has stated that The Mean One avoided copyright infringement by adhering to the fair use exception for parody within copyright law. But with Steamboat Willie being public domain, there is even more freedom when twisting an adaptation of the source material into a cheesy horror movie. Variety reports that in LaMorte’s Steamboat Willie movie “a sadistic mouse will torment a group of unsuspecting ferry passengers,” so that at least sounds like it might be a more direct adaptation than Mickey’s Mouse Trap.
As many sources have noted, it is only the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse that is public domain and not the later versions of Mickey. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain notes that the silent version of the Disney cartoon Plane Crazy is also public domain as of 2024 (the sound version isn’t public domain yet). The Mickey and Minnie characters are essentially the same in both cartoons, though they are drawn slightly differently between the two. Regardless, the modern version Mickey with his red shorts, white gloves, and iconic voice is still off limits.
There is currently no release date for either Mickey’s Mouse Trap or Steven LaMorte’s untitled Steamboat Willie movie. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mickey’s Mouse Trap is hoping for a release sometime in March of 2024, but we’ll have to wait for an official announcement. In the meantime, it’s entirely likely that we’ll see more Mickey Mouse horror movies pop up while the gimmick is still fresh in people’s minds.
Of course, all of this brings to mind Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey which released in theaters in 2023 after the characters from the book Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard became public domain in 2022. Blood and Honey was a success, making around $5 million at the worldwide box office and garnering enough interest to warrant the release of a limited edition SteelBook Blu-ray and even a Record Store Day vinyl release of the movie’s soundtrack by Andrew Scott Bell. We’ve previously written about the upcoming sequel to Blood and Honey (which will feature Tigger since the character became public domain in 2024) as well as writer/director Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s plans to expand his horror universe with twisted versions of Bambi and Peter Pan.
Can these Mickey Mouse horror movies generate the same interest as Winnie the Pooh? Or is the kitsch appeal of these types of b-movies already wearing thin in the eyes of the wider public? Have the people curious about this kind of public domain horror already had their curiosity sated? Time will tell, and if Mickey’s Mouse Trap can meet its proposed March 2024 release date, we won’t have long to wait.