ULTRA Q episode 24, “The Idol of Goga”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Shellfish Monster Goga

Of course, the most obvious way to give a monster-of-the-week series like this a touch of variety is through the fabled art of genre mixing – letting the monster loose in what appears to be a completely different style of story. At the best of times, this kind of style mash-up creates some interesting interactions, playing off incongruities as much as similarities – how would a character from a different sort of plot react to wacky element X? This episode doesn’t necessarily go for all of those possibilities, starting off as a crime/spy caper before a monster shows up and does the usual, but it’s a fun variation regardless.

They attempt to tie the whole thing together, at least – the monster in the mysterious idol is only unleashed because of the greed of the criminals who stole it plus also radiation apparently (why this monstrous punishment takes the form of a snail, who knows; probably because it looked interesting – it’s actually one of the better monster props they’ve had on this show, and it even turns into a drill sometimes!), and the undercover archaeologist lady is the one who figures everything out for everyone using the ancient stories of the idol. When the monster appears, it doesn’t so much complicate the original problem as supplant it – keeping the violence out of heroes hands so they come away with absolutely no moral culpability, all of the criminals end up either inadvertently (due to collapsing building) or totally advertently (dissolved by eyestalk beams) iced by the snail, and this is the sort of the thing we who watch a story where crime is mixed with kaiju have come to see. It’s with giddy anticipation that we await the comeuppance of the final criminal, and once that is over, the monster has served its purpose.

ULTRA Q episode 9, “Baron Spider”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Large Spider Tarantula

Does this episode exist solely to have a group of people in a spooky mansion attacked by giant spiders? The story told about the mansion’s possible history is never confirmed, just put out there like a legend or ghost story and then giant spiders happen – most of the episodes I’ve seen offer some sort of explanation or confirmation, scientific or sometimes less so, but the only one here is if we took the spider baron story completely literally from word-go without any corroborating evidence. However, it does end with the mansion collapsing, as would happen in multiple decades of video games years later, so I guess it must have been supernatural all along (but then why are there multiple giant spiders? I don’t remember the legend mentioning them.) Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I should just accept giant spiders without questioning them.

The whole thing seems like a way for ULTRA Q to have a sort of haunted house story, one that fits more into its own purview as a giant monster program – so, a big abandoned mansion in a swamp is a place for (get this) giant spiders to menace people. Going off of that, the episode goes for atmosphere – the spider makes its appearance right off the hop in the opening scene (which has little to do with the rest of the episode otherwise), but they attempt to keep it screen presence measured enough so that it keeps up the creepy factor – it pops up in unexpected places and moves very slowly, very spider-like. What it lacks in clarity, it goes for in atmosphere – they’ve got themselves some pretty classically foreboding sets, something Gothic and shadowy to look at while we wait for spiders to show up (and because they’ve already been seen, it’s really all about all tense anticipation of just where the spiders will appear.) In an episode otherwise about people fighting puppets, it adds a little extra visual flair to the proceedings.

ULTRA Q episode 2, “Goro and Goroh”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Giant Monkey Goro

By episode two, we’re getting many different tropes out of the way – the person raised by animals, the accidental giant creature (this time by natural-but-rare means and not necessarily because of science experiments), another variation on the boy-and-his-monster story, and the old chestnut whereby the creature will be sent somewhere it can be happy. Like with “Terror of the Sweet Honey”, this is not a monster that acts like an ungodly terror, but like a normal animal that’s too big for its own good (with plenty of proper monkey business by the suit actor, which enlivens the final town rampage) while going about its normal routine, which when combined with the mute (but still clothed and entirely proficient at yard work) man-raised-by-monkeys, make for a more sympathetic and natural-seeming human-befriends-monster story. This also makes the non-violent ending both happy and tragic at the same time, as the giant monkey is fine and will be shipped off peacefully but his human friend is distraught, either because he was unknowingly used against him, or maybe because he understands that they will be separated. Even after taking in some of the later episodes, this is a fairly novel (if simple) use of these ideas very early on.

There’s also a lot of side character stuff for such an early episode, too – I like how the infrequently-appearing editor of the newspaper the characters work for is going out on the field to report a story himself while our usual reporter is off on a foreign assignment for half the episode (editors putting in the gruntwork, there’s something you don’t see these days – or, actually, maybe you see it more. Whatever seems like less of an improvement.) He even writes it as a human interest story – apparently the monster didn’t seem dangerous/newsworthy enough on its own at that point, so that’s what the readers want to hear about. The sudden but entirely casual revelation of a second giant monkey, with photographic evidence!, is so wonderfully silly, I love it – as wacky a it is, it’s one of the more entertaining out-of-nowhere solutions I’ve seen on Ultra Q.

THOUGHTS ON Q – THE WINGED SERPENT

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•As advertised, the outstanding element of this movie is Michael Moriarty’s performance, a never-ending bundle of tics and tone changes, like he’s playing an insane adult toddler (one of the highlights of the whole movie is the one-on-one between him and Carradine in the diner, where you get Moriarty demanding to get a picture with Rupert Murdoch, but also being casually racist because he’s pissy about how Richard Roundtree’s cop character manhandles him.) It’s a uniquely bonkers thing to see, you genuinely never know in what direction he’s going – the point of this character is that he gets involved with stuff way over his head and never seems sure how to react, except when he sees it directly benefiting him, but Moriarty takes that way further than that, making someone who is pathetic and unhinged and it’s not clear if he knows it or not. Most movies of this type wish they had an anchor as entertaining as him.

•Meanwhile, David Carradine barely seems to take the movie he’s in seriously at all (he probably didn’t), and his reactions are often as subdued as Moriarty’s are exaggerated. This kind of works for his own role, though – the whole god/monster complex this movie is working through needs him to be sort of the ultimate agnostic, someone who’s interested in seeing whether this supposed god is the real deal, primarily by filling it full of bullets. The ritual killings subplot doesn’t really connect to the main story that strongly, but it’s such a weird idea and gives the story a whole other layer to deal with. So just because he seems kind of laid back considering all the people being decapitated and/or having their skin flayed, he’s still invested in his own way.

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•There’s lots of aerial shots of New York (obviously), and those and a lot of the street scenes really give off a lovably scuzzy vibe for the city throughout this movie – all crowded streets and dilapidation and people being jerks (all of those real enhance the legitimacy of the scenes of raining blood and people getting being decapitated by a flying lizard.) I’m unfortunately not boned up on my NYC history, but this feels like a specific snapshot of the city at the time, all the more interesting because it’s one of several monster movies set there (for homework, compare and contrast between this, Kong ’76, and Ghostbusters.)

•The stop-motion effects for the monster are fine, but Harryhausen they are not – though, there’s a likeable quality to how chintzy they can be. The monster itself looks cool and is animated well, and the obvious dolls used when it throws people off of buildings feels almost like a throwback to the original King Kong – they also don’t show us the whole thing enough (though it is all during the day, bucking the usual sfx shortcuts) for it to be distracting, spending most of the movie in brief cuts. I do love the way they animated the thing’s shadow – it’s certainly not realistic, but man is it stylish.

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•The best moment aside from Moriarty’s Murdoch lines are when the mime is revealed to be an undercover cop.

•After a certain point Q seems to stop eating people and starts instead tossing them off buildings, which seems like not very good survival tactics?

•Speaking of homages to King Kong, of course the movie ends with the bullet-riddled falling to its death off a building (according to the director, the whole movie was partially an attempt to give the Chrysler Building its own monster.) This follows closely behind the first remake of King Kong, and in a way rebukes it – that movie was more violent than the original but still posits Kong as the victim without any subtlety, and this movie is EVEN more violent and has no sympathy for the monster whatsoever! Despite the fact that it was clearly just an animal trying to survive and care for its young, it doesn’t belong so it needs to die. Good thing it’s not a god, just a monster – what kind of god has babies?

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ULTRA Q episode 8, “Terror of the Sweet Honey”

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MONSTER OF THE WEEK: The Mole Monster Mongular

What appears to be an episode primarily about experimental honey creating a giant mole quickly becomes a minor-scale human drama, a tale of professional and personal jealousy that leads to experimental honey creating a giant mole. It manages to segue into the “real” story in a gradual but completely unsubtle way – the minute we see the second scientist, we know he’s up to no good, but his motivation remains unclear, and only at the last moment does the truth come out. Any sense of mystery is appreciated! However, the one thing you wouldn’t necessarily expect is that the bad guy sees that he made an error in judgment and try to atone for his actions through the ol’ self-sacrifice maneuver – but he doesn’t really apologize to the man whose career he almost ruined (not to his face, at least), because while he doesn’t want a giant mole running rampant, he’s still a petty man at heart.

There’s also a giant monster in this episode: a giant mole created by experimental honey (what a surprise.) It’s really more of a pest than a devastating force of nature (though it managed to wreck up a town, as is the giant monster tradition), and despite being larger and scarier, never really ends up feeling like much more than an oversized garden nuisance. Its final defeat is predicated on it retaining normal behavioural patterns, just upped in scale – as dangerous as it is, it’s still just a mole that does mole things. Considering the number of giant monsters on the show that are hyped up as the end-of-days, just having a monster that acts like a common varmint is a welcome variation.

Plus, despite the fact that the experimental honey is very capable of creating giant animals (very Food of the Gods), no one seems to think that it’s not a thing that should have been invented – a bit of mad science that isn’t criticized! We don’t get the normal treatise on the unnatural/ungodly creations of human science, which might just be because they had a different plot in mind, but it’s still another skirting of the norm.