I’ve been recently re-watching the original Jonny Quest cartoons from the sixties. I haven’t seen many of them since I was a kid, and some hold up fairly well, while others . . . ehhh. There are more than a few dated and embarrassing ethnic stereotypes.
Anyway, one of my favorites is “The Invisible Monster”. A scientist on an isolated tropical island accidentally creates an invisible energy creature. The monster seeks out all energy around it and consumes it–including the energy in living bodies. You only know it’s around by a weird, alien cry it makes and the burning footprints in the dirt.
This creepiness, by the way, is in what was intended as a kid’s show. Adult themes are nothing new to JQ. The creators (most prominently Doug Wildey, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera) intended it that way. They succeed rather admirably in several episodes, including this one.
The episode follows a fairly standard monster movie formula. The protagonists (Doctor Quest, Race Bannon, Jonny Quest, Hadji and Bandit the dog) are radioed by the luckless scientist. His creation kills him before he finishes explaining. They rush to the island and discover the invisible monster. Dr. Quest (being the prototypical heroic scientist) figures out what happened and comes up with a way to defeat it.
Despite a run time of only 25 minutes, the episode does an excellent job of building tension. The monster isn’t seen until near the end, with only its destruction to portray it. When finally seen, it’s not quite as frightening. The animators did a decent job of creating an inhuman blob of energy, but it comes across more as an angry scoop of ice cream. Limitations of animation budget. Plus I assume they didn’t want to scare the crap out of the little nippers.
Even with these limitations, the episode scared me as a kid. It was my first encounter with the “less is more” approach to horror and tension. William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, one said that “Horror is watching something approach”. A good summation of the concept here. Something you don’t see is much worse than what you do. Even when I encountered this in my youth, I realized the power it possessed. Other ‘golden age’ examples are The Thing From Another World and Forbidden Planet. Less is more.
A concept so simple that a children’s cartoon can encapsulate it.
Here’s a link to watch it online. Enjoy.