A puppet show musical that walks the line of comedy and horror, we take a look at Michael A. Grant and James Ure’s peculiar yet totally unique short film Mongolian Death Worm: A Puppet Show Musical.
Dispatched to the depths of Mongolia, a professor discovers a village being terrorised by a mysterious giant worm. Teaming up with a yodeling sheriff, he devises a series of schemes to catch the worm and bring it to justice.
The Muppets, Team America, and Thunderbirds all focused on characters who may not have been human but acted, spoke, and took themselves as seriously as if they were. If you feel that modern movies are not giving us enough puppets to suit your tastes, then Mongolian Death Worm will certainly fill that void. Directed by Michael A. Grant and James Ure, with music and lyrics by Grant himself, Mongolian Death Worm is a movie in which crudely made, glove, hand, and rod puppets, sing, dance, and speak to comedic effect. Thankfully, our directors do not take themselves or their film too seriously and this all adds up to an extremely surreal, exceedingly odd, yet likeable 68 minutes.
Professor Roy Chapman Andrews (voiced by director Grant) is tasked by his university, which is suffering from a major meat shortage, to visit Mongolia in order to find out what is going on. While there he learns of a myth that involves a giant worm attacking the local village. When this myth turns out to be true, Chapman makes it his mission to find the worm and stop it, ending its reign of terror. Throughout his adventure, Chapman will meet a number of strange characters, some of whom will assist (as well as those who will hinder) his investigations. We will also get to hear eight musical numbers during the 68-minute run time; these songs are of varying quality but do help to introduce characters, explain certain situations, and move the story along. A favourite track being ‘A World Without Sand’.
Mongolian Death Worm was filmed during the lockdown as a bonafide puppet show, so with regards to the technical quality of the production, it is considerably basic. Filmed from the front using one camera we see the booth much like we would if we were watching a live puppet show and each puppet appears from either of the wings or from below. The scenery is lowered in a couple of different ways, sometimes automatically, while at other times by human hands, here used purposefully to move props or characters for genuine comic effect. With the show being patched together using everyday household items such as paper, cardboard, glue, tape, string, and wood, it becomes very difficult to criticise, mainly because the creativity and imagination used for the show come across during every minute of the film.
The basic nature of the production means that at times Mongolian Death Worm: A Puppet Show Musical, does become repetitive and sometimes drags its wooden stick feet, but we don’t want to come down too hard on it. Even though it doesn’t work as well as it could, the effort and enjoyment of everyone involved deserve a great deal of praise. For those people who grew up in the 80s, Grant and Ure’s Mongolian Death Worm: A Puppet Show Musical is both Button Moon on steroids and Finger Mouse on hallucinogens. Who doesn’t want to see that?