Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966)

... aka: Invader from Venus
... aka: Zontar: Invader from Venus
... aka: Zontar: Thing from Venus

Directed by:
Larry Buchanan

Buchanan got to do color remakes of a handful of black-and-white AIP releases, which were bundled together and then sold directly to American TV. The budgets on these were extremely low (they were all shot on 16mm) and the end results were extremely bad. Amongst this group of re-do's were THE EYE CREATURES (1956), a remake of INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957), CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), a remake of THE SHE CREATURE (1957), IN THE YEAR 2889 (1967), a remake of DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1955) and this one, a remake of Corman's (underrated) IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956). For some reason, Zontar would go on to become the most famous of all of these. At Zone 6 United States Orbital Rocket Control and Tracking Station, Dr. Curt Taylor (John Agar) and his colleagues are overseeing the launch of a laser rocket into space. Everyone seems to be happy about the successful launch aside from Keith Ritchie (Tony Huston). A brilliant scientist in his own regard, Keith seems to know things he shouldn't really know, like that "Alien intelligence watches us constantly!" and that a previous rocket that exploded was "a warning from other planets to keep the Earth in its place."

Three months pass since the rocket's launch and things are seemingly returning back to normal for Curt, his wife Anne (Pat Delaney), Keith and his wife Martha (Susan Bjurman). At a dinner party, Keith pulls Curt aside to show him some radio equipment he has tucked away in a closet. He claims the machine he's created can use lasers to reach all the way to Venus and that he's been communicating with aliens there; in particular an alien named Zontar. What sounds like static to Curt, Keith claims is "hyperspace hypnotism." Since Keith has the reputation of being a loon, Curt brushes him off and his put-upon wife tries her best to be understanding as Keith sits by his radio equipment all night waiting to hear back from an alien he assumes is his friend.

Because the 50-million-dollar satellite seems to be having problems showing up on radar, the space team decide to protect their investment by bringing it back to Earth for maintenance. To their surprise, the satellite abandons its own orbit and disappears yet again. That's because Zontar has hijacked it, hitched a ride on board and guided the ship back to Earth and into a cave above some hot springs so that the environment is compatible to that of Venus. A massive power outage follows, with all electricity, watches, clocks, cars, etc. ceasing to work. Keith continues to communicate with Zontar over the radio and gives him the names of all the important people in town, including Mayor Sidney Parker, Chief of Police Brad Crenshaw (Bill Thurman), chief security officer of the instillation General Matt Young (Neil Fletcher) and even his own buddy Curt - head of the satellite project. The alien sets about sending out bat-like "injectopods" to insert control devices into the back of victims' neck so that the alien can possess them in its attempt to take over the small town. And from there, the world.

This plays out almost exactly as Conquered did, with identical dialogue and scenes. People will mock Corman's movie, but aside from the incredibly silly-looking alien monster, it's a well-acted, well-written and thoughtful film. Seeing how Zontar uses the same script, it's amazing how bad this really is. For starters, it sticks so close to the original that it's utterly pointless and the only noticeable change (a laser gun introduced at the very end) doesn't quite cut it. Second, no real improvement has been made in the presentation of the alien. The one here is just as bad (and not nearly as charming or memorable) as the one in the 1956 film. And finally, and this is a big one; the cast is just dreadful and their combined lack of talent turns this into a laugh riot. Comparing the actors here to the cast of Conquered will give one a whole new appreciation for what Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and, most especially, Beverly Garland brought to Corman's movie. All that said, this is less offensive to sit through than most of today's garbage remakes. A bad low-budget remake of a low-budget film just goes down easier than a bad big-budget remake of a low-budget film.

Buchanan co-scripted with Hillman Taylor and credit to the original Conquered screenplay is nowhere to be found in the credits. Future director S.F. Brownrigg was the sound supervisor and Annabelle Weenick (star of Brownrigg's most-famous film, DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) was the dialogue director.

There's a DVD from Retromedia. Like most of the director's other films, this is a public domain title.


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