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Edward L. Cahn
A misguided scientist enables an alien from Venus named Zontar to come to earth in order to help solve man's problems. However, Zontar has other ideas, like disabling the power supply of the entire world and taking possession of important officials with mind control devices. Written by
Jeremy Lunt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The memory of Roger Corman's lovable shlock classic "It Conquered the World" (just one of four pictures that Corman came out with in 1956) is pretty fresh with me, since, just four months back, I happened to see this cult item on the big screen. It was playing at NYC's wonderful Film Forum as part of a double feature, paired with 1957's "I Was a Teenage Werewolf." Filmed on the cheap and clocking in at a scant 68 minutes, "It Conquered," I was happy to relearn, yet manages to wholly satisfy by dint of its convincing players, endearingly cheezy special FX and imaginative direction. Well, as it turns out, I should have left well enough alone, but no, I had to go and rent out the picture's wholly UNsatisfying and completely inferior remake, "Zontar, The Thing From Venus." A scene-for-scene rehash of Corman's original, this was a made-for-TV product that was released a full decade after "It Conquered"; a completely unnecessary outing that manages to come up short in every department. Although the names of the characters have been changed, the story elements are wholly similar, and though both films were patently produced on only the scantiest of budgets, the latter, unlike its illustrious forebear, reveals a regrettable lack of talent both in front of and behind the camera.
As in the first film, "Zontar" concerns itself with an alien visitor who uses an Earth scientist as a dupe/cat's-paw in its plans for global conquest. Here, that fool is named Keith Ritchie (lamely portrayed by Tony Huston), a scientist who estranges both his wife (a correspondingly bad performance by Pat Delaney) and his best friend and fellow scientist Curt Taylor (John Agar) as he becomes more and more obsessed with communicating with his new alien buddy via shortwave radio. But after the USA's latest $50 million "laser satellite" is abducted, and after Zontar takes up residence in a nearby cave, causes a global blackout, and commences to send his flying, lobsterlike "injectapods" to take over the minds of various key townspeople, even Keith Ritchie starts to wonder whether or not his alien savior is all it claims to be....
I must say, "Zontar"'s director, Larry Buchanan, is now an impressive 4 for 4 with me; all the pictures that I have seen from this "auteur"--1965's "The Eye Creatures," 1966's "Curse of the Swamp Creature" and 1967's "Mars Needs Women"--have been rock-bottom deplorable, and now, as if to finish off a loosely connected quartet of sci-fi crud..."Zontar"! This last is a genuine labor to sit through, and a true affront to Corman's beloved original. While that 1956 film was surely no exemplar of the cinematic arts, it at least offered some solid acting turns by its three leads (Peter Graves, Beverly Garland and Lee Van Cleef), as well as another ingratiating performance by the always dependable Dick Miller. "Zontar," on the other hand, features some truly subpar thesping (Huston and Delaney are remarkably bad), and while John Agar, old pro that he is, manages to give a decent performance (AND do a few stunts of his own; just look at him vault over those fences, at 45 years of age!), this yet remains the lamest sci-fi film that he has ever appeared in; "Revenge of the Creature" (1955), "Tarantula" (1955), "The Mole People" (1956), "The Brain From Planet Arous" (1958) and "Attack of the Puppet People" (1958) are all in a different class completely, as compared with this Venusian dreck. "Zontar" also offers the viewer special FX of a decidedly amateurish nature (the shots of the laser satellite orbiting above Earth look like the work of a 4th grader), while the Zontar creature itself cannot hold a candle to the original. Indeed, Paul Blaisdell's grimacing "carrot monster" for the Corman film is a by-now iconic image of '50s sci-fi, while the vaguely batlike Zontar (who we never even get a good look at) is fairly forgettable. And as for those "injectapods," the flying lobster things here cannot compete with the cute little bat mites that the original film gave us. To make matters even worse, "Zontar" features a script with an embarrassing amount of hokey lines ("That doesn't surprise me, nor does it dismay me") and terrible, forced humor ("I wonder what effect this power failure has on my wife's big mouth"). And it fails to satisfy on even the most basic levels of filmmaking, such as giving the viewer a decent establishing shot of Zontar's cavern. Simply stated, I cannot see any reason why a viewer would wish to see this film, if he/she could acquire the Corman original instead. It is truly the most needless of remakes. Today, the film comes to us on a DVD from the RetroMedia Entertainment group, on the flip side of which resides Buchanan's "The Eye Creatures." The fact that these two stinkers exist on the same disc results in a DVD whose only suitable function, sorry to say, is skeet....
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