Zontar, The Thing From Venus: Skeet

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsZontar, The Thing From Venus film reviewZontar, The Thing From Venus directed by Larry Buchanan

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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAs 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, lobster-like “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 bat-like 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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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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  1. Becky Aswell /

    How could you resist such deathless lines as:

    “Its name could not possibly be pronounced in the human tongue but I will do so anyway.”

    The explanation offered on a bad movies forum I frequent is that “AIP wanted color movies to show on TV. They hired Larry Buchanan because he could get something done cheaply. Mr. Buchanan told AIP that he could work more quickly if they gave him scripts, so they handed him whatever they had.” It is as good an excuse as any.

    • sandy ferber /

      Excuses, excuses…the net result is still pretty deadly. Anyway, thanks for the interesting tidbit, Becky. Which bad movies site were you referring to, anyway? I would probably enjoy looking at it. And, oh…I WILL admit that “Zontar” is infinitesimally better than “The Eye Creatures,” my review of which will appear here on FanLit shortly….

      • Becky Aswell /

        The bad movies site is “badmovies.org”. It is a smaller site with great humorous reviews and an exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable community in the forum. Do check it out if you haven’t before.

        Oh dear: The Eye Creatures? You’ll fit right in over at BMdotO.

        • sandy ferber /

          Thanks, Becky. It’s my next stop. As someone who has sat through “Blood Freak,” “Horror of the Blood Monsters,” “Dracula vs. Frankenstein,” “The Astro-Zombies,” “Revolt of the Zombies,” “The Beast of Yucca Flats,” “The Worm Eaters,” “The Corpse Grinders” and dozens of other incredible stinkers, I think this site might be right up my alley….

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