Todd of Cinema Monolith and I are back today with another two-person mini-blogathon! We’re reviewing another cheeser, Zontar, The Thing from Venus. Take a gander at our previous buddy-watches:
Invasion of the Star Creatures
Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory
And once you’re done reading my thoughts on Zontar, head over to Todd’s review to see what he thought!
Made for television in 1966, Zontar is a remake of Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World (1956).
The film follows Dr. Keith Ritchie (Tony Huston), a NASA scientist. At a double-date dinner party one night with his wife, his colleague Dr. Curt Taylor (John Agar) and Mrs. Taylor, Ritchie reveals that he’s been communicating with an otherworldly being via a high-powered home radio he built himself.
The creature is an alien from Venus with the wings of a bat and three eyes on its face. His name is Zontar, and he says that if Ritchie helps him come to Earth, he can solve all of the world’s problems. Zontar doesn’t speak English, of course; the alien and the scientist communicate through “hyperspace hypnotism.”
Ritchie helps Zontar get to Earth, despite the skepticism and disbelief of Dr. Taylor. But when Zontar finally makes it to Earth after hijacking a satellite, it becomes clear that his plans are not designed to help humans turn the planet into a paradise for themselves.
Zontar, The Thing from Venus was directed by Larry Buchanan, who referred to himself as “schlockmeister.” Most of his films were produced on very small budgets and are in the public domain today.
The “invasion by a single, maniacal mind-controlling alien” niche of mid-century sci-fi is one of my favorite subgenres, and I was immediately taken with this film as a result. It’s got the laboratory full of high-tech machines for alien contact, the crazed scientist convinced that aliens aren’t evil, the poorly-constructed monster. Many of the things that I love about old sci-fi flicks are present in this film.
But of course, there’s also some freshly-shucked corn thrown into the mix. The film isn’t consistently high on corn, but there are enough moments of schlock to make it a fun watch. The performances are pretty terrible, as is to be expected from a made-for-TV remake of a Corman picture. This results in a few hilarious moments of overdrama.
One performance that I found to be perfect for the film was that of Tony Huston as Dr. Keith Ritchie. He’s slightly creepy in the scenes in which his character’s obsession with alien communication is emphasized, such as his conversation with Dr. Taylor early on in the film and a scene in which he tries to convince his wife that Zontar’s arrival to Earth will solve all of their problems. He does also bring in a bowl o’ the cheese when appropriate. The scenes where he talks to the radio (which, of course, talks back in a faint, bloopy Zontar language) are hilarious.
Another stand-out is Susan Bjurman as Dr. Taylor’s wife. The best scene in the film, in my opinion, is the one in which she (under the mind control of Zontar) throws a bat-esque creature at her husband.
As is common with science fiction stories and films from this era, Zontar plays on Cold War hysteria, making it enjoyable to another set of viewers: the history buffs. There are a couple of truly great shots of panic in the streets, as the citizens of Earth realize that Zontar is on his way to visit them.
One piece of dialogue stood out to me as a perfect description of public confusion over the political situation of the time: “We’re all puzzled, and just a little bit afraid.” (Of course, as time progressed, people became very afraid instead of just a little bit.) Another quote, which ends the film, says that Earth’s problems cannot be solved by any sort of magic solution. Rather, the solution “must come from learning. It must come from the very heart of man himself.”
Is Zontar a must-watch? Probably not, unless you’re a devotee of the genre. But it is a cut above what I expected from it as a television remake, and I had fun watching it. The score: 3/5
This film is in the public domain and can be viewed free of charge at the Internet Archive.