One of a half-dozen remakes of old American-International Pictures scripts made for television by producer Sam Arkoff, ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS isn't quite so bad as its cult reputation would lead you to believe. Based on Roger Corman's IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956), it later inspired
memorable parodies on "SCTV" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show," as well as Boston's underground Zontar, the Magazine from Venus. But this tale of a Venusian invader using an Earth scientist to pace the way for a takeover is mostly just dull, betraying the minimal budget and hurried conditions under
which it was made.
The US launches an expensive experimental satellite, despite the warnings of Dr. Keith Ritchie (Anthony Houston), a scientist who feels there are superior alien intelligences that will destroy such experiments. Several months later, he and his wife Martha (Susan Bjurman) are having dinner with
their friends Dr. Curt Taylor (John Agar), a top scientist in the space program, and his wife Anne (Pat DeLaney) when Keith announces he has contacted an intelligent Venusian via methods he developed himself. When the satellite disappears from orbit, Keith knows it is because Zontar, as the being
is called, has seized it as a vehicle for his journey to Earth. Zontar takes up residence in a cave with hot springs (like the hot planet Venus) and disrupts all sources of power. Believing that Zontar has come to save mankind from itself, Keith stays in contact by radio and gives Zontar
information it needs for conquest. Zontar sends out living flying probes called "injectopods" which inject people with part of his substance, making them his slaves. As soon as he can grow enough injectopods, he will take control of everyone in a position of power. Keith persuades his wife and
friends that Zontar does exist, but they refuse to believe his claim that he is a friendly alien. Martha tries to persuade him that when Zontar turns everyone into an emotionless minion, human life will no longer be worth living. When Anne comes under Zontar's control, Curt is forced to kill her.
Unable to persuade Keith to change his mind, Martha takes a gun and goes to kill the alien. Curt has a lengthy argument with Keith, and eventually gets him to realize that Zontar will actually destroy rather than save humanity. When Keith hears Martha being killed by Zontar over his radio, he sets
out to destroy the alien with the laser device he has devised. In the ensuing fight, both Keith and Zontar are killed.
Texas filmmaker Larry Buchanan, who directed all of Arkoff's AIP remakes, dismissed them as work for hire, saying that the low budgets (around $30,000 each) made it impossible to do anything of any quality. Presumably the script he cowrote had that limitation in mind, as there's little a more
lavish budget could have done to make this any better (aside from improving the cheesy monster that goes unseen until the final minutes). Talk is cheap, and ZONTAR features plenty of talk as to whether it would be better for mankind to live in an emotionless utopia or to remain free with the
capability to destroy ourselves. It's hardly a fair debate, given that freedom is represented by all-American John Agar, pitted against Anthony Houston, who has the smarmy look of Bradford Dillman in COMPULSION (1959). ZONTAR's status as a camp classic rests largely on the stiffness of the actors
when their characters come under Zontar's control, but it really is neither bad enough not good enough to bother with. (Violence.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: One of a half-dozen remakes of old American-International Pictures scripts made for television by producer Sam Arkoff, ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS isn't quite so bad as its cult reputation would lead you to believe. Based on Roger Corman's IT CONQUERED TH… (more)