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Friday, December 24, 2010

Zontar, The Thing From Venus

American International commissioned Larry Buchanan to remake several of their older movies as part of a TV movie package. The first was The Eye Creatures ('65) which was a remake of Invasion of the Saucer Men ('57). Zontar: The Thing from Venus was a similarly close remade of It Conquered the World ('56). As a purely TV movies (no theatrical posters), it would fall outside the scope of this survey, but Zontar is grandfathered in. It's like a "10th Anniversary Edition" of a 50s icon, updated to have mid-60s styles and cars.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Note: What follows is nearly identical to that for It Conquered the World, but with mostly just name changes.
A special laser communication satellite is about to be launced. Keith, a scientist who has become discredited for having too many wild theories, tries to warn the authorities not to launch a satellite. They do anyway. It is lost, but returns mysteriously. Keith reveals to his friend Curt (a rocket scientist) that he has been communicating with a being from Venus, who is coming to earth in the errant satellite. Curt does not believe him. After the satellite comes down, the venusian takes up residence in a steamy cave. It somehow manages to stop all power sources. Electricity, steam, hydro, even mechanical watches stop. It releases eight lobster-like flying creatures who 'bite' their intended target person in the back of the neck, implanting an electronic control device. The alien then directs them to do its bidding. The Army General of the rocket base is bitten, and so is the police chief of the town. They become emotionless tools of the alien. Curt's wife Ann is also bitten, but Curt eludes and kills his lobster-bat. When he realizes that his wife has been taken over by the alien, he shoots her. Keith feels much inner turmoil. He believed that the alien was coming to earth to improve mankind, but events have caused him to doubt. The alien, Zontar, orders him to kill Curt, but he can't. His doubts have grown. Keith's wife, Martha takes matters into her own hands, drives to the cave and tires to shoot the alien. Bullets are useless. The alien kills Martha, which Keith hears over his radio. This is the turning point for Keith. He drives to the cave. A squad of soldiers tried to shoot the alien, also to no avail. Keith uses a special plutonium laser wand to stab Zontar. It grabs Keith in its claws. They die together. Curt (John Agar) gives a longish epilogue speech about imperfect man needing to find his own answers. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It is amusing to see how closely Buchanan copied the original screenplay. Sometimes it's a more general scene-for-scene copy. Other times even specific lines are copied. It is a curious thing to watch.

Cold War Angle
Whatever there is of this, was inherent in the original. The most blatant line (also in the original) comes when the possessed-general tells the lab folks that the power is out due to a "communist uprising."

Compare and Contrast -- Larry Buchanan's remake is not an exact line-for-line copy of Lou Russof's original screenplay. Buchanan and Hillman Taylor tweaked the script a bit -- in places. For instance, when Keith is letting Curt listen to a transmission from Zontar, Curt guesses that he's listening to "progressive jazz?" In ICW, Paul says, "the London Philharmonic?" Yet, many times, they kept lines completely intact, such as the general worrying about recovering the satellite, then relaxing a bit, "What am I worried about? I'm not paying for it." Even Martha's final speech is the same as Claire's. Aside from such tweaks (or not), a notable change is that in the original, Tom takes an old-tech pump style blow torch to the monster's eye to kill it. Keith stabs Zontar with his plutonium laser and turns it on, frying them both.

Monster Mash -- The original movie suffered some scorn for having its monster be too silly looking. Paul Blaisdell's foam creation would have worked better in moody dark cuts, but Roger Corman had far too exposed. Blaisdell's monster looked like a mutant carrot. Buchanan at least touched on deeper cultural iconography. His monster, Zontar, played off the more classic villain, Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost. In this one small way, Buchanan's Zontar improved on the original.

Saucer Redux -- Fans of the low-B genre will probably note that the "Laser Communication Satellite" which returns to earth is the same saucer model used in Buchanan's first A.I.P. remake, The Eye Creatures. In fact, the footage is the same. It's just recycled.

Bottom line? Zontar is almost exactly the same as its predecessor. If you liked the original, you'll be amused by the remake. If ICW annoyed you, it might be best to give Zontar a pass. John Agar fans might still want to take it in, as he is the star.

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