I remember this one.
The circumstances were thus: I was in grade school or junior high or some such—some realm where I wasn’t expected to have any kind of social life. And I saw this title listed as the feature for the Weekend Monster Show or whatever. I told my few friends, “Look at this! Zontar, the thing from Venus! I know what I’m going to be watching Saturday night!”
From such humble hubris comes crushing disappointment. I think this must have been my first exposure to the Bad Movie. Bad Movies, like certain kinds of alcohol, have to be sipped and savored to be appreciated, or they make your head pound and you throw up a lot. At the time, of course, I simply felt cheated out of legitimate entertainment. I remember thinking as the film unfolded, something along the lines of You bastards. It was a lot like someone slapping me in the face, then laughing. Why couldn’t the film at least come close to providing the lurid thrills promised by the title?
Sure, even then I knew something with a name like “Zontar” was not going to be a good film, but it might at least have been a minor memorable entertainment, along the lines of “The Mysterians” or “The Crawling Eye.” Something whereby you could, at the conclusion, say “Well, that scene [brief description of cool scene] was pretty cool! The rest of it was just fair. Man, that one scene though! Wow!”
Zontar, as I remember, didn’t even have a “just fair” part, aside from one scene that genuinely shocked me (more on that later). I haven’t seen the film since, though I have seen (and thoroughly enjoyed as a record of my humiliation) the SCTV satire of the film. So tonight may be a revelation for everyone.
Or another crushing disappointment. At any rate, let’s get started.
Well, we start with the American International logo, and some really wobbly sound. And we see “Zone 6,” which is described as “United States Orbital Rocket Control and Tracking Station.” Inside, two scientists are probably controlling or tracking rockets from the earnest way they look at the massed apparatus in which they find themselves.
The pretty brunette notes that there’s an Unidentified Flying Object near the launch site, and gawky male says that all planes should have been gone from there twenty minutes ago. But enough of these two, let’s pan over to where there’s a strawberry blonde typing up some notes and some guy in a suit behind a glass window.
He comes out from behind that window and turns out to be John Agar. He walks over to ask about this UFO, and it turns out to be a commercial jet that went off course. It won’t interfere with anything says another, balding scientist.
We see the rocket in silhouette on a television screen in extreme close-up which does nothing to hide the strobing. They all discuss how they’re going to launch something called a “laser satellite.” I sure hope this doesn’t attract the attention of Brandon Lee or the accent of Ernest Borgnine.
John Agar is all excited about this launch finally going up, when he gets an urgent intercom message about some guy who wants to see him. John Agar insists he can’t be bothered but the intercom officer insists right back. So John Agar goes out to see this pest.
Pest insists that the launch has to be stopped, and John Agar says that can’t happen, so Pest goes off into a little rant about how many times he’s warned against launches like this. Okay, fine.
John Agar admits that his friend, who he names as Keith, has a whole bunch of awards for being smart, and he says it’s too bad that Keith rubbed the “powers that be” the wrong way, but he, John Agar, can’t do anything about that right now so can he please get on with watching his launch? Or launching his watch?
Keith asks why the first laser satellite, “a small one” blew up, and John Agar says no one knows, but Keith says it was a warning from the other planets to keep Earth in its place. “Alien intelligence watches us closely. They don’t feel we’re ready to join in the great brotherhood of the countless galaxies. They’ll do something—anything!—to keep us from communicating.” Um, communicating with whom, exactly? John Agar seems to think there’s no life on other planets, so I doubt that’s why he’s sending up the satellite. Who are we not supposed to talk to?
Anyway, John Agar notes that the launch is taking place, so Keith’s concerns are now “academic.”
”For your generation, yes,” Keith says. And we see the launch, again in extreme close up on a strobing television screen, and we get our title. John Agar stars, with Susan Bjurman, Anthony Houston (Keith) and Patricia De Laney. The credits are pretty blurry, but the script is by Hillman Taylor and director Larry Buchanan. A film function that looks like “Sound Squareballoon” was done by another bad movie director, S.F. Brownrigg. Associate Producer is Edwin Tobolowsky, and yes, Larry Buchanan directed this.
We see the satellite in space kind of just staying there over…well, I guess it’s the Earth. Kind of an indistinct planet whatever it is. (The print, so far, has been pretty brownish and faded—almost monochromatic.) And we pan down to a nice suburban house.
Inside, Keith, John Agar, and a pair of wives are enjoying dinner. We pan down from a painting down to (I think) Mrs. Keith, graciously accepting compliments on her pie. (Food pie, you guys.) John Agar gapes at Keith for a bit, then says he looks smug, “acting like a man who’s just inherited a major portion of the world.” That’s a pretty unique expression, I must say, and who wants to bet it’s relevantly phrased?
”You might not be so far wrong,” Keith says, “in a way of speaking.”
Mrs. Keith looks at him like, shush now. John Agar bets that Keith has finally realized that there wasn’t any danger from the laser satellite.
Keith continues being smug,. ”Hardly,” he says, “it’s still of great interest to me—“ He looks at his wife. “Among other things.”
John Agar notes that the satellite hasn’t given any problems yet. And he goes on to detail its technical specs. Um, great, John Agar. Mrs. John Agar wants them both to shush up a lot, as this space talk is giving her a headache.
John Agar smiles indulgently at her, then turns to Keith. “Keith, you’re hinting at something, what is it.”
”I can’t tell you right now,” Keith says, “She thinks I’m off my rocker.” I guess he means Mrs. Keith.
John Agar presses for more details and Keith figures, well, okay, if he’s going to tell someone, he’ll tell John Agar. That always sounds like a good plan.
Mrs. Keith, however, starts getting tense and nervous and she can’t relax, and she reminds Keith that he promised he wouldn’t go on about whatever he’s about to go on about. Keith says, though, that this is really big, as John Agar is the star and everything. But she’s really upset with him still.
As the tympanis roll with anticipation, Keith leads John Agar into the den, where he reveals a whole bunch of rack-mounted equipment in the closet.
”Say, that’s a powerful looking set,” John Agar says with all the enthusiasm of a man looking at something both boring and depressing. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.” Pause while the tympani continue. “Where’d you get it?”
The wives are going to do wife-stuff, like clearing the table. We get a quick cut of this just in case we might be wondering.
Back with the guys, Keith switches on his boring, depressing equipment and says, “It’ll be just a second.”
”I got a second,” John Agar says agreeably.
Well, the Boring-Depressing set warms up and there’s weird electronic noises on it. “There it is,” Keith says. “Do you have any idea what it is? What you’re actually hearing?”
I’ve finally realized who Keith reminds me of. A much, much calmer Jeffrey Combs. Jeffrey Combs was always pretty intense in what he was in. Anthony Houston, on the other hand, never says anything other than in flat, dull tones, like he’s afraid of alarming people. It is easy to imagine him calling about a house fire and all the firemen saying Yeah whatever.
Well, back to this. John Agar says, re: the sound, “Some kind of progressive jazz?”
”It’s Venus,” Keith says, looking pretty disappointed by John Agar’s lack of perception, “by laser communication. Without a satellite!”
John Agar laughs. “Come on now, Keith.”
”Venus,” Keith repeats. John Agar gets a worried expression. “I don’t mean the static,” Keith continues. “Can’t you hear it? The other thing?” When John Agar asks what other thing, Keith says, “Listen to it, Kurt [John Agar’s character name]. Listen to the voice.”
”Oh, stop it, Keith,” John Agar says. “If it is a voice, it’s unintelligible. Forget it!” Really, he’s right. It’s just a sine wave.
Well, Keith sets his jaw in a way to show he is tired of all this anti-Keith nonsense. “Kurt, listen to me. I’ve been in constant communication with him now for over two months.” He chuckles. “I don’t know exactly how I understand, but it’s a form of…hyperspace hypnotism. I do know that I do understand.”
Yes, well, thank you for putting it in such…concrete terms. I’m sure someone will get back to you, and in the meantime, good luck with the job search.
John Agar humors Keith and asks him what his Venusian friend’s name is (he also asks if it might be a “she” and he kind of asks this slyly, like this might be the first ever internet porn).
Keith is pretty bummed by his pal’s bemusement, but he does offer that Mr. Venus’ name is untranslatable into any Earth language, but if it could be translated, why, it would probably sound a whole lot like “Zontar.” And there’s a musical puff to underscore this.
Suddenly the phone rings and it’s for John Agar. He gets a bit of worrisome news, and he says he’ll be right there, and he calls to Mrs. John Agar. And Keith says, “Nothing wrong at the installation, is there?” and he folds his arms in a really superior way.
”It’s gone!” says John Agar.
”Satellite. Simply vanished!”
”Wonderful. So what can we do about it?”
For some reason, we cut to a reverse angle of the two of them, as Mrs. John Agar shows up to be told what to do. “There’s trouble at the installation, honey, we’re going to have to leave.”
Mrs. John Agar shrugs her shoulders. “Well, good night!” she says, making the best of it, and Mrs. Keith goes to get her coat.
John Agar and Keith say their goodnights as well, and the John Agars leave. The Missus says maybe Keith’s gone off the deep end, and John Agar says that Keith is a genius, but “maybe too much so for his own good this time.” And they get into their sportster and drive off.
And we cut to Keith. “He did it,” he says in a far-off voice. “Zontar diverted the satellite for a vehicle. He’ll soon be here. Zontar will soon be on Earth.”
And cut to the installation, where a jeep with a General in it is driving up to the guarded gate. He talks to the two soldiers and confirms that the situation is still pretty bad. After the General leaves, we get this exchange.
”General ain’t too happy tonight.”
”I guess none of ‘em are.”
And that’s it. What an insight into the military mind! Inside, there is a lot of checking and rechecking and the General, who is dressed like a police sergeant, enters the room. He asks if there’s any progress, and is told (by brunette) in essence, no, there isn’t any progress. “I don’t understand it!”
”Understand it? Of course not!” says the General. “No one understands it. But it’s the scientific achievement of the century.” Someone got paid to write that, you know.
And, suspecting that this kind of excitement is bad for our hearts, the film just fades to black on the General’s awesome pronouncement, and fades in as Keith is working with his high-dollar stereo. (Not his Zontar-phone stereo, his regular one.) He leans against the reel-to-reel as if regretting stuff, and Mrs. Keith comes into the stereo room. He goes and holds her hands and tells her, “Things will be better soon. Very much better.”
”But you promised,” she says. “Oh, Keith, please come out of it. Please come back to me.”
Back at the institute, everyone is working hard trying to figure out what the hell is going on around here, what with satellites and Zontars and stuff. John Agar is very nice to the staff, saying it’s not their fault but they should, you know, file all the complete reports and things. But then the balding guy notes that, whoa, the satellite is back! Brunette affirms that the satellite is right where it ought to be, “functioning perfectly” and everything seems to be all right again. We even see a shot of the satellite floating in space. It’s a double-doughnut thing with a sphere in the middle, just in case you spot it in your neighborhood.
Well, John Agar is very pleased at this turn of events as it means he can get back to his drinking buddies on Arous. He tells the Geekiest of the staff that he wants the satellite brought back to Earth for full testing, and can he (Geeky) do this?
Geeky avers he is up to the task. Hooray for the geeks! Still, given, you know, reality and all, it would seem pretty expensive to retrieve a satellite. But I’m sure not going to be the one to tell John Agar he doesn’t know best!
And we cut to Keith, going to his rackmount depress-o-rama. “This is Ricky, acknowledge.” Ricky? Well, I’m glad he’s using a pseudonym. WHIINE. “I receive you.” WHIIIINNE. “Yes.” WHIIIINE. “Yes, it’s true I am your only friend.” WHINE. “Nobody else even believes you exist. But they will!” And those bullies who pushed me down in recess, oooo, will they pay! Well, of course, Keith doesn’t say that but he goes to stroke his ultra-TOTAL-geek stereo set and then softly shuts it off. And I think we just saw the first internet chat room session!
Mrs. Keith appears in a hot negligee, and asks him if he’s ready to pop on off to the sack (the sack of love) but he is still in thrall to powers vaster than mere genital lust. “Zontar’s on his way,” he purrs sexily, missing a huge variety of marks with the wife. “He drew the satellite to Venus, boarded, and returned it to orbit—all within an hour.” Left unsaid, but clearly in subtext: What does your flimsy negligee have to compete with that? “He’s inside that circling laboratory right now, waiting to come down to us. To save us.” He looks at his wife. “The greatest day in history is about to dawn.”
Unsaid is nonetheless received, loud and clear. “Please come to bed, Keith, you need some sleep and you need it badly.” Then she tries to burst the bubble. “You’ve got to snap out of it and [incomprehensible babbling, though not unprecedented.]”
Keith hates this questioning of his quest. He shakes her a bit and reminds her that this “Is what I’ve been predicting for years…and it’s good, instead of evil.” He pauses and looks into Mrs. Keith’s eyes. “My one uncertainty was whether it would be for good, or for evil.” I imagine this is the sort of question that keeps most pioneers from getting a good night’s sleep. “And it’s for good,” he says. Wow, lucky that little detail got straightened out at the last second. John Agar would give Keith a real ribbing if it turned out evil! “I’m going to stay by the set tonight. I need to be here when Zontar lands. There’s still a great deal I don’t know about him.”
Mrs. Keith looks unsure for a long moment. “Whatever you say, Keith,” she says at last, sounding like a sports widow. She turns away from him rather significantly. “Good night,” she says when she turns away.
”Night,” he says affably, and turns to his rack-mount stuff. He turns some more dials, and we see the satellite in space, and it’s floating there in space all right, and then we fade back to the Keith house in the twilight.
Inside, Keith has succumbed to sleep’s dark hands, and Mrs. Keith covers him with a blanket. This gets a musical sting.
At the Institute, everyone is tense about the lack of progress with satellites. General Sergeant is pacing back and forth and being all worried without contributing anything else. The others all say that they’ll have it all working soon so he (General) should cool his jets. He gets a phone call from the Secretary of Satellites and tells the assembled white coats that the satellite should be brought back to Earth. Er, yeah. Wasn’t that the plan already?
I knew the General looked (and sounded) familiar—he apparently appeared in a lot of Larry Buchanan films; he played the guy who owned the house in “In the Year 2889,” another Larry film.
Anyway, in this film, the satellite is brought back to Earth. This is much duller and longer than what I typed. They do mention that it’s coming in fast, and setting its own course, “it’s almost as if it has a mind of its own.”
”Everything is engaged,” says brunette. “It’s just abandoning its own orbit.”
And we see the satellite…uh, kind of just staying where it is. Come on, stock footage guys…
”This just can’t be happening!” says one of the lab coat guys. And we see the satellite, again, just sort of sitting there. Feel the menace! Oh wait, it’s kind of slightly revolving.
General Sergeant gets Washington back on the line, as one of the lab coat guys (the one who is losing his hair) says that they’ve lost all contact. We see the satellite (now with new improved spinning lights) over some canyon.
And Keith, who has awakened and put on a nice jacket, tells his rack-mount stereo set, “Yes, yes, I can hear you.” He calls to Mrs. Keith, and tells her the swell news that Zontar landed in a cave where no one could track him. He’s really thrilled at this, heedless of Mrs. Keith’s urgent tone. “The world has been headed downhill for a long time,” he says, then goes on, “Wars. Larger bombs. But now it will be over. All our dreams for perfection will now be realized! Zontar will see to that!” he finishes, ignoring his wife’s headache.
He wants to call John Agar, but she says, “Please don’t tell anyone what you’re imagining!” and she runs off to, no doubt, sob into her pillow. He gets a call from the Big Z, though, so he can’t dash off and try to comfort her with Venusian stories. Keith, in the meantime, notes how Zontar’s chosen cave is over a hot spring (“as you predicted”) which will kind of make the place Venus-like. As far as they knew back in 1966.
Fade to black, then fade in as a train is rushing over some tracks. It comes to a stop, and someone dials a phone, and we see some worker people doing work on things. And a lot of power grids. And a big old convertible, driven by John Agar, and Mrs. John Agar. It suddenly comes to a halt, and no one can figure out why, as John Agar has a lot of gas (now, now, let’s play nice).
Mrs. John Agar looks pretty non-indulgent at this car-checking stuff…like John Agar is using this car-failure as an excuse to go bowling. She notes, though, that the clock has stopped. And we cut to the Satellite institute, where all their power has gone dead too. General Sergeant is pretty ticked at this stuff. He asks Balding where the satellite is, and he hates the answer “Dunno,” even though it is better phrased than that. “Gone,” the General says. “Fifty million dollars, and a million hours work!”
And we cut to see John Agar still looking at his car engine. After discussing how much of a non-starter this is, they decide to walk over Keith’s house. Mrs. John Agar mentions how her watch and the car clock stopped at the same time. John Agar semi-laughs this off as “coincidence” and when she says, “No, I’ve got a premonition,” he says, “Oh, don’t be foolish, come on.” And they go to Keith’s house.
In the town, other folks note how power is out. “It’s like the town is hanging in mid-air,” says the deputy. Well, heck, how about that. Let’s have a musical sting!
And Mrs. Keith shows up. The deputy says that her husband knew this was going to happen someday, “does he know what’s going to happen next?”
”I don’t know. I really don’t know,” she says.
And we cut to Keith, telling Zontar whom he needs to control in order to control everything. And thus, bring peace. (Snicker.) He even mentions John Agar, and Mrs. John Agar! They are vital to “complete control of this area.”
”As I understand it, you are now hosting eight control devices, is this correct?” [Zontar moans] “I would like to see one of the injectopods, they actually grow as part of you, and then separate on command, don’t they?” [Zontar moans.] “Fantastic! Now I have the general locations of the control units!”
And, if we were six years old, we shock cut to Zontar in all his cave-hidden glory, though he’s pretty well hidden by the lighting and the editing (and the budget). What’s he doing? Why, growing some more injectopods! He grows them in his big bat-wings. Ooh, we are so scared! Man, we are totally terrified, please do not be giving us this terror! Ow, ow, this terror is hurting us a lot! May we have our wages now, please, in cash, por favor.
Well, terror having spawned, we get some non-interesting zooms into Zontar’s anatomy (yawn) and then we get lots of shots of fleeing feet, as the terrified populace escapes into the non-Zontar zones because, I bet, the schools are better.
We see lots and lots of feet fleeing, and then an old lady tells Cop (as if she is reading a telegram), “My husband is in an iron lung, stop. What shall I do?”
Cop says, “You can operate by hand, I think. Keep at it, I’ll get help.” And he leaves her totally bewildered (join the club) and runs off somewhere.
It really isn’t said why everyone’s in a giant panic, but I guess power failures can do that to simple country folks. Actually, I have no idea where this is taking place but the whole vibe is "small town."
And Keith runs into town, and grabs his wife and gives her a smooch, and says, “Come on, I’ve got the car parked at the edge of town.”
”But no cars are running!” she sobs.
”Ours is, it’s not been de-energized, come on,” and they leave.
And we cut to the John Agars making their way through the woods. They see something. It looks like someone threw one of those restaurant lobsters that hang on the walls looking all appetizing and stuff, and they decided if they used some spooky music, the lobster would appear spooky as well if they slung it around on a string. Oh, and if you look closely, you can see they added little ineffective-looking wings. “Curt, what’s that?” asks Mr. John Agar.
”I dunno, but I don’t like it,” John Agar says, obviously finely attuned to detect evil in space monsters. He throws a stick at it, and this defense is too much for the lobsternian horror to combat. It flies away or dies or somehow, otherwise, ceases being a threat for now.
”Ugly thing,” Mrs. John Agar observes, “Obscene looking, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
”Neither have I,” John Agar says.
”Let’s go, we’ll never get there standing here,” says Mrs. John Agar. And they keep walking. And we fade to Mr and Mrs Keith arriving home in their big convertible, which still works despite Zontar. Ha ha ha! It pays to have friends in high places.
They go inside, but Mrs. Keith says, “What did you mean, our car has not been de-energized?”
Well, Keith explains how “Zontar has stopped all power at its source. That means, steam, water, electricity, combustion engines, everything.”
”Water? You mean the faucets won’t work?”
He affirms this, and goes to turn on the hose…which works. He points out that all HIS stuff is going to work. I’m not sure how he would have exclusive utilities, especially something like water pressure, but he tells her to “Come on!” inside the house and I guess he means us too.
Except, we cut back to John Agar and Mrs. John Agar. Walking along. And finally, to a discordant burst of music, they finally arrive at the Keith’s house. John Agar asks Keith if he can take them all to a garage, but Keith tells him that won’t do any good, but he will ask the Agars in for a drink. John Agar doesn’t question Keith at all but jumps at the chance for alcohol. Hey, me too!
Keith takes drink orders and asks when their car stopped. They say around three, but John Agar, who is nobody’s fool, asks how Keith knew the car stopped, rather than had a broken axle or something.
Well, Keith takes the opportunity to get all smug, like some kind of cult guy who everyone dreads talking to, because at the slightest excuse he’ll suddenly go on about how “You are educated stupid and Time-Cube is the way to go” or maybe just “Zontar rules OK.”
John Agar notes the smugness of Keith, and asks about this. Keith tells John Agar, “You have time, time for explanations. Perhaps even time for understanding.” And we fade to black with slightly comic music. Oh—that helped a lot, thanks.
And then we get—a cheesecake picture of some gal in a swimsuit! No, that really happened, that wasn’t me lying to wake you up. And we cut to two soldiers, looking through some view-master type thing while they guard a sign saying “Restricted Area.” In the background, some guy in a lab coat walks up to them. And the lab coat guy is Geeky and he asks the two if they’ve heard anything from the general, and the answer is no, not since he left an hour ago. He left an hour ago because the jeep didn’t work, “He had to walk. Funny seeing a General walk, he hardly knows how!” And the soldiers explode in merriment.
Geeky doesn’t seem to understand, but he mentions that the “auxiliary” even has “a hand crank” and even it doesn’t work. The other solider wonders what affect the power failure will have “on my wife’s big mouth!” and there’s a lot more laughter.
Geeky asks to be kept informed and the two soldiers go back to their view-master. If you’re interested, the comedy music never stopped.
Cut to some desolate forest, like what Mr. and Mrs. John Agar were walking through earlier. We pan for a while, finally spotting the walking General. The comedy music has been replaced by more menacing fare, including the Lobster Noise (it’s a kind of whine). And gosh, there’s the flying lobster! With fragile wings, not easily seen in the previous sequence.
Well, General doesn’t like this lobster any more than anyone else has, so far, so he takes out his gun and shoots at it. This proves remarkably less effective than tossing a stick at it, though we can’t discount the idea that John Agar, being Keith’s friend, was somehow more protected from the lobsters and a simple stick would send the right message.
Anyway, General doesn’t seem to be able to hit the broad side of a lobster, and it swoops down on him repeatedly and even knocks his hat off. Finally, in passing, it bites his neck which seems to sting something fierce. But, like a honeybee, having bitten once, the flying lobster dies. We get to see it sitting dead on the forest floor, just in case we were doubtful.
General rubs his neck like, man, that stings. He picks up the dead lobster-thing, and buries it beneath some leaves, and strides off like a man newly determined. Since this is not made clear until later, I guess I should step in and say that these lobsters are “injectopods” and when they bite you, you become a Zontar-controlled slave with no mind of your own. Sorry if that’s a spoiler. But, not much sorry.
Cut to the Keith’s house, where John Agar is saying, “Keith, I’m sorry, I can’t believe anything of what you’re saying.”
”That doesn’t surprise me, nor does it dismay me,” Keith says (off screen), sounding like the seasoned salesman.
John Agar allows how, just for the sake of argument, some creature called Zontar has taken over the world. “Why aren’t you fighting it?”
”Because this superior intelligence, this Zontar, is working with me. After all, I was his first contact. And I contacted him!” He turns to John Agar. “I believe he’s here to save us from ourselves.” He adds, “Not to dominate us, as you have so quickly concluded—“ Quick shot of Mrs. John Agar looking intrigued. Quick shot of me looking like, then what’s with the injectopods if he doesn’t want to dominate us?
”Keith, you talk as if this…thing…were a personal friend of yours!” she says.
”Oh yes,” Mrs. Keith says sarcastically, “they’re real chums.”
John Agar notes that he didn’t think “we” needed saving, but Keith, being in full salesman mode, is going to go on about Zontar no matter what. “Remember your theory on free magnetic gravitation?” he asks John Agar. Is that like the free 1000 hours if you sign up for AOL?
Anyway, John Agar sure remembers this. Keith asks what happened, and John Agar admits that “Washington red tape” killed this swell idea of his. Keith goes on about how this was a great idea, A+++ and human stupidity killed it, and Zontar will stop all these kinds of stupid decisions (Keith says he has experienced this many times).
Keith can’t give more details, just not yet, and John Agar still thinks this is all cultist or insurance salesman, he can’t decide, but he’s not ready to lay down the cash.
Cat with a wet nose needs attention. Hang on.
Okay, I’m back. John Agar asks for a ride to the lab, and when told that would be futile, just gives up on that idea and asks for a ride home instead. Keith says sure, and everyone goes off to collect whatever personal objects they might need for such a task. Keith notes how John Agar didn’t panic, and Mrs. Keith notes that he didn’t panic because he thought Keith was full of day-old balogna.
Well, Keith and Mrs. Keith have a bit of a shouting match, he saying that he’s been willing to overlook her not believing in Zontar, but it’s time she jumped on the boat, so to speak. She counters that she’s stood by him because she loves him.
Well, this seems to put the old spanner in the works. Keith rushes to his ultra-swell stereo console and calls Zontar. But not to put the kibosh on the whole take-over thing, oh no. Instead, he tells Zontar that John Agar is a great smart guy and stuff and deserves special attention (wink wink, no doubt).
And we cut to the secret base, where the newly Zontar'd General returns to salute the troops. He tells them that all the troops are going to be moving out tomorrow and to send him (the General) top secret reports about everything worth reporting on. And we zoom into his neck, where we see to tiny antennae buried (for a low budget) under the neck-skin. The General goes on in some specific detail about what he wants done.
And he gives them his watch (it has perfect time now) and goes on inside to tell the science guys that there’s been “a communist uprising” and time is money and stuff. And they have questions and he has no answers but, too bad, they have to obey orders and whatever and stuff. And despite their scientific objections, he is the military and he gets his way. They make light of it, and we cut--
--I have the worst cat in the universe--<
--we cut to John Agar taking off Mrs. Johhn Agar’s coat (from Mrs John Agar, not himself, no weird stuff here).
Editorial remarks: man, this is boring.
Sorry about that. Just being honest and stuff, sorry.
Anyway, they’re back home. Mrs. John Agar recounts how at least John Agar got a day off from work out of this whole mess, and he doesn’t really find this amusing. John Agar tries the phone and it doesn’t work, and neither do the lamps. Mrs. John Agar wonders if Keith could be right, and John Agar says “Anything’s possible. But I don’t think so.”
She argues that he seemed pretty sure of himself, and John Agar says that Keith has the kind of mind that makes “calculated wild guesses” (not sure how that works) and since he’s made so many, he’s bound to be right a couple of times. She mentions that maybe this one is one of the right ones (like a stopped clock being on time twice a day).
John Agar is still trying to be all logical and stuff. He thinks Keith has seized on the power failures as proof of his Zontar theory. And he goes on about how sad and delusional Keith is about this. He seems to have conveniently forgotten about the flying lobsters, the fact that all Keith’s stuff works, and other evidence that maybe Keith isn’t talking through his hat. But John Agar is really going into a (calm) overdrive about how Keith is just wrong about everything. And he’s going to go on a walk to prove it.
And we cut to Keith chatting with Zontar. Zontar reveals it will take twelve hours for him to grow eight more “control devices.” Which sounds like a math problem. If Zontar can grow eight lobsters in twelve hours, how many could he grow in fifteen? Anyway, Keith says it would be great if Zontar could hurry up on the lobsters. He says, though, that if they can control John Agar, John Agar could call the President and tell him that everything here is great, no need for panic, and the President would totally believe John Agar. I mean, who wouldn’t? If John Agar is controlled, they’ll have all the time they need.
And Keith is ordered to stay put until “Jackson” is evacuated. “It will be done,” he says, and we cut to more scenes of panicked crowds rushing through the streets. Again, running from what? Power failures? The cameraman?
Anyway, John Agar runs after them to find out what’s what, I guess, or maybe he needs his exercise. He grabs one guy and asks what everyone’s running from, and the guy just says, “Let go of me!” a couple of times and pulls free, then dashes away. It’s as if the town got a shipment of Xbox 360s and there are only a few of them left.
And we cut to a line of soldiers, all walking through the park, and there’s a flying lobster (and his musical leitmotif) and some soldier says, “I saw a funny looking boid!” but his observation is waved off as hooey.
And then we cut elsewhere, to keep up the illusion that stuff is actually happening in this movie and it’s not just all random scenes. It’s John Agar running to his garage and getting out his bicycle. You see, Zontar? You don’t control everything! We’ll crush you with our bicycles. John Agar calls out to the Mrs and tells her he’s going to go to the Institute, so he can find out what’s going on. She’d rather he didn’t go, but he insists (being John Agar) and tells her to stay locked in.
Cut to the city police guy we saw earlier advising ladies about iron lungs. He watches a flock of birds fly overhead, then pushes a sports car down the road a bit, right into a parking space. I guess it was bothering him that it was all not parked like some scofflaw left it there. And a flying lobster attacks him and, eventually, bites him on the neck.
So, now he is controlled by Zontar, and like the General, the first thing he gets is a neatness fetish and he picks up the now dead flying lobster (they die when they sting, like bees) and puts it in the trash. And then he looks off with determination.
Cut to another part of town, where Officer Neatness is now walking. He calls out to someone. “Leadfoot” is what the name sounds like to these (non-controlled) ears. An old guy walks out to talk to Officer Neatness. “You’re about the only one left, Mr. Ledford,” Neatness says.
”I guess so,” says Ledford, bafflingly seeming to know what’s going on, and resigned to his fate already.
Officer Neatness pulls out his gun. “Don’t be difficult, Editor,” he says.
”What’s that gun for, Brad?” Ledford asks. “That’s not like you! But gun or no gun, here I stay!” He points to the distance. “I helped build this town. My people got your job for you! What’s the matter with you, Brad?”
”We don’t need papers anymore,” Officer Neatness answers. “They’re useless. Get moving!”
”Sorry, I don’t understand a word you’re saying,” Ledford observes. “But I’ll not go. I’m an old man, and here I’ll stay.”
Officer Neatness neatly solves this problem by shooting Ledford, who dies, having never got to say his lines facing the camera.
Just then, John Agar peddles up. He confronts Officer Neatness, who has a loaded gun, about why he shot Mr. Ledford. Neatness says he did so under orders, and when asked whose orders, says, “Zontar, of course!” Well, John Agar sure looks startled at this turn of events.
Neatness tells John Agar that he’s to be placed in “protective custody” so John Agar belts him a good one. But it doesn’t have much effect (staggers the guy, knocks his hat off). John Agar asks why Officer Neatness doesn’t shoot him, too, and is told that he (John Agar) is “to be one of us.” However, Neatness also tells John Agar that he’s “free to go” since he “can’t escape.” So John Agar peddles off.
Cut to Keith on his deck, scanning the sky with his binoculars. Okay then. Enough of that binocular action. He goes back inside. His wife wants to know what he was up to, and he says he was looking for “control devices” and he (near the forty-five minute mark) finally names the damned lobsters for her as “injectopods.” He goes on about how they are grown out of Zontar’s body, then are attuned to the person they’re supposed to find (his wife calls these people “victims” but he laughs this off) and they actually for real carry some of Zontar’s own essence with them, so that anyone stung by these props becomes a part of Zontar. The injectopods then die.
”And the people?” she asks, horrified. “They don’t die, do they Keith?”
He says no, and she says, “No, only their minds! Their personalities, and their identities!”
”Their minds are clearer than they ever thought possible,” Keith says soothingly, putting his arms around her. “All the ‘human waste’ is gone, the greed, the bitterness…all the foolish nonsense.”
”But these are all emotions!”
”Yes,” he admits. “The emotions are gone.”
”Why are you holding me?” she asks. “Why do you put your arms around me, and pull me to you?”
”Why?” he shmoozes, “because I love you. You know that.”
She turns away from him. “I don’t know why you should, from what you say.” She turns to face him. “Wouldn’t Zontar say love is a waste? It’s an emotion, you know!” He has no reply, in fact remains stony faced like he’s waiting for his cue.
So she goes on. “Oh, Keith, you can be so smart, and yet you can be so unthinking! You take away a man’s dreams and emotions and all you have left is death. Living death! Emotions are the soul of people!”
”I’m not making the rules,” Keith says, feeling put upon. “It has to be the way it has to be!”
And we cut to John Agar, finally cycling to the Installation. There’s a big sign saying “Installation Closed” but John Agar goes up to the fence anyway.
The General appears, asking if John Agar doesn’t believe in signs? John Agar asks why the Institute is closed, and the General says, basically, “Because” and he offers John Agar a ride in his jeep. (Note: a jeep which works.)
John Agar finally notices that this Jeep works (an “experimental model” according to the General) and then John Agar notes the antennae sticking out of the back of the General’s neck.
Now, keep in mind, John Agar has not seen these antennae before. Yet he seems to leap to the conclusion that instead of being, say, stray pieces of lint from a sweater, they betoken bad things. He then karate chops the General (he is John Agar after all) and drives to Keith’s house in the jeep. He grabs a revolver that just by chance happened to be in the jeep and he runs inside.
Inside, he tells Keith that he (John Agar) believes him (Keith) now. “And I also believe you’re an accessory to murder!”
”That’s a nice way to greet an old friend,” Keith says, but I think he’s being ironic. Even though Keith says everything in the same flat, monotone voice, I feel sure in my guess. “Sit down, Kurt, you’re upset.”
There’s a quick shot of the space radio, well, because, then we see Keith and John Agar sitting on the couch. Keith admits he helped Zontar. He then goes on to say that John Agar’s satellite was the final thing needed for Zontar to pop down to Earth. (You might recall that Keith warned John Agar away from launching this satellite, but then you’re probably a troublemaker.) He says that Zontar’s race is a very old one, that we might catch up to him in a couple million years, but maybe not even then. He describes them as “host beings” which means they need talk shows to survive. I mean, other beings for them to control.
He says that the beings Zontar and his kind used to control on Venus became sterile and died out. This led to Zontar’s race also starting to die out.
John Agar draws the not-unreasonable conclusion that the people of Earth are to be Zontar’s new “control beings.” This might lead one to think that Keith hadn’t thought this all the way through, but in response to John Agar’s question, “And you think we need him?” Keith says, “We always have.”
John Agar notes that several people have died in this takeover. Keith counters that you can’t make an omelette, etc. He says that disasters in man’s history have led to great advances.
John Agar says that it was man himself who brought both the follies and rewards upon his world. He says that Zontar “isn’t human. So your argument just doesn’t hold water!” Uh, okay. He also notes that sometimes disasters are just disasters and no good comes from them.
Keith says that Zontar wants John Agar on his side (who wouldn’t) and John Agar says that he won’t do that, that he’ll fight Zontar, and he says Keith is “the most diabolical traitor of all time!” And he leaves, driving off in the jeep.
Inside, Mrs. Keith’s off-screen voice says “I hope you’re proud!”
Keith, leaning back and clutching his face and looking like he has got one major hangover, says, “He was my friend. In spite all our fights and disagreements, he was still my best friend.”
Mrs. Keith walks into frame. “Is that all you can think of, losing a friend? What about losing yourself! Didn’t his words mean anything to you?” Well, personally, they didn't to me, no. “If you weren’t so blind, you’d realize that Kurt was your friend today as he’s never been before!”
”What do you mean?”
The Mrs says that if John Agar didn’t think there was something worth saving in Keith, he, John Agar, would have killed him, Keith. She notes that John Agar had a gun. “You’ve just had an undeserved stay of execution!”
”So you agree with him!” Keith shouts, demonstrating that, despite everyone saying otherwise, he’s not all that bright (or observant). Yes, you dope, she does agree with John Agar. Who wouldn’t? “You’ve finally turned against me all the way!”
”I’ve done nothing except what I had to do!” she says. “You’re the one who’s got to see that for yourself!” She goes on to say that she can’t help believing in Keith, and she shouts, “I can’t love a monster, I can’t!”
And Keith takes her in his arms, telling her, “Believe me, we know what we’re doing.” Of course, as he goes to kiss her, Zontar pages him. Keith, naturally, goes off to answer. He tells Zontar that the town is secure, but adds, “Zontar, I’m troubled. Maybe you don’t have that word in your sphere, but I must see you!” Zontar hums, and Keith says he’ll be patient. Keith says he’s worried about John Agar.
And we cut to John Agar, himself, riding along the woods in his “experimental” jeep. You know, if Zontar is so great, how come the jeep still works? Or is his power-on/power-off trick a one-time only thing? If he decides something will work, he can’t take it back later?
Anyway, John Agar stops the jeep in the middle of nowhere and gets out his bicycle. It’s possible the jeep’s power failed just at that time, just to make me look bad (I sound like Keith), but it sure didn’t look like it. Anyway, he peddles off. And finally gets home when dusk is settling in.
He calls for his wife, and she says she just had a shower, but she’ll be right out, then asking “What happened?” John Agar then recounts everything that we’ve already seen. “This whole thing is real, honey. Keith is not crazy, he’s frighteningly sane.” All the while, the injectopod noise is coming on the soundtrack. John Agar asks how come the shower is working?
”It’s not,” she says. She describes how she improvised a shower. If you’d like to know how she did it so you can do the same some time, I suggest you rent this and fast forward to minute fifty-five, because I’m not going to type it up.
He accepts this complicated, meaningless explanation, and goes to poke the fire, and she appears with her hands behind her back. “Guess what I’ve got,” she asks, and when he says “What” she holds out an injectopod, says, “A present!” and throws it at him! “See you later, darling. I’m going for a walk, and when I get back, you’ll feel much better.” And she leaves.
John Agar fights against the awkward prop, mostly by waving a fire poker at its shadow, until he finally manages to impale it. Once he gets it good and dead, though, wouldn’t you know it, the phone rings! I hope it is not a telemarketer, those people are annoying and this would be a really bad time for John Agar.
Well, John Agar grabs the phone and says, “This has gotta be Keith.”
”Right,” Keith says. “I have the only working phone left.” Except for whoever he wants to call, I guess. What good would one working phone be? That also means the central telecommunications switch must also be working. Oh yeah, the movie. Sorry.
John Agar asks what he wants, and Keith continues, “I’ve just talked to Zontar. He said you’ve killed the injectopod that he grew for you.” What, no “How are you?” however insincere? “That means you can’t be controlled for several hours.” Wow, way to give away crucial information, Keith. “Come on over, I want to talk to you. It’s terribly important.” Oh sure. Yes, I’m sure it is. (Question: if Keith knows the instant the injectopod was killed, why didn’t he call a minute before in order to distract John Agar? Answer: that doesn't make sense. Welcome to Zontar.)
”How will I get there?”
”Ann’s car will run,” Keith says.
”All right,” John Agar says, holding the gun. “I’ll come over. But I have to do something first.” And they ring off. Keith confirms that John Agar will be coming over later. He questions Zontar a bit, and to his wife’s asking (she doesn’t speak Zontarese), he says that John Agar’s mind “must not remain free.” Keith says that he, John Agar, is the deadliest enemy of all as far as Zontar is concerned. Mrs. Keith asks him to spell it out, and Keith says that John Agar must die. “He’s too great a menace to live. I must kill him.”
And we cut to John Agar, looking into the fire. Mrs. John Agar comes back, and says that now he is one of them, they have to wait for Zontar’s instructions. John Agar stands, slipping the hidden gun into his hand.
”And we’ll be like this, always?” he asks sadly.
”For the rest of our lives,” she says, and they embrace.
”I see, Ann,” he says. “I see, darling.” And there’s the sound of a gunshot. And John Agar’s face is a mask of pain as his wife’s dead body slips from his embrace. Fade to black.
When I first saw this scene, many years ago, this moment was a genuine shock in a field of mediocrity, and it still holds up today as the one unsettling part of the whole film. (I mentioned this scene near the beginning of this review. When I first saw this scene, I assumed he’d knock her out or something. When he shot her dead, it was like a sock in the gut. It was the only time the film really reached out and became real.)
Way to go, at least once, Mr. Buchanan. In fact, this scene would be a standout even in a better made movie. Here, it makes the rest of the film look worse, unfortunately.
We fade in on a bunch of soldiers outside in the forest in the evening. They all sit down in the leaves and complain about their lot. Brooklyn guy still mentions the “boid” and his pronunciation is corrected by his superior. Blah blah blah blah…it’s like, once he got the shooting scene in, Larry Buchanan thought, Well, I need something meaningless and time-wasting to soften the blow. Well, you didn’t have to try this hard, Larry, really.
Sure enough, having accomplished nothing, we fade to the Keith house, where Keith is wearing a nice three-piece suit. His wife has also changed, and asks him what he’s doing. “Closing up shop? Enough murders for one day? Suppose the great Zontar wants you to run down to the corner and tear out a few hearts! What then, master!” She goes on like this for a while, and man, Zontar is evil and all, and Keith a fool, but my gosh she has the sharpest tongue.
”That’s enough, Martha!” he finally snaps, and she’s all agog that the “slave robot” (Keith) can talk. He in the meantime turns on the tape deck. Smooth dinner jazz plays. She notes how it must be nice that his tape deck works, and how they could dance “if there weren’t so much blood around!”
Finally he tells her that he’s got a hard job ahead, killing John Agar (I’ll say) and she’s not helping at all.
”Oh, I want to make it difficult,” she hisses. “I want to make it so difficult, you just can’t do it!” She goes to him and softens her tone. “Please, darling, open your mind for just a few minutes and let me inside so that I can talk to you!”
He kisses her, and says, “All right, Martha, I’m listening.”
”Tell me about Zontar,” she says, almost purring. “What’s he like?”
They go sit on the couch. “You know the old Hot Springs Cave, up at the ridge?” he asks, and she says she’s heard of this…geez, she’s only lived here with you for however long—I should think she’d know the local attractions as well as you, Keith! Maybe it was a rhetorical question, sorry for interrupting.
”Zontar has made his headquarters there because the climate is, somewhat, like that of Venus,” Keith goes on.
”Hiding in a cave, away from the light,” the Mrs says bitterly.
Keith ignores the tone and says that Zontar grows “control devices in groups of eight. He sends these to four key people and their wives.”
”Wives?” she asks in alarm.
”Yes,” he explains patiently, “it goes smoother that way.” He tries to go on with his fave subject, but before he can get to Zontar’s pet peeves and turn-ons, the Mrs interrupts again.
”Ann’s been controlled?” Ann is Mrs. John Agar, you'll recall.
”Yes,” he says again, his patience going into a bit of exasperation. He says that only three key people are left to control: John Agar, the Mayor, and Mrs. Mayor. She points out that Mr and Mrs. Mayor are dead, killed in the "panic" apparently. So what has Zontar done with the devices meant for them? Keith says “they’ve already been used.”
”Not on you!” she says.
”No,” he smiles indulgently. “Not on me.” And we cut to some scaffolding and other structures, which I’m guessing is the Institute. Inside, the brunette scientist is waking up from a cot in a corridor, and she puts on her lab coat. She appears to be wearing nothing but a slip under it. Okay, well, the ways of science can sometimes mystify us all. She finishes dressing and goes to see Geeky and Balding, who are hard at work—at the now functioning equipment. She’s astonished, and they tell her she didn’t sleep very long.
She’s all a-twitter at the now working stuff, and they (yawn) are slightly slow in speech. She says she’ll make coffee, and they say “Never mind! We…don’t want any…coffee.”
She goes to the coffee cabinet anyway, and finds two dead injectopods. She screams and jumps back, and Balding grabs her. He says they tried to stop her looking in there, then he strangles her while she screams a lot, and Geeky tries to explain when the best time to contact Venus is, but no one is listening.
So…didn’t they have trash cans they could have put the injectopods in? Even the nosiest person wouldn’t look in a trash can. Or they could have thrown them outside, and if she saw them, they could have said they were “birds…experimental birds.”
Well, no matter, she’s dead, there’s a 16mm film reel on the wall, and of course we cut away back to Keith and Martha. He asks her to talk a walk, and to answer her entreaties, he says, “I must have the courage of my convictions.”
”Zontar is as weak as you are,” she says. “He’s hiding in a cave, forcing humans to do his rotten work! He’s afraid of strength…and that means Kurt Tailor [John Agar]!”
Keith dismisses her and goes off to meet John Agar. She crosses to the radio and tells Zontar to listen up. “I hate your living guts for what you’ve done to my husband and my world! I know you for the coward you really are! And I’m going to kill you—you hear that? I’m going to kill you!” And she switches off the radio and runs right into a film splice, and we see John Agar ride up in his wife’s convertible. The music is really going all nuts here with some guy wailing on the swirl-o-phone. And John Agar leaves the car and goes into the house.
And Mrs. Keith comes out, and gets the revolver out of her car’s glove compartment. She can’t take the car because John Agar blocked it, so she takes John Agar’s car! Wow, small towns and all I guess. Also, I guess since she thinks Keith is about to kill John Agar, he probably won’t need his car a whole lot. She drives off, into another splice.
We cut to Keith and John Agar, and John Agar is saying, “Yeah, I killed her.”
”You…killed your wife?”
”She was no longer my wife!”
Keith says that she kind of was, but John Agar knows she wasn’t. And he pulls the gun out on Keith. Keith says, “Go ahead and kill me. What good would it do you!” and he sits on the couch.
John Agar tries to get Keith to come around. “He’s been playing you for a sucker!”
”He understood and praised my work!” Keith shouts, echoing high school nerds through the generations.
”He was using your human emotions, your desires to help your race! Your dreams of freedom! He was using these to help him destroy the world!”
”No, no, no,” Keith mutters and turns away.
John Agar tells Keith that Zontar has no feelings, so he needed someone on Earth who had them so he could use them. “And that person was you!”
”I’ve got to have time to think,” Keith says quietly. Oh great, let’s have more discussion, then.
Actually, though, we cut away to Mrs. Keith driving along, then we cut to the soldiers who note that there’s been a car. There’s an attempt at comedy here but it fails real bad, and we cut to Mrs. Keith parking by a house to a really loud blare of brass instruments (on the soundtrack).
And back to the discussion. “Supposing you’re right—“ Keith begins, but John Agar starts shouting.
”I know I’m right!” he shouts (sounding a bit like Keith earlier), “Zontar reasons, concludes and destroys!” He pauses for a long time and asks, in a very nice tone, “Have I reached you?”
”I don’t know, Kurt!” Keith says. “For the first time, I’m confused!”
Well, let’s not get confused, let’s cut to a handheld camera going through some caverns. Some sort of incredible petrified world, maybe. Yes, it’s Mrs. Keith. I guess that house she stopped near was very close to the entrance of the Zontar Cave, which, I dunno, would seem to make it less than hidden for the big Z but heck, I’m not from Venus and probably used emotions to come to that conclusion so my reasoning is suspect.
She walks along among the stalactites and stalagmites and we cut back to the discussion, where John Agar has pulled a gun on Keith. Don’t worry, Keith, I’m sure we’ll cut away in a moment or two. Keith says (off camera), “I was supposed to kill you. Zontar’s orders.” I guess those orders didn’t include a weapon or anything, since Keith seems pretty unarmed.
Well, no matter, let’s go hand-helding back in the caves! “Whatever you are, I’ve come here to kill you!” Mrs. Keith says. And she wanders around some more, and she sees Zontar in the distance!
Because the suit is so cheap, we only get a glimpse. He has huge bat wings, three eyes in his large head and what appear to be exposed ribs on his chest. He folds his wings over his delicate chest as she screams.
Back at stately Keith manor. Apparently, the radio was left on because Mrs. Keith’s screams sound loudly in the Keith living room. Both Keith and John Agar react to this. Keith runs to the radio and tells his wife to run. But…but I thought Zontar was great for everyone! This makes no sense, unless he’s telling her to run toward Zontar.
Well, she runs all right, and wanders around a bit, and then runs right into Zontar! We get a brief look at his face in close up, but thanks to DVD technology, this “brief” can last as long as we want.
Well…he makes the Carnivore suddenly look a whole heck of a lot more convincing and realistic. Honestly, Zontar looks like a bunch of elementary school kids decided to plaster a bunch of melted plastic bags over a manikin's head, and then put some big white blobs of clay (for eyes) and some black marbles (for pupils) in the resultant mess.
I guess what I am trying to say is that Zontar, as a would-be world conqueror and alien menace, looks pretty damn sad.
Well, Mrs. Keith is taken aback…at first. Then she seems to size up this (kind of) pathetic invader pretty quickly. ”So that’s what you look like!” she says, voice all sarcastic (like she talks to her husband). “Zontar…you’re slimey…horrible! Go on! Try to control me! Use your intellect on me! You said you’re going to destroy the world—I’ll see you in hell, first!”
And damn, instead of screaming and fainting, she shoots the silly special effect! Twice in fact, though neither shot seems to have much effect. A couple more glimpses of Zontar seems to reveal that he has a beak, and a clawed hand.
In a shot that I’m sure will have no worthwhile consequences, we see one of the soldiers from earlier entering a storm drain.
And back to Martha, screaming as Zontar advances on her with his bat wings and, I guess, wings her to death. We close in on her eye, all out of focus.
See, here is where a few people skills would have saved Zontar’s entire scheme. He could have said, “Forgive me, my dear, I know my appearance is startling. But I mean you no harm! Let me help you out of the cave.” And she’d be all, “Well! Thank you! Maybe I was wrong about you!” Instead, he killed her and boy is he going to pay for this, even Keith would have a hard time justifying this major bummer in his life.
Back at the Keith house, Keith is pretty bummed out (told you) at this audio drama. As he bums out a lot, John Agar switches off the radio. “Now are you going to help me destroy him?” he asks, and Keith nods yes. He then snaps into action.
He tells John Agar that he should take care of the possessed Institute folks. He’s going to the cave. John Agar tries to give Keith his gun, but Keith says “Guns won’t hurt him, Kurt, but I’ve something that will. Something that not even you’ve seen yet!” And he goes off to get this thrilling prop. Well, I’m hoping it will be.
He pulls out a bit of his special radio set, which (conveniently) looks like a gun. He says this was the breakthrough that allowed him to communicate with Venus in the first place. It’s a “beam gun” that “contains a plutonium ruby crystal.” Whoa. Watch where you point that thing, kid, you’ll put your eye out!
Keith says this will “blast [Zontar] apart” and that it’s the only thing that will. Gosh, good thing he planned that in the design, eh? And he and Kurt go off to do their respective tasks.
We cut to the soldier in the cave. He trudges along, sees Zontar, Zontar kills him. (I typed this out before it happened to save time).
Actually, as it happened, Zontar didn’t kill him. Sorry for typing up things that aren’t facts. The soldier scooted back to his buddies and complained about seeing a monster. There was some attempted comedy (the soldier’s boss corrects his grammar) but it stank and made no difference so I left it out.
Keith and John Agar are driving Mrs. Keith’s car and they stop, and John Agar gets out saying, “This is close enough. Good luck Keith.” And it’s a good thing he said that in the dubbing booth because it saves his lips having to move
Inside the Institute, the possessed science guys and General chit-chat. And John Agar sprints toward the lab. Turns out the General is planning to blow himself up, along with the President and some other no-doubt very important people. But John Agar busts into the lab, wielding his gun, and he shoots the three miscreants (after briefly seeing dead brunette and confirming her deadness). General, as he collapses, grabs the exposed wires in the power cabinet and manages to make a mess of them. I guess they had some smoke bombs left in the special effects budget and Larry wanted to use them.
We hear a rising tone and see a Jacob’s ladder device. Oh no, this can only mean trouble! Anyway, John Agar has already run outside and has vaulted the fence. He gets into another “experimental jeep” and drives off in it.
Elsewhere, the damned boring army folks are almost to the house by the entrance to the cave. I think the American military forces are terrific folks, but these guys, these actors pretending, they are boring and they add running time to a movie that does not need it. They’re icky bleah and their impact is nothing. Nothing! But Larry filmed them so he’s going to put them in the finished movie, because otherwise it’s a waste of money, and Larry hates that.
Elsewhere, Officer Neatness stops Keith in his car and shoots at him. Keith gets out of his car to ready his laser weapon, and stands as a perfect target, but Officer Neatness allows Keith to get into a perfect shooting position. Keith does, and lasers Officer Neatness to death. The film turns negative with floating patches on it. The effect is like looking at Zontar’s skin. Officer Neatness collapses and (I guess) dies. Keith carefully closes his car door (not sure why, Officer Neatness is dead now) and strides off.
In the cave, the soldiers wander for a while. Keith goes inside the storm drain (in another area). And we get to see lots of footage of the soldiers marching through the caverns. Lots of footage. I mean, tons of it. Larry paid to have this footage developed, you know, and waste not want not. Unless you like entertainment, you perv.
Well, the soldiers eventually (and I do mean eventually) come across Zontar, and he crushes the head of one of them. I think it might have been the main comedy relief soldier, but since I didn’t pay any attention to who they are and he didn’t shout out “I’m the soldier who says ‘birds’ as ‘boids!’” as he was killed (he just yelled instead), I don’t care who it was.
Someone else shoots Zontar, but a voice says, “Fall back, fall back! The M-1s don’t hurt him!” And the soldiers fall back. Oh good, that made the whole film so much richer.
And we cut to Keith, running through the caverns. A lot. And some more. And even some more. And finally he confronts Zontar. “I made it possible for you to come here,” he says, “I made you welcome to Earth.” He pauses. “And you’re trying to destroy it…not save it.”
Well, Zontar unfurls his entire paper-mache majesty but this doesn’t deter Keith. As Zontar closes in on him, preparing to wing him to death, Keith wields the laser thing like a stake against a vampire, and we see negative film effects with overlaid dark blobs, and we cut to black.
Then we cut again to John Agar, walking through the popular forest in these parts. Someone else is walking from the other side, and they meet in the middle. The other guy is one of the soldiers. “You wouldn’t wanna see them,” the soldier mumbles. He’s probably referring to more Larry Buchanan films.
”Dead,” John Agar asks without asking, and is told yup.
”He acted like he knew that thing,” soldier says, I guess talking about Keith and Zontar respectively.
”He did,” John Agar confirms, then goes into speechifyin’ mode as the music becomes triumphal. “Keith Ritchie came to realize, at the loss of his own life, that man is the greatest creature in the universe.” We see strobing shots of more Venus probe launches. “He learned that a measure of perfection can only be slowly attained, from within ourselves. He sought a different path, and found—“ We see the bodies at the Institute. “—death. Fire.” We see a burning car. Okay. “Disillusionment. Loss.” We see Mrs. Keith, all dead. We pan to her gun. The music becomes seriously triumphant with drums and trumpets and the whole thing. “War, misery and suffering have always been with us. And we shall always strive to overcome them.” Dead General, Jacob’s ladder machine. “But the answer is to be found from within, not from without. It must come from learning. It must come from the very heart of man himself.”
And THE END, superimposed over the planet Earth.
So. How do the memories of childhood compare to the reality of today? Answer: pretty darn close. You just can’t hide lack of quality like this, so that in time you’ll come to forgive with a simple shrug and a tossed off, “Well, I was a kid, how was I to have known?” This film reaches across all ages with its willingness to be cheap and dull.
Certainly the first forty minutes or so of this are pretty damned boring, what with people doing all kinds of talking and not much else other than that (except going to other people’s houses to continue talking some more). The pace picked up a bit after Zontar started sending injectopods after people, but even then there was lots and lots of Keith stonily intoning on how great Zontar was and how he was totally going to take care of Earth by being so great all the time for us.
Despite his solid standing on the Zontar ticket, Keith just never seemed to get excited and loud like a lot of people who think they are saving the world He just droned on and on, talking about Zontar non-stop, the way people will talk about stereo systems or sports cars. He was a lot like that friend you have who’s way into some cult or New Age thing and insists on bringing it up constantly, whether it’s even in shouting distance of relevant. You know the kind. “My tennis game has really suffered lately due to asthma.” “Yeah, well, Zontar will do away with all suffering.” “I’m thinking of taking up painting again.” “Yeah, well, Zontar said he’d probably let me paint his house when he’s king.”
He’s the kind of guy who never gets invited to parties because everyone thinks he’s dull and single-minded. No wonder he got thrown off the Institute project and seemed to be an embarrassment, like the memory of a bad rash, to everyone but John Agar (even his own wife thought Keith was a whole bowl of fruit).
The thing is, everyone said Keith was this total brainiac. So how come he couldn’t see through Zontar’s plans? They seemed pretty transparent—Zontar lands and unleashes the injectopods, effectively “killing” anyone they infect; all power is shut off and people are shot in the street. Could Keith really look at this and think, “This is just what I thought paradise would look like!” I know, I know, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, but not all egg-breaking is done in the name of omelet-making. Zontar seemed to be just throwing the eggs on the floor and laughing, and I just mopped that floor!
(Granted, Keith's perspective may have been limited rather a lot, as he didn't get out of the house much, only twice for brief periods, being content to be in the chat room with Zontar; while John Agar's perspective was widened by doing a lot of cycling all over Hell's half acre.)
Wouldn’t it have been more effective if Zontar had baited the hook? Suppose he brought something which was a benefit, some new power source or miracle drug or something useful. Keith would have a valid argument then, that maybe Zontar was here to save us and not enslave us. John Agar would have a far harder time arguing against Zontar then, and it might even look as if he was the unbalanced one. Instead, ol’ Keith’s argument is just “Zontar is great because I say he is!” His entire Zontar-fest about benefits to mankind can be brought down by a two-word question: “Like what?”
As is probably well-enough known, Zontar is a remake of an old Roger Corman film, It Conquered the World. I’ve never seen that film, but I wonder if the “scientist sells out world misguidedly” thing was a little better handled, maybe a little more thought through. Until it appears on video we’ll have to guess, and I’m not going to compare Zontar to something I haven’t seen, tempting as it is to do so.
Zontar himself, despite Larry Buchanan’s best attempts at hiding him, comes across as cheap and awkward, so much so that no one could take him seriously. Had this movie been made in the 50’s, Mrs. Keith as noted would have screamed and fainted. Here, she was pretty much contemptuous of Zontar after she got a good look at him, and treated him no better than she treated her husband. The fact that Zontar wasn’t willing to be hen-pecked was almost like an afterthought: “Guys, we can’t have our monster be browbeaten by the villain’s wife! What the hell! “ Someone suggested that he wing her to death, and the tiniest bit of face was saved. But only a tiny bit. Only his injectopods gave him any kind of power at all, and they only succeeded because they happened to strike people who were awkward fighters who couldn’t aim their guns at all.
What else? Despite having pretty bad dialogue and no action scenes at all (except the “fight” with the injectopod), John Agar came across as a relaxed, thoughtful, pretty nice guy. You could see where he’d go the extra mile to persuade Keith of his (Keith’s) dunderheadedness. John Agar has never been the most exciting actor, but he’s actually pretty good here. He projected a real fatherly interest in Keith. In fact, if they’d changed the cast so that Keith was John Agar’s teenage son, John Agar would be totally the pipe-smoking voice of reason and, in the end, Keith would admit he was wrong and be all sorry, and John Agar would say, “Now, son, we all want to change the world. But we should start with ourselves, first!” And Keith would agree with that, and John Agar would say, “Now that’s my boy!”
The rest of the cast was pretty awkward, at best. Anthony Houston had the calm single-minded superiority thing down cold—you know in a decade or so he would have invented Time Cube. However, he was also more than a little dull, a trait he shared with pretty much everyone else here. The exceptions being John Agar and Mrs. Keith. Of course, being whiney and acting superior with a razor-tongue doesn’t exactly make you the character we most want to see on the screen, but I did like how she stood up to Zontar.
The General had that Harvey B. Dunn thing going, but other than that he just worried needlessly and then became one with Zontar. I think you could have cut him out entirely and, well, the movie would be shorter.
That’s one of the main problems with this film. It just goes on forever, all the arguments and counter-arguments and appeals to reason. Even when they tried to change the pace with the Comedy Relief Army, they just ended up taking more time for something which added nothing to the film. Except running time.
Overall, this thing is just pretty damn poor. Even alcohol doesn’t help a lot, in fact it just makes it more depressing to think you’re wasting all this beer on these arguments that go nowhere. I can’t even recommend it for laughs, although if you’re into Bad Movies this is one you should probably see (but just so you can cross it off the list. You’ll learn nothing). The leaden pace and undistinguished performances just make it hard to sit through. I should know—I just did.
Some Bad Movies are a lot of fun to watch. The well-known Plan 9 From Outer Space is perhaps the best-known example. What separates a Fun Bad Movie from a Boring Bad Movie? I think it’s this: you look at the work as a whole, and there’s no place to start to make it a good movie. For Plan 9, as well as Robot Monster or Sinbad of the Seven Seas, there’s nothing really salvageable. “This scene worked, so we keep that, and if we cut out this scene, it will make more sense. Changing the dialogue here would make it less confusing.” There’s nothing you can take out in Plan 9. It’s all of a piece. You take out or change one thing, you might as well change or take it all out, and you’re left with a blank screen. You can see how that might work in a lot of other bad movies, like Battlefield Earth or Fantastic Four. A few judicious changes in the script for those two and they would have been good movies.
And you can see how that would work with Zontar. Tighten up the discussions, have Zontar provide some tangible benefit for tension with John Agar, make the benefit work for John Agar’s wife somehow for more isolation (she’s a doctor and Zontar has a great cure for something), make the possessed people do something other than look determined (and kill someone on a rare occasion)…in short, take the opportunities that the story gives you and flesh them out. For example, the bit about John Agar’s wife benefiting from Zontar’s gifts—it might turn out that Zontar caused the disease in the first place just so he could cure it. That’s the breaking point when John Agar starts to turn the tide. See how easy it is? I’m just typing this stuff off the top of my head, in real time, and no one paid me to write a story. Someone paid Larry Buchanan, though. What did he do with the money? When someone doesn’t use the resources he has, that’s not bad, that’s lame.
And that’s what we ultimately have here. Not a bad movie, really, but a lame one. I should know—I just watched it. (See, repeating a line like that in a review makes it lame, and ending on this parenthetical bit just makes it lamer. Sometimes the movies influence their reviews in more ways than one.)