It's interesting, but not without reason, that people should think producer/writer/director Larry Buchanan ripped off others, like Roger Corman (the two men were actually friends), in making some of the films he did, as it's not really true. You see, back in the day Buchanan, through his own Azalea Pictures group, made a deal with American International Pictures to produce a series of ultra low budget films (eight in total, I believe) for television, including Zontar, The Thing from Venus (1966), and The Eye Creatures (1965), both of which appear on this DVD. Now the reason some of Buchanan's movies seem so much like previously released material is because they're actually remakes of AIP films like Corman's It Conquered the World (1956) and Edward L. Cahn's Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957). Get it? Got it? Good...co-written and directed by Buchanan, the film Zontar, The Thing from Venus features John Agar (The Brain from Planet Arous) and Susan Bjurman (Messenger of Death), along with `Buchanan's Stock Company' regulars Tony Huston (The Eye Creatures, Curse of the Swamp Creature), Pat Delaney (Mars Needs Women, Creature of Destruction), Neil Fletcher (Mars Needs Women, In the Year 2889), and Bill `Billy' Thurman (The Eye Creatures, Curse of the Swamp Creature).
Agra plays Dr. Curt Taylor, a scientist working at a United States rocket control and tracking station. After launching a sophisticated laser satellite into space, the satellite is hijacked by a creature, who lives on Venus, named Zontar with the aid of disgruntled scientist named Keith Ritchie (Huston), who is duped by Zontar into thinking the alien will save mankind from itself by taking control of the planet, essentially turning all of its inhabitants into slaves (seems Keith's been communicating with the creature for a while through some kind of wacky hi-fi set in his living room). Zontar arrives, knocks out all the power, hides out in some nearby caves, and launches a series of flying lobster drones called injecta-pods (grown from his own body no less), to implant mind control devices on specific individuals of power, thus providing Zontar the ability to control their actions. Curt eventually learns of the sinister plan (after his own wife is assimilated), and also learns he's one of Zontar's targets. Amidst the panic now developing in the streets, Curt must try and find a way to convince Keith Zontar is not a friend, and that his intentions are that of evil, but it may be too late as a number of annoying individuals are now under his control.
Good lord...I wanted to like this movie, but it was so completely boring, so much so I actually dozed off about halfway through, only to awaken and discover I really hadn't missed all that much. The scripting, laced with all kinds of technical sounding gobbledygook and obvious exposition, was pretty ridiculous, as was the acting. Here's a great line issued by the general, played by Neil Fletcher, as rocket control is trying to bring the laser satellite, which Zontar is hitching a ride on unbeknownst to the scientists, back to Earth, and they lose control of it..."Send it back up! Don't mess around with it!" By this time I was hoping the satellite would crash down on the station and wipe out a good number of the characters. The film, which was probably shot in under a week on a minuscule budget, looks incredibly shoddy, but sort of homey. Check out that rocket control room, complete with a `Cycloid' computer...it hardly instilled a sense of confidence in America's burgeoning space program. Agar, who was no stranger to the B film, seems to fit in pretty well in this Z grade film, making the most of his role while managing (sadly) to avoid going over the top, as he did so wonderfully in The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)...seriously, this film could have used a performance like that to keep me awake. As far as the rest of the actors, well, the do what they do, generally not very well, but I wasn't expecting great things here. Keeping in form, Buchanan holds back on presenting his monster until about an hour and ten minutes into the film, and for good reason. Once we finally get to see Zontar, it reminded me of a burnt grilled cheese sandwich with wings, like a bat had become entangled into the grilling process...ick. It was hardly impressive, and certainly provided little, if any scares, but whatever...the film runs about an hour and twenty minutes, but it felt like three hours given the extreme drag in the story. Well, for better or worse, I still have the 2nd feature on this DVD, titled The Eye Creatures (1965) left to watch...
I'm unsure if it's a testament to my intestinal fortitude or my stupidity, but I did watch both these movies in one day. The Eye Creatures, directed by Larry Buchanan, features John Ashley, a sort of bargain basement Elvis, who first started in the biz appearing in hot rod/juvenile delinquent pics like Dragstrip Girl (1957) and Hot Rod Gang (1958), before moving on to schlocky foreign made horror films like Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968) and Brides of Blood (1968). Also appearing is Cynthia Hull (High Yellow), Chet Davis (Mars Needs Women), Bill Peck (The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald), along with `Buchanan's Stock Company' regulars Tony Huston (The Eye Creatures, Curse of the Swamp Creature) and Bill `Billy' Thurman (The Eye Creatures, Curse of the Swamp Creature).
As the movie begins we learn the gooberment is keeping a secret. Seems there's UFOs flying about, and the army is tracking them using infrared scanners, at least when they're not using said scanners to peep on young couple necking in their cars in old man Bailey's farm fields, which , apparently, is make out central. Ashley plays Stan Kenyon, a strapping young buck putting the moves on his girlfriend Susan Rogers (Hull). The two are planning to elope, but they get sidetracked as Stan accidentally runs over and kills (somewhat) one of the aliens, a cadre of whom have just landed in a nearby field. Their car disabled, the couple run off on foot looking for help, but the sneaky aliens kill a nosey kid and make it look like Stan did it with his car, leaving Stan in some hot water with the police. Meanwhile, the military, who are hard at work trying to cover up the grounded UFO, accidentally blow it up...oh well...turns out none of the pale, lumpy, numerous eyed, jellyroll-like aliens were on board, as they're all out roaming the fields for whatever reason. Anyway, Stan, Susan, and Mike (the dead guy's greasy roommate, who spends half the film in a nightshirt) head out to alien central to try and get some evidence the aliens exists (none of the adults believe the dumb kids), and we learn Susan's car is named Elvis because "She shakes and shimmys a lot, but she can really go!" At least I think they were talking about Susan's car...they might have been talking about Susan...the aliens get jiggy, and Stan gets together all the kids at make out point for a final, idiotic showdown.
Oh man, this was a real flopper...if you must see this film, search out the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it, as it will be infinitely more entertaining. The film is populated by a whole slew of annoying characters (check out the pair of army homersexuals manning the infrared scanner), many of whom never get what they deserve, that being a slow, painful, and hideous death...instead, the audience is left to suffer the intolerable cruelties of rotten acting, a horrible script, polluted with some of the worst comedy I've heard in a long time, and pointless scenes that offer no reason for existing, other than to fill an hour and twenty minutes of celluloid. This is one of those movies where it's supposed to be night, but we can clearly see the sun shining, indicating a general lack of concern how good or bad this movie turned out, as long as it turned out. As far as the aliens, they look like moldy bread with Smucker jelly mouths, the biggest threat being accidentally running over one and getting a claw stuck in a tire. There's a painfully protracted sequence where Stan and Susan are driving, and a disembodied alien claw is creeping around the car...I think this was supposed to be suspenseful, but I've seen more tension trying to get the ketchup out of a bottle. No one really survives this flotsam, and Ashley, who seemed the most experienced, appeared to have been along just to pick up a check. You know, while I may be critical of Buchanan's films, I do admire him solely on the basis he did what he loved to do, and that was make movies, unimpeded by such things as budgets (or lack of), untalented actors, little or no directorial skill, or even ridiculous scripts and storylines, and that counts for something. His vision may have been hampered by the aforementioned, but his drive, determination, and `to hell with it' attitude was always present, even if the quality wasn't...
The picture quality, both in fullscreen, original aspect ratio, on this Retro Media Entertainment DVD release for Zontar, The Thing from Venus, is somewhat rough (at one point, the picture develops a case of the jitters), but it is watchable, even if the movie isn't. As far as The Eye Creatures, the quality is a little better, and looks a bit cleaner. Each film features Dolby Digital mono audio, which comes through well enough. The only extra feature is a featurette titled `Remembering John Ashley' (20:51), on the side featuring The Eye Creatures film. The DVD is two sided, meaning one film is on one side, the second on the flipside of the DVD.