Photograph by Jim Ferreira
FILM THREAT: Thrillville hosts Will and Monica bring the sin back to cinema.
Schlock night at Camera 3 features two of the worst movies ever
By Richard von Busack
AS JAMES BUCHANAN to presidents, so Larry Buchanan to directors. Odd that Buchanan was once Peabody-nominated for a TV show he directed in the 1950s. This was long before Mars Needs Women, Mistress of the Apes and his tantalizing Death and the Maiden fantasia, Strawberries Need Rain. Hard to find is Buchanan's most prestigious work, a shot-in-Tunisia biblical epic titled The Copper Scroll of Mary Magdalene, concerning everybody's favorite whore with the heart of gold. Buchanan's Zontar, The Thing From Venus is the title that makes people's hearts leap—one-half of Will "The Thrill" Viharo's Gore 'n' Snore double bill on Thursday (Oct. 22) at Camera 3. San Jose's own Actual Rafiq ("One-track mind, eight-track soul") will shore up the night's entertainment. Zontar (1966) concerns an aggravating, Tim Roth–like twerp named Keith Ritchie (Tony Huston), a scientist rapt by Venusian radio broadcasts. We can't understand the transmission (it sounds like wobbly electronic beeps), but it pumps Ritchie up just like a Michael Savage diatribe engorges a laid-off construction worker. Meanwhile, under the direction of top scientist John Agar, NASA launches a rocket, despite Ritchie's carping that Earthlings are too stupid to join "the great brotherhood of the countless galaxies." Ritchie, for one, welcomes of our alien overlords: "The world has been headed downhill for a long time!" he exclaims. The girls in the picture don't want to know about it ("I'm tired of hearing about laser satellites!"), but the bite of several "Injectopods" (i.e., diseased-looking flying crustaceans) clinches Venus' argument. Eventually comes the arrival of Zontar himself: a three-eyed molting ape/bat who shakes his wings menacingly at the camera. Impresario Viharo telexed me the film's origins, taking understandable pride in the fact that he's giving Zontar its big-screen debut in San Jose: "Zontar, the Thing From Venus is the most infamous of a series of TV flicks commissioned by American International Pictures in the mid-1960s. Basically AIP cynically regurgitated several of their '50s sci-fi drive-in hits for the small screen, even though the cheap originals were already staples of local late-night and Saturday-afternoon TV horror-host programs. I have no rational explanation for this behavior. Zontar is a remake of Roger Corman's It Conquered the World (1956); it most notably replaces Peter Graves with genre icon John Agar looking tired and even a bit irritable." As well he might. Best known as Shirley Temple's ex-husband, Agar started off with John Ford and ended up with Larry Buchanan. Viharo adds, "Buchanan's films were all shot in rural and suburban Texas, making the location photography and incidental background atmosphere the most interesting aspects of these films." Agreed. The cinderblock backdrops, the failed attempts at service comedy (two chumps in Army uniforms goldbricking around a cyclone fence) and the incidents of the cast sitting around having strangely formal coffee klatches as the world is menaced: all give this slowpoke film a little dynamism. The second part of the bill is Fred Olen Ray's Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988). Viharo claims that "it centers around a chain-saw-worshipping cult led by Gunnar Hansen, who played Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, recruiting prostitutes to maim and murder for no particular reason." They can't all be Mary Magdalene.
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