Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big Video Wednesday - The Zanti Misfits

I got a little burned out on low-budget, poorly written live 50's sci-fi, so decided to move on to an acclaimed series from the early 60's, The Outer Limits.

"The Zanti Misfits" was broadcast in 1963 and is mainly notable for some rare stop-motion effects by future animation wizard Jim Danforth, along with his Project Unlimited colleagues.

The episode opens with aliens telling a general over the radio that they are ready to land their ship, and will kill anyone who intrudes on their landing area. Then we see a black sedan crash through a gate, killing a military guard, and drive along a desert road as the alien spaceship descends above it.

Title sequence. "Do not adjust your set...." One of the most inspired title sequences of all time, I think, in concept if not in execution.

When the program resumes, we see the black sedan drive through a ghost town (ironically named Morgue) and pull to a stop in front of a building with a curiously modern door. A man gets out carrying a typewriter case, along with a soldier (okay, technically, he's not a soldier, he's an airman). What the?

As the program continues, the man, a historian named Grave, meets the Air Force general and they talk about the historic alien landing. Apparently, the aliens want to use Earth as Australia, a place to dump their criminals and undesirables, and the U.S. has gone along with the scheme to avoid pissing the aliens off and starting a war we would lose. But no mention is made of the dead guard, and by the end of the first act, we find out why. That's a different black sedan, and the sequence before the credits had been a scene from later in the show. Confusing.

So the car stops with steam billowing out of the hood. Inside are Olive Deering as some slutty chick who has ditched her husband, taking along her fur coat and a bunch of cash, to run away with this guy.

Bruce Dern, who only gives hints of the crazy that will be his hallmark later in his career, although he does do the bunny face a bit.

He spots the alien ship sitting among some very familiar rocks.

Unfortunately, he does not run into either Captain Kirk or a Gorn.

This formation, by the way, is known as the Vasquez Rocks, and you've seen it a lot, I'm sure.

So he climbs up to take a closer look, splitting his pants along the way. On a TV schedule and budget, there was no chance to reshoot.

As he examines the ship, a door pops open and out crawls a six-inch-long ant with a humanoid face.

These are the Zanti. They are a little creepy in close-up, because of the stop-motion and because they're just out of focus, but they never really do much. Bruce Dern jumps back, slides down some rocks, and then the Zanti crawls on him and he screams.

Meanwhile, the military folks are trying to assure the Zanti that the human intruders are there by accident, not a double-cross. They send Grave the historian out to negotiate.

As Grave is on his way, Ms. Slutty McFloozy climbs up the rocks to see what's taking Bruce Dern so long, taking off her high heels to help her with the climb. When she sees the Zanti, she freaks out and runs away, down the slope to ground level, where she's so tired, she has to lie down.

She hides in the car, but the Zanti leers at her through the windshield, so she runs away again, mincing along on her bare feet. She finally encounters Grave, who shouts at her to come to him, but she acts like she can't see him, even though he's only like 30 feet away in broad daylight. She runs the other way, then stops for another quick lie down.

Grave catches up to her, but she refuses to come along with him, giving some dopey melodramatic monologue about how she's wasted her life and just wants to die (which is why she's been running away from this thing for half the episode, natch). The Zanti appears, and Grave is the only guy in the whole show who acts like he's got a pair (including all the military men). He doesn't freak out at how big the ant is, he just grabs a rock and squishes it.

Then he grabs Slutty and drags her back to his jeep.

Meanwhile, we learn from a radio broadcast that the Zanti who has just been killed was like the prison guard on the ship and the bugs are making a break for it. They take off in the spaceship.

Grave takes Slutty to the ghost town HQ, where she has miraculously regenerated her high heels. The general is freaking out, because he's sure the Zanti will go to war over this affront. The escaped Zanti prisoners demonstrate that they're not too bright at this point, because instead of going to Vegas, they just land on the HQ's roof and attack the soldiers.

Hmmm, six-inch ants versus men armed with rifles and hand grenades. Who will win? I mean seriously, you don't really need rifles so much, just shoes.

Anyway, the soldiers kill the ants, and then they get a call from the Zanti homeworld stating there will be no war. The Zanti wanted the prisoners executed, turns out. They just didn't have the stomach to do it themselves and they knew we wouldn't be able to resist doing it, as long as we didn't know we were expected to. Humans are dumb and violent, you see.

Anyway, it's a decent enough episode, I guess, but far from the kind of brilliant jewel most old-school fans proclaim it to be. I've seen several episodes over the years, but the one I liked most and most want to see again is not available on Hulu. It's the episode "Demon With a Glass Hand," written by Harlan Ellison and starring Robert Culp.

Meanwhile, if you want to see the entire Zanti Misfits episode, here it is.

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