Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Outer Limits: Alien Bugs Wreak Havoc on Earthlings in "The Zanti Misfits"

Start a discussion of the top five episodes of The Outer Limits and it's likely that "The Zanti Misfits" will enter the conversation. Many casual fans of the 1960s cult science fiction TV series won't remember the title of this episode. But just mention it's the one with the bugs and folks will recognize it.

What's interesting is that "The Zanti Misfits" isn't particularly well-acted, most of the characters are poorly developed, and the mundane dialogue leaves much to be desired. And yet, all those weaknesses remain an afterthought in light of the episode's ambitious premise, visual power, and a twist with some surprising heft.

The imaginative premise has an army unit occupying a modern-day ghost town to ensure the safe arrival of an alien spacecraft carrying prisoners. No one is enthused about this mission--the Zantis threatened to declare war if their request to establish a penal colony on Earth was not granted.

Although the army has secured the area, a speeding car breaks through one of the barricades, killing a guard. The driver is a low-life named Ben (Bruce Dern), who is fleeing from a crime scene with a runaway wife (Olive Deering). When the unhappy couple spots a small spaceship landing, Ben unwisely goes to investigate. His meddling ultimatey results in a memorable, all-out battle between the bug-like Zantis and the soldiers.

The special effects budget for The Outer Limits sometimes hampered the full exploitation of the show's "bears" (producer Joseph Stefano's unique term for a terrifying creature). That's not the case with "The Zanti Misfits." The aliens are genuinely disturbing little things with insect bodies and human-like heads (perhaps inspired by the creature glimpsed at the end of 1958's The Fly). In some scenes, the Zantis are fully animated via stop-motion photography. In other scenes, they look far less real, as soldiers roll around with fake bugs covering their bodies. Yet, despite a few cheesy shots, the climatic fight scene is creatively staged (Zantis crawling down the windows!) and the overall effect is impressive.

Yet, for all its visual power, it's a twist at the end that lingers after the credits roll. The Outer Limits was known for producing stories with a social conscience, such as "The Inheritors" and "The Architects of Fear." It also tacked on some impressive plot twists on occasion, as evidenced by the haunting "Demon With a Glass Hand." With "The Zanti Misfits," writer Stefano combines both and makes a chilling statement about the nature of the human race.

It's reason enough to watch "The Zanti Misfits"--even if you don't like creepy, crawling things with human-like faces!


  1. Rick, I'm not very familiar with THE OUTER LIMITS (although my uncle showed me DEMON WITH A GLASS HAND), so I haven't seen this episode. But it sounds wonderful! I was excited with the first photo because I think that bug looks creepy. Your superbly crafted review makes me crave not only this episode but, since I enjoyed GLASS HAND so much, additional OUTER LIMITS episodes as well. Thanks for helping us remember a favorite that may have been forgotten!

  2. Rick, When I was a kid I thought the THE OUTER LIMITS story was very imaginative.The "language" sequences were kind of fun, even though it sounded like they were talking through a tin can. The scene with Bruce Dern's character is my favorie...Awesome review!

    Do you remember the Creepy Crawler sets? Where you could make your own Creepy Crawlers?

  3. Rick, I really enjoyed your write-up of a fascinating episode of "The Outer Limits." The ending message was truly thought-provoking. Excellent review of an intriguing entry with a quirky little name!

  4. Dawn, I loved making Creeple People (they were made like the Creepy Crawlers but looked like little trolls)! They smelled bad when they were being baked but were quite fun. But discussion of Creepy Crawlers is quite fun in the discussion of "Zanti Misfits."

  5. Rick, I always loved Twilight Zone best, then Outer Limits. There were some really good ones, like the one you describe. I also remember one with David McCallum (remember Ilya Kuryakin?). He was involved with some alien something-or-other and his cranium kept growing as he got smarter. I loved that one! I always especially liked the opening sequence to Outer Limits...."Do not attempt to adjust your TV set...we control transmission....." Really cool.

  6. Way before my time, Rick. Enjoyed reading your article, though.

  7. My sister and I called them "chinny bugs"