A The Twilight Zone Community
CBS (ended 1964)
And so we come to another Outer Limits episode. "The Zanti Misfits" is a relatively well known episode, primarily because of the stop-motion animation of the title creatures. And they are pretty creepy: foot-long ant-like aliens with vaguely humanoid faces. Ugh.

There are several other factors that make the episode creepy. For one thing, it initially presents the aliens as speaking non-English. There's a translation process so that the military (and the viewers) can understand what the Zanti are saying. It's the only original episode that features alien speaking... well, alienese.

There are also several horror-film-type POV shots from the Zanti. And the episode sets up the humans as the underdogs. The Zanti have superior firepower, but according to the psychiatrists, they don't want an intergalactic war even if they could win.

That brings us to the recap. We start with Professor Stephen Grave being driven to the ghost town of Morgue, California. The military have set up in the ghost town and have already been contacted with the Zanti. The Zanti government wants to send their criminals and misfits to exile on Earth because they can't stand executing their own kind. The military commander handling negotiations is General Maximilian Hart. He's not a peacenik per se, but he doesn't want war. Grave, on the other hand, is a military journalist and historian of sorts, and while he's not that big a warmonger, he's given several lines that suggest that he wouldn't be against one, either. His father was a war journalist and Grave hasn't had a chance to cover a war and kinda wants one.

This leaves Major Roger Hill as the relatively big warmonger. He's the one talking about how the U.S. shouldn't feel uncertain, and how they can't trust the Zanti, and "Launch the missiles!", so on and so on.

The Zanti land in a quarantined area of the desert near Morgue. And despite the Zanti government demanding privacy and the military agreeing, thug on the run Ben Garth and a disgruntled wife Lisa drive into the quarantine zone, running over a guard in the process. Lisa is kinda spacy and Ben--Bruce Dern!--is pretty creepy. Ben spots the Zanti spacecraft and approaches it, and the door springs open to reveal a Zanti!

Ben falls and rolls over, and I guess he's supposed to have a broken back. He can't get away from the Zanti, which crawls on him. We get more horror-movie-type stuff as we hear Ben's screams over the military radio rather than see what's actually happening to him.

Grave asks Hart to send him in, and Hart obliges. Meanwhile, Lisa has found Ben's corpse and the Zanti, and runs for it. Grave arrives and saves her from the Zanti. They go back to Morgue, where the other Zanti overrun the place after flying there. The military fights back and despite a fatality or two, ends up killing all of the Zanti.

And here comes the kicker. In a Twilight Zone-style twist, the Zanti government calls and says that they're okay with the humans killing the Zanti misfits. In fact, they expected it and sent their misfits there because they can't kill their own kind, and figured that the misfits would be killed because, you know humans are practiced executioners and all.

So it's a Stefano message episode. He didn't do a lot of them, at least not very clear messages. "Nightmare" was one of his other "message" episodes. "Zanti" has a lot to say, but it's not very clear. Humans are killers: got it. War is bad: got it. We get characters with symbolic names like Hart and Grave and Morgue. As well as other bits like Grave the kinda-sorta antiwar guy killing an ant in one of his first scenes. Sure enough, Grave is the first one to kill a Zanti.

I think Lisa is supposed to be the "deep" character. She's saddled with "profound" lines like "No one ever has (hurt me). Except myself." And how she tore her life apart like a rag doll. You know, the kind of thing you say after someone has killed an alien bug in front of you. At the end, Lisa does this weird goony smile.

Bruce Dern is interesting as always, but he shows up and gets killed pretty quickly. That leaves Grave (Michael Tolan) as the hero of sorts. He rescues Lisa from the Zanti, and is basically the rock-jawed scientist from any number of 50s s.f. horror movies. Other than Dern, most of the characters are props in Stefano's morality play.

Overall, it's a good episode, not great. It reminds me a bit of the 60-minute season 4 Twilight Zones. There's a twist that takes forever to arrive and some heavy-handed moralizing. While the episode isn't a downer per se, it ends on a pretty down note. No, humanity doesn't get wiped out or plan to go on a suicide run. The Zanti government aren't going to wipe out Earth, and the Zanti misfits aren't roaming around the planet. But the humans haven't exactly "won", either.

The "message" seems a little weak to me, too. Yeah, humans are "practiced executioners". But it's not like the humans couldn't live with the Zanti in their midst. They seemed to do pretty well at it until Ben and Lisa came along. They're not exactly representative human beings. And the Zanti sent "criminals", who make a break for it and (rather stupidly) attack the nearest human military operation. The military more or less fights in self-defense. Yeah, humans in general probably couldn't deal with bug-like aliens among them, even in 1963. But who knows? The message only really gets across because the Zanti are so... bug-like and creepy looking. We humans couldn't live with the Zanti misfits among us, that's for sure. The Zanti are creepy, presented as killers, and probably are killers. This all tends to undermine the message.

The good parts are the Zanti itself, and the horror elements. There are lots of shots that convince you that the Zanti are creepy horrible bugs, even if they don't seem to pose much of a threat. And you've got Bruce Dern, who snarls and smirks through his brief part.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Comments (2)
Feb 07, 2018
"The Zanti Misfits" creeped me out as a kid. To me, the creatures looked like gigantic carpenter ants with termite faces. The noise they made added to the effect. The last few times I watched the episode, the things that stuck out for me were that the major wasn't as much of an antagonist/jerk as I'd remembered and the cross-cutting between Ben approaching the saucer and the translated voice issuing its warning: "Total destruction for any who disturb our privacy. Total destruction!" I love that scene.

I don't know when the novel came out, but, reading your review, it occurred to me that the plot is similar to Louis L'Amour's Shalako (which was a movie with Sean Connery).
Feb 08, 2018
It's definitely a creepy episode. it's also part of the plot, however unintentionally. If the aliens looked like angels, could we live with them among them? But because they're bugs with semi-human faces... no way, Jose.
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