• Zaat

    Released by: Film Chest/Cultra
    Released on: February 21, 2012.
    Director: Don Barton
    Cast: Paul Galloway, Marshall Grauer, Wade Popwell
    Year: 1971
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    The Movie:

    One of those rare films to consistently hold a place on the IMDB’s ‘Bottom 100’ list, 1971’s Zaat, directed by Don Barton (his only feature film credit, though he was active in Florida’s regional film industry for decades and also worked plenty in the industrial film circuit) has been known under a few alternate titles such as Hydra and, more commonly, The Blood Waters Of Dr. Z (the title that it was skewered under on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1999).

    When the film begins, we’re treated to some stock footage of some fish, just sort of hanging around while some narration from the ominous Doctor Kurt Leopald (Marshall Grauer), who may or may not be a former Nazi, lets us in on the fact that he plans on basically turning himself into a giant man-catfish hybrid (Wade Popwell in a goofy rubber suit). See, he more or less hates his fellow scientists and decides he’ll prove this by unleashing his secret formula which turns regular guys like you and me into horrible, mutant fishmen – but he’s going to test it out on himself first. The good doctor kidnaps a few pretty ladies (in hopes of breeding with them and spawning a new race?) and kills off a few colleagues and ultimately makes a pretty feeble attempt to take over the world, but government intervention, thanks to INPIT (What? INPIT? Oh! They must mean the Inter-Nations Phenomena Investigation Team!) Agents Stevens (Dave Dickerson) and Walsh (Sanna Ringhaver) at just the right time stops him before he can really get much further than his dingy, swampy home. Along for the ride are a redneck sheriff named Lou Krantz (Paul Galloway) who calls a marine biologist named Rex (Gerald Cruse, the only black character in the movie) boy all the time.

    Very obviously influenced by Universal’s The Creature From The Black Lagoon, although made with not one iota of the skill shown by the crew which helmed that classic, Zaat is a bad movie fan’s dream come true. From the early stages, in which our bizarre doctor is planning his experiment and subsequent attempts to take everyone out by using a weird, hand drawn color wheel with pictures of fish on it to the strange attack scenes in which the monster pops out of the water and makes strange sort of gargling noises, nothing here really make a whole lot of sense. Shot completely on location in Florida and making great use of some of the resources offered to them by Marineland (!), the filmmakers bumble their way through an hour and forty minutes of completely absurd nonsense but you can’t help but have a good time with this one.

    The main attraction here for a lot of people is going to be the rubber suit itself. It looks like it was designed by a third grader doodling monsters on the back of his notebook during math class. It shows no regard for realism, and why should it, nor does it really even resemble a catfish at all. Instead the monster is a slimy green thing that looks more like it should have come from a Martian invasion film rather than a byproduct of science run amok. Add to this the fact that, even in catfish monster form, Doctor Leopald’s bizarre internal monologues continue unabated, and the film starts to become almost surreal.

    You’ve also got to give the filmmakers credit for bringing one of the dopiest man into monster scenes to vivid life on screen. How exactly does Leopald become a catfish monster? He injects himself with a glowing green serum dubbed Zaat and then lays down on a gurney of sorts and lowers himself into the water. At this point the water starts to bubble and… that’s it – he just turns into the monster. There’s not much more to the transformation that this, it’s all quite sudden and seemingly easy and painless. From there, the monster suit becomes the star attraction of the film, with never more than a few minutes going by without this rambling, shambling thing that doesn’t look like a catfish at all terrorizing one woman or another or popping out of swamp water and knocking over a boat, killing the people inside instantly without ever touching them. It’s also painfully obvious any time the creature goes underwater to spread his serum around and in theory start to populate the Earth with more catfish monster things, that he’s wearing SCUBA gear. They don’t even try to hide this.

    The acting is awful across the board, just as bad as the effects work, but you’ve got to love the local flavor that the film offers up. Early seventies Florida is a tacky place indeed and presented here in all its wood paneled glory it just helps to up the bizarro factor of the movie, not that it really needed any help in the first place. Long stretches where nothing happens to further the plot are common, there are logic gaps big enough to pilot a 747 through and the INPIT agents drive around in a dunebuggy.


    Houston, we have a problem. While the AVC encoded 1.78.1 1080p high definition widescreen transfer on this disc (which the packaging states has been taken from 35mm elements) is clean and remarkably colorful, this comes at the cost of most of the picture’s fine detail. Awash in a sea of painfully obvious noise reduction and filtering, not only are faces scrubbed of any texture and left with disturbingly waxy complexions but texture on clothing disappears as well. There’s very little of the film’s grain structure left intact where, and while the colors look great, print damage is never an issue and there are no compression issues to note the overuse of noise reduction is a big and obvious strike against this release.

    The English language audio, which comes with optional Spanish language subtitles, is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. There's no lossless option provided, unfortunately. All in all, the movie sounds decent considering the age and low budget origins of the film. Dialogue is clean and well balanced and the sound effects are mixed in nicely, never overpowering things. The score has some decent clarity to it and there are only fleeting instances of mild background hiss here and there. This is a low-fi track but it certainly gets the job done without any issues, but the omission of a lossless track is unfortunate.

    Extras kick off with a commentary track featuring film historian Ed Tucker, director/producer Don Barton, monster costume designer Ron Kivet and Paul Galloway who played the sheriff in the film. There’s a lot of attention here given to the costume, noting that it fell apart every night and how stock footage from Marineland was used to pad out the film. There are a lot of anecdotes here about the low budget shoot, the pros and cons of working around snapping turtles, the perils of taking people out to lunch without having the money to pay for it and other completely random stories from the trenches. The audio quality on the track is a bit on the tinny side but the participants are obviously having a blast reminiscing about working on this project together – you kind of get the feeling as if they’re all sitting around a table throwing back a beer or two and talking about old times, and it’s all actually quite endearing. It also moves at a good pace and if it occasionally drifts off topic, it’s easy to forgive that as there’s a good sense of humor behind all of this and the guys are never at a loss for words.

    There’s also an eleven minute radio interview with the late Wade Popwell and Ed Tucker included here, recorded for a radio station in Jacksonville, Florida where the movie was filmed. The pair discusses the plot of the film, its Jacksonville premiere, its cult appeal and more. It’s quite promotional in nature but done with a good sense of humor and a fun listen nevertheless, particularly once Popwell chimes in about his experiences playing the monster.

    Rounding out the extras are a still gallery, a restoration demo showing some side by side before and after clips, a great trailer for the feature, a trio of TV spots (“Zaat is an incredible motion picture!”), and four minutes worth of rare outtake footage (fullframe and in rough shape but great to see). As this is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack, a standard definition DVD is also included inside the keepcase with identical extra features. A postcard replicating the cover art is also tucked away inside – a nice touch.

    The Final Word:

    You can call it awful and I’ll call it awfully entertaining – we’re both right. Zaat is a pretty terrible film in every traditional way a film can be terrible but so too is it a lot of fun, particularly if you’ve got an affinity for ‘guy in a rubber suit’ monster movies and the strange local flavor that only low budget regional films made in the seventies can offer. The transfer is really the only issue here, as the noise reduction is a problem – but the extras are great and there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps (SPOILERS AHEAD)!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mike Howlett's Avatar
      Mike Howlett -
      Looks like heaven to me. I have a strange love affair with this film.