Friday, February 26, 2010

Zaat (Don Barton, 1975)

Staggering through the swamp like a drunken fiend who just happens to be wearing an unwieldy costume made out of what looks like stained algae and recycled kelp, the vengeful beast in Zaat (a.k.a. Blood Waters of Dr. Z)–a poetic water-out-of-fish tale by highly respected filmmaker Don Barton–will stop at nothing to realize his loopy dream of a world ruled by his army of man-fish hybrids. The story of a lonely scientist who has clearly been spending way too much time in his sparsely decorated laboratory, the film does a tremendous job of testing one's patience for watching a man lurch about in a green outfit for long periods of time. For example, when the creature is stabbed, we can watch as it slowly makes its way to the pharmacy to pick up some medicine. And when the creature is unsatisfied with the pharmacies selection, we can watch as it vents its anger toward the pesky pharmacy shelves for not having the item his man-fish body needs to help alleviate the pain caused by the aforementioned stab wound.

Over the years I have found that most films are guilty of skimping when it comes to showing pointless nonsense that isn't in someway connected to the stories central drive. Well, I can think of one film that doesn't shy away from delivering superfluous drivel, and its name is Zaat. Case near point: The local Sheriff (Paul Galloway) takes a break from hunting the man-fish to enjoy the folk music being played by a bunch of Hippies. This unexpected jam session leads to an even more bizarre turn of events when the Sherif leads the Hippie throng to jail. (He looked like the Pied Piper. Except instead of leading rats, he led Hippies.) Now, he doesn't put them in jail for breaking the law (or for just being Hippies), he puts them there in order to protect them for the Hippie-killing monster lurking outside. It has to be one the weirdest sequences involving Hippies and Florida law enforcement ever to be captured on film.

Beluga buff, fish fancier, aquatic aficionado, call him what you will, but there's no getting around the fact that Dr. Kurt Leopold (Marshall Grauer) loves life underwater. How much does he like it down you barely muster the strength to ask? Well, let me tell you: he's such a fan of the intense dampness that comes with being submerged 24/7, that he is willing to radically alter his organic structure. Immersed in the laboratory lifestyle that was chic with the mad scientist crowd during the mid-1970s, the misunderstood beaker jockey is determined to prove to his dismissive colleagues that he can become an upright fish.

Inspired by a non-indigenous walking catfish, the mentally unwell man of science injects himself with something called "zaat," and proceeds to take a dip in a large vat of...zaat. After five to ten seconds, he emerges covered in green slime. Eager to get his feet wet, the newly transformed crackpot searches the swamp for his unsupportive peers. Luckily for him, they're all avid fishermen. In other words: finding them, so he may claw at their neck area in a violent manner, won't be that hard.

Gashing the throats of middle-aged fishermen is easy, satisfying the urges that come with being the proud new owner of a massive man-fish boner is something else entirely. The monster (Wade Popwell) sets his romantic sights on a female camper/budding artist/yellow bikini enthusiast (Nancy Lien). At first he just stalks her from a distance. (I can't imagine what his opening line might be.) Playing it cool, he lets her come to him, and proceeds to grab her as she is swimming. (Pretty smooth, fish-boy.) Dad's be-dazzled vagina, after some playful writhing, the creature takes her back to the lab and attempts to transform her into a woman-fish hybrid.

An unforeseen side note: Would it have killed Dr. Leopold to put up some wall art in his lab? The blandness of the place practically screamed psychotic bedwetter with a fish fixation. Though, I suppose his duel purpose revenge-mating calender could be construed as a decorative piece. After all, on top of being functional, it does catch the eye in a seriously deranged sort of way.

Standing in the way of Dr. Leopold's dream of a universe overrun with fish people is a marine biologist named Rex (Gerald Cruse). Literally stymied, in that, he actually says he is "stymied" at one point, Rex telephones two experts from INPIT (International Nucleic Porridge Investigation Team) to help him get to the bottom of the man-fish mystery. And you know they're gonna be helpful the moment INPIT agents Martha (Sanna Ringhaver) and Walker (Dave Dickerson) walk on screen in their spiffy red jumpsuits. As you might know, nothing says governmental competence like matching jumpsuits.

Ending like a European art film, Zaat poses many questions. Of course, I missed most of them, but I did hear a lot of the answers. I also learned that nature is a volatile morass, one that is full of unseen danger; Miss Ringhaver looks her best while sitting with her legs crossed in short shorts; and if you have an underwater camera, don't be afraid to use it. Oh, and electronic bleeping sounds do wonders when comes to creating a semi-believable laboratory environment.

video uploaded by retromaster2000s


  1. Damn, this sound sooooo good. If I hadn't just finally got a copy of Slithis, I would track it down instantly.

  2. Well, zaat sounds really weird. :)

    From my Twitter feed last night:
    "Yonge-Dundas is madness right now. Madness." (That tweet was from the cool guy who does Chromewaves.) I wondered, "Hey, is Yum squared taking part in the revelry?"

    Oh, and did you see that Canadiana parade in the closing ceremonies? Floating beavers and mounties? And Michael Bublé?

    Me: Where's the Hip? Blue Rodeo? Neo A4? Instead, we got freaking Avril Lavigne.

  3. The Goodkind: Turner Classic Movies aired Zaat back in November 09. So, you might want to keep an eye out for it there; you never know, they might show it again.

    Karim Amir: Imagine if a movie called "Zaat" wasn't weird. *shudders*

    I saw an aerial shot of the Yonge and Dundas madness on the news... and holy crap, was that crowd deep. Yikes.

    Nah, I wasn't there. For some strange reason, I can't see myself yelling "woo" over and over again in public. ;)

    I only caught a couple seconds of the closing ceremonies. I'm surprised NBC allowed something so aggressively Canadian to be broadcast on American television.

    Actually, Skinny Puppy would have been more appropriate -- you know, since they're from Vancouver and junk. If harsh electro-industrial music is too angry for the IOC, 54-40 would have been a solid alternate.

    I'm not a fan of Avril Lavigne's music, but I do have a misguided fondness for her style and makeup choices.

    Speaking of music and style, I can't believe Alex Trebek just dissed the Spice Girls. You should have seen me, I was livid. ;)