Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Don Barton” with a minor in “HIPPIES!!!”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week it’s the bad movie from the cult lagoon, Zaat!
Nazi mad scientist Dr. Kurt Leopold has been laughed at for his Zaat formula, which can turn a man into a walking catfish, but the joke is on them when he uses the serum on himself and seeks revenge. Now the monster Leopold is on the loose and is ready to unleash his toxin into the water supply, not to mention steal away the local women and turn the into monsters like himself! Man, fish, or devil? No one is safe from the scaly scourge known only as…ZAAT!
Zaat, also known as “The Blood Waters of Dr. Z”, “Hydra”, “Attack of the Swamp Creatures”, and “Legend of the Zaat Monster” is a 1971 cult film who’s only claim to fame was that it was chosen for an episode of the movie-mocking TV series Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in May of 1999. Starring Marshall Grauer as Dr. Kurt Leopold, Wade Popwell as the Monster, and Paul Galloway as Sheriff Lou Krantz, Zaat is one of those movies that deserves a list of ingredients on the side of the box, just in case a sensitive audience member is allergic to any of the god-awful things in the film:
- Evil Nazi Scientists
- National Geographic style voice over’s
- Sargassum (the weed of deceit!)
- Overly dramatic 1970’s horror music
- 9-inch needles
- Rubber monster suits
- FISH FACTS
- Casual racism
- Bikini-clad women
- Waterproof, Plot-Advancing Geiger Counters
- Sexy 70’s jazz!
- Horny teens with no peripheral vision
- And, of course…HIPPIES!
Trace amounts of any one of these things could give the unprepared viewer a Supercult sized aneurism, but this film has positively lethal doses of all of them.
Unlike most horror films, which try desperately to keep the monster a secret from the audience despite having the monster’s name as the title of the film, Zaat seems rather proud of its monster suit and the catfish-man-beast gets plenty of screen time. Unfortunately the majority of that time on screen is spent stumbling around like a drunkard both in and out of the water. It’s hard to make your monster look dangerous when it’s clear that being a giant catfish-man-bear-pig is more of a detriment than a benefit to locomotion.
Aside from the obvious low-budget shenanigans, goofy evil plan “wheel of fortune” diagrams scrawled in crayon, and the odd quirky plot-hole, Zaat’s main offense is being slower than stale swamp water. It takes ages for any of the incompetent law-enforcement agents to figure out what’s going on despite magically being able to deduce that whoever is killing people is part fish. At one point the film diverges entirely from the main storyline to show Sheriff Lou enjoy some religious hippie music played by a band of youths (led by acoustic guitarist, Jamie DeFrates, who also wrote the songs for the film). After about 5 minutes of singing the sheriff gets up and without a word leads the entire troupe straight into the town jail, singing all the way. It’s scenes like that, the incarceration of hippies for no other reason than because they’re hippies, that makes me proud to be an American.
Director, Producer, and Scriptwriter Don Barton filmed the entirety of Zaat in a month on a $75,000 budget in and around Jacksonville Florida. Barton apparently filled the role of the monster through a newspaper ad. The ad read:
“Wanted: 6’5” or taller male to play the role of monster in horror movie. Must be experienced swimmer, scuba diver. Acting Ability not required!”
It’s difficult to tell at first, but during the swimming scenes it appears as though the monster is wearing scuba gear underneath the costume. Every time the actor in the suit exhales, a stream of bubbles escape from every seam in the costume: the face, the hands, the butt…everywhere. Originally, the film was supposed to include scenes of gigantic catfish destroying the countryside. Footage of the walking catfish on miniature landscapes, incredible as it may seem, was deemed too hokey for the film. One shot made it into the film however; in one sequence a catfish is shown squirming next to a miniature fence. No shits are given by anyone in the film.
Though he is best known internationally for birthing this piece of marsh muck into the world, he is also known for being a key player in the development of the Motion Picture industry for the state of Florida. Barton co-founded the Florida Motion Picture and Television Production Association and spent most of his career producing documentaries, training films, and TV commercials, which may explain why nobody knows exactly when a shot should end in Zaat. Though Don Barton died in June of 2013, the Barton name lives on with his two sons John and Michael, and their company, Barton Productions, Inc. and, 40 years after the release original, a spoof sequel to Zaat was announced entitled, “DARN MONSTER”
Zaat got a limited release in the Southern United states and a wider release four years later before sliding into the depths of obscurity. It wasn’t until MST3K picked it up in a season 10 episode under the title “Blood Waters of Dr. Z” that the film picked up a cult following. Director Don Barton was reportedly annoyed with MST3K for mocking his movie, but later clarified that the only reason he was annoyed was because SyFy (then The Sci-Fi Channel) had failed to secure the proper rights to the film. Barton issued a cease and desist and a lawsuit, so SyFy pulled the episode, and only reran it twice two years later, when they had cleared the issue with Barton out of court.
Zaat has no critical reviews and a 10% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and with a 2.6 claims a spot on IMDB’s bottom 100! Zaat is a bad movie, but it’s pungent well-aged badness that tastes great when lightly sautéed and served with a full bodied white-wine…just like catfish. Whaz Zaat, you ask?
The Supercult show is proud to present, Zaat!
You can follow the exploits of the Jacksonville Film & Television Office on their blog here: http://filmjax.blogspot.com/
SARGASSUM! THE WEED OF DECEIT!