Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Zaat"(1975)d/Don Barton

Move over Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster of Piedras Blancas,there's a new rubbersuited amphibious sheriff in town.Well,maybe if the town had a population of like,five,that might work out.Zaat is by far the single greatest "mad-scientist-plans-species-domination-by-transforming-himself-into-a-human-walking-catfish" movie I have ever seen,bar none.Zaat is kinda like what it might be like to make "Black Lagoon" with no actors,and an overall budget of about seventy-five bucks.Some people might shy away from tackle a project of such epic proportions made for a week of factory pay shot over a period of three years,but not Don fucking Barton.Some directors might say to themselves,"You know,we've put some obvious dime store fangs into our creature costume,maybe we shouldn't let it clock too much on-screen time."Not Don fucking Barton.His lens lovingly follows the human walking catfish whether he's oafishly climbing out of the water like he's three sheets to the wind,or sluggishly swimming after his potential future catfish-frau,who could outswim the thing doing a one-handed backstroke.Andy Milligan himself might call Barton inept,were he alive to endure Barton's clumsy effort.Few films miss the mark so completely that they transcend the odor of their own stench,and entertain the way that Zaat does.If I had Barton in front of me(or you happen to be reading out there,DB),once I finished wiping the tears of laughter away,I'd have to ask him one question,that I'd expect him to answer totally honestly:Dude,what the fuck were you on and what the fuck were you thinking!
It ain't every day you get CTFOed in your living room by a human walking catfish.
After a snazzy folk song whose lyrics call for revenge on your friends(second only to Island of Death's catchy tune),we meet Dr. Leopold(Marshall Grauer),who has abandoned hope for the rest of the human race,and has produced a formula that will allow him to rise above his skeptical peers,mixing mankind with the perfect form of marine life,forever replacing hobbled old nutbags who shuffle around sparse laboratory sets all day.Whale?No.Shark?Nope.Dolphin?Uh uh.Killer Whale?Not even close.Those of you who said "human walking-catfish",what the hell are you on and what the hell is wrong with you!He explains this through an endless and introspective echo-heavy voice-over,with lines like,"Sargassum,the weed of deceit.Sargassum fish,the mighty hunter of the deep."Now I'm no ichthyologist by anyone's standards,but calling a four inch long frogfish the "mighty hunter of the deep",that there's crazy talk.Leopold consults a huge paper zodiac wheel of fish transformation and mating notes on the wall,that looks like it was drawn up by two teenaged high school chicks on bad acid with felt markers,and turns knobs and flicks switches on a lot of low-tech equipment that serve no purpose other than flashing lights and electronic noise.He looks at a lot of stock footage of fish from documentaries as though it was in the aquarium tanks in his lab,when it obviously isn't.He jabs a fake patch of skin that's supposed to be his own arm with a hypo full of his compound,Z sub a A sub T,or ZaAt,then submerges himself on a pulley-operated metal gurney into a large tank filled with the stuff.It's a tank of water,couldn't he just climb in and save himself the trouble?What comes out a few seconds later,well that's something else entirely.
"I don't give a good goddamn what the zodiac wheel says,boy.We AIN'T compatible!"
When Leopold gets a load of himself in the mirror,"Not at all like the catfish!" is a bit of an understatement.He looks like a rubbery,algae covered mix of seahorse and anteater with clear plastic eyes and bright red lipstick surrounding his dimestore plastic Dracula fangs.He immediately goes out and awkwardly swims amongst the octopi and sea turtles indigenous to most Florida lakes,squirting ZaAt into the water with his little red squirt bottle.Next on his human-walking catfish world domination to-do list is to eradicate his doubting Thomas colleagues which proves to be pretty easy,since there's only two of 'em,and they both seem to like to go fishing.In the meantime,he spots a comely young camper on the shore of the lake,who he later kidnaps,before failing miserably in attempt to turn her into a walking she-fish when his low tech equipment goes on the fritz,transforming her corpse into half seaweed,half dead bimbo in a yellow bikini.The sheriff,besieged by reports of catfish flopping around on the road and gasping for air,and hilarious shots of a walking catfish lunging forward on a miniature set complete with tiny fence to show scale,calls in the scientific duo from INPIT,or the Inter-Nations Phenomena Investigations Team.We know their credentials because of the logo on their camper,and their outta sight matching orange jumpsuits.Inexplicably we get no less than ten minutes of the sheriff grooving along to a group of young hippies playing folky guitar songs about Jesus,before he locks them all up in jail with no warning.ZaAt discovers he only has a plastic eye for the female INPIT team member,injecting her with the compound,but she is rescued before she can be lowered into the giant fry daddy,her male partners and the sheriff getting catfish scratch fever in the process.ZaAt makes for the ocean,cannisters of his formula in tow,and his would-be she-guppy follows behind in a trance-like state.I'd imagine I looked the same way when this movie finally ended,but for entirely different reasons.
"What??ACTING serum??!!Noooooooo!!!"
Appropriately,nobody involved here really ever did anything else involving movies(the sheriff was an extra in blaxploitation classic J.D.'s Revenge the next year,I'm one step ahead of you,Anon!),proving once again that the Gods occasionally smile down upon us.Also released as "Bloodwaters of Dr. Z" and "Hydra",this is one that has to be seen to be believed.If hokey,low-budget monster movies are your bag,then this is a Prada.ZaAt submerges itself in a pond,where air bubbles and one bw rise from every seam in its rubber suit.
Unbelievably,the makers of "Zaat" used no CGI whatsoever for their realistic creature effects.


stonerphonic said...

how the hell that didn't get 4 choice BW's on the scale of awesomeness is beyond me....

beedubelhue said...

Oh,it did,Stone,it's just offset by negative three bws for all the faults!


mottikod said...

Its never to late to watch this exercise in what to do if you want the exact opposite of good film making. at the same time making it a must see.

beedubelhue said...

I'd forgotten I'd written so much about the damned thing in the first place.


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