Film Chest // 1971 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 29th, 2012
Is it man...fish...or devil?
I stand by the idea that no serious filmmaker sets out to make a masterpiece when he slaps his movie with a name like Zaat, which sounds like a bug zapper or a cold medicine. Much like other 'so good they're bad' one-name movies (Eegah!, Trog and Them!, to name a few). Zaat became a B-movie staple before the finished product was even in the can. Fans of this beloved cheapie have apparently been waiting years for it to arrive on DVD or Blu-ray and it's finally here care of Film Chest.
A mad scientist (Marshall Grauer) plans to create a half human/half catfish monster by polluting the local lakes and streams. When the good doctor decides to use himself as a guinea pig for his radioactive formula, he is instantly transformed into a walking, hulking fish/plant/aardvark hybrid...err, "thing." Let's call it the Zaat monster (played by Wade Popwell). Now a lumbering mass of evil, the Zaat monster wants to mate, and his eyes are set on various local gals who he'll make into a female Zaat monster and, I dunno, maybe make some Zaat porn with. Your guess is as good as mine.
What will become of the locals? Can anyone stop the evil Zaat monster before becoming his next victim? And why does he carry around a spritzer bottle with him wherever he goes? All of the answers will be revealed (although not necessarily so you can understand them) in the blood curdling horror that is Zaat!
Zaat is a movie that had never appeared on my radar until this week. Ever. I had never heard of the film before requesting it for review -- yes, make no mistake that I actually went out of my way to ask for it -- even though it's apparently one of the most "sought after 70's cult classics" (the packaging's words, not mine) and has been a staple on Mystery Science Theater 3000. While I can see how a movie like this lives on in the hearts of those who saw it as a kid or teenager, I can't imagine anyone in this day and age taking it as anything more than an elevated home movie. I've bought a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips that were pricier than Zaat's budget.
Zaat clearly takes its inspiration from the '50s classic Creature from the Black Lagoon, especially considering the underwater sequences and titular monster (who could easily pass as the Gill Man's ugly, inbred third bumpkin cousin). That, however, is where the comparisons stop. Whereas The Creature from the Black Lagoon was a fun and well constructed sci-fi chiller, Zaat is a thinly produced Ed Wood-esque cheapie about walking catfish. Yup, you read that correctly: it's a movie about land roving catfish. Why the filmmakers thought audiences would be terrified by a creature that when prepared correctly makes a wonderful dish is beyond me.
The acting in Zaat is below subpar. Actors seem to be whispering their lines and trying hard not to fully comprehend that they're in one of the worst films ever made. There are no stand outs or future stars to be found here; Zaat's casting director appears to have raided the local community college for its acting talent. The oddest choice in the film (aside of the monster) is the fact that the beast's human persona often chimes in with weird, out of place voice over narration about his plan for world domination, like some rejected Bond villain. I'd complain about it, but it only adds to the film's lunacy and charm.
The Zaat monster suit -- the highlight of the film -- is atrociously silly. Imagine Swamp Thing crossed with Q-Bert by way of Eric Stoltz in Mask and you'll have a good idea what you're in for. How bad do the monster effects look? Let's put it this way: the green beast appears to be wearing a fuzzy green boa. And lipstick. Yes, nothing says 'pure unadulterated terror' like a little ruby red lips and accessories straight out of Zsa Zsa Gabor's closet. There's a certain chintzy charm in watching the monster wander around the movie, often in bright light so we can see how bad the costume looks. My personal favorite moment is when he breaks into a drug store and starts shopping for medicine like he's got a kid at home with a cold. The actor in the monster suit has all the subtlety of Tor Johnson on a bad day. The late Wade Powell never gets the hang of the one hundred plus pound suit, tripping and stumbling over everything in his path. I'm surprised that the monster wasn't carrying a visible martini throughout the film.
The movie suddenly and inexplicably comes to a halt when a bunch of hippie musicians show up to sing a song then are incarcerated by the local authorities without so much as a complaint; they essentially sing and strut their way into a jail cell. It's a baffling moment that has to be seen to be believed. Clearly this scene was included so that Jamie DeFrates (the film's composer) could have his folksy tune placed front and center in the movie for what seems like an eternity. But hey, in a film about a soggy green lipstick covered monster, why not?
Zaat is low-grade nonsense, but it's never boring. Writer/director/producer Don Barton is given high marks for actually convincing backers that a movie about killer catfish and a giant mutated aardvark was a good investment. As a silly, amusing bad movie, Zaat works.
As a carefully crafted piece of serious filmmaking, Zaat is crap.
Zaat is presented in 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen. The transfer was taken directly from an original 35mm print that looks better than anticipated, but not as good as one might hope. The colors are all bright and clearly defined but there's often a grainy, grimy feel to the film's transfer. It's not terrible -- especially considering the age, budget and condition of the film -- but it's certainly not going to win any prestigious image awards.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo in English. Fidelity is lacking, but hey, it's a cheap early '70s Z-grade monster flick, so what did you expect? The sound mix is very front heavy with only a smattering of surround sounds (mostly during the music cues). Also included on the disc are Spanish subtitles.
Fans will be thrilled that Zaat features some rather meaty extra features, the best of which is an audio commentary with Don Barton, Ron Kivett, Paul Galloway and Ed Tucker (which sounds like it was filmed underwater) discussing the film's production and history. Also included are some television spots, a few outtakes, a photo gallery and slideshow, a radio interview with Wade Popwell (the monster) and Ed Tucker, a demo showing how the film was restored, and a bonus DVD copy of the film.
Zaat has all the qualities of a fun bad movie experience: horrible costumes, jaw dropping acting, lackluster production values. It's really quite a hoot with the right crowd and a case of beer.
Zaat is tailored to a specific audience. And you know exactly if you belong in that group or not.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Chest
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Restoration Reel
* Radio Interview
* Photo Gallery
* TV Spots
* DVD Copy