‘Is the monster man… fish… or devil?’
Zaat is a 1971 American science fiction horror film written, produced, and directed by Don Barton. The movie stars Marshall Grauer, Wade Popwell, Paul Galloway and Gerald Cruse.
It is also known as Blood Waters of Doctor Z; Hydra and Attack of the Swamp Creatures (US bootleg title).
Former Third Reich scientist Doctor Kurt Leopold has lived alone for about twenty years (it is revealed later in the film that he graduated cum laude from MIT in 1934). He is contemplating his former colleagues’ laughter at his formula, which is described as “
ZaAt” (read Z-sub-A, A-sub-T, but which he simply calls “Zaat”). His formula can turn a man into a walking catfish. He injects himself with the serum and emerges from a tank changed into a fish-like creature.
Leopold decides to kill the colleagues that laughed at his work. He begins with a character named Maxson. In a lake where Maxson is fishing, Leopold swims under Maxson’s boat, overturns it, and proceeds to kill Maxson and Maxson’s son. Maxson’s wife escapes, although she is in shock from the attack…
The film remained relatively obscure for many years before being released as a Blu-ray/DVD combo in 2012. The bonus features include a feature-length audio commentary by cast and crew, the original 35mm trailer, television spots, outtakes, a radio interview, a before-and-after restoration demo and an original movie art postcard
In 1997 the film industry in the American state of Florida gave us Ulee’s Gold, a sensitive drama about a humble beekeeper and his family that was a professional triumph for actor Peter Fonda, and a hit on the festival and indie film circuit.
In 1972 the film industry in the state of Florida gave us Zaat, alias Blood Waters of Doctor Z, a sensitive drama about a megalomaniacal mad scientist turning himself into a killer catfish monster in order to conquer the world and perhaps get himself a girlfriend. We’ve got to discuss one of them today, so let’s flip a coin…
Fishtails up! Zaat it is. Regionally made, it’s sort of a Floridian backyard version of the Creature From the Black Lagoon, by a one-shot team of industrial filmmakers who were trying their luck with the genre, likely after way too much late-night TV horror viewing.
Here is what they reeled in: Lonely, bitter Nazi-German-exile mad doctor Kurt Leopold (wouldn’t that make this Blood Waters of Doctor L, actually?) rants and raves about wanting to conquer the world with his studies of aquatic life and take revenge on the other scientists who mocked him. For this purpose, Doctor Leopold enters an elaborate water-tank/transformation environment (actually a “Marineland” amusement park, loaned out to the crew) and emerges from it a hybrid half-man/half-walking-catfish. Acting talents, such as they are, would be Marshall Grauer as Kurt Leopold, Wade Popwell as the catfish-stein monster, in a lumpy greenish rubber suit.
Leopold has a sort of mandala calendar in his lab that outlines his master plan for world domination. Part of it is unleashing sea life risen up against the surface world with his formula, but all we get of that are a very few shots of a semi-iconic Florida invasive species, the walking catfish, thrashing about on land. One sincerely hopes the fish actors were paid scale…
Anyone still reading? Meanwhile, as a local sheriff and some college scientists contend with angry residents upset about the presence of an uncaught killer catfish-man among them, Doctor Leopold begins the next phase in his plan, to create an equally mutant mate for himself. He tries to catfish-ize a beautiful bikini blonde but the process does not work and she dies. Fortunately, as the saying goes, there are other fish in the sea, and a pretty lady scientist caught up in the search for Leopold is next on the menu.
At the risk of a “spoiler” alert, we can credit poor Zaat with this much: Remember Guillermo del Toro‘s boasting that with The Shape of Water (2017) he delivered the first-ever gill-man movie in which the Black-Lagoon creature actually did get the girl in the end? Well, Mr. del Toro really ought to read this site more; the ending of Zaat is somewhat ambiguous but does indeed point in that direction (if it hadn’t come first I’d have said Zaat nicked its will-she-or-won’t-she? finale from The Bat People, a slightly more upmarket creature feature about, well, bat people, that came from American International in 1974).
Next to The Bat People, which did get a theatrical/TV release (and The Shape of Water which got an Oscar), Zaat/Blood Waters of Doctor Z languished in obscurity thanks to the distributor going belly up (if you are drinking game for every fish joke I insert here, take another shot). I remember seeing Zaat initially promoted in, of all things, a short-lived horror-movie fan magazine from Marvel Comics, their valiant attempt to out-nerd Forrest J Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. I guess in trying to out-scoop each other the respective staffs were really trawling the bottom of the monster-film tank, looking to net a real catch.
Home-video and the internet rescued Zaat from the lower depths, making it a small-fry cult film, and a deluxe, remastered DVD/Blu-ray combo pack allows anglers to appreciate, maybe just a very little, what the industrial filmmakers brought off on a fish-and-chips budget. It’s not Jaws but not absolutely the worst around either. By contrast, look towards the unspeakable Blood Freak, another Florida monster flick, the one about the drug-addicted vampire turkey-man.
Meanwhile, here’s an idea: maybe in early script-development stages, Ulee’s Gold might have gone more like this: Blood Hives of Doctor U. Mad-scientist beekeeper Peter Fonda transforms himself into a giant killer man-bee to take stinging revenge for colony-collapse…
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA
“With risible dialogue, inept staging, ‘special” effects that need to be seen to be believed, and a just plain out there ambience from start to finish, this is the sort of film Ed Wood, Jr. might have made—on a bad day.” Blu-ray,com
“There’s no denying that Zaat is one of the worst pictures ever made, but as “bad” cinema goes, it’s not without campy merriment (with a game cast and crew who pretty much never did anything else film-wise) and at least the monster and his shenanigans are featured prominently…” DVD Drive-In
“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” DVD Verdict
“The concept is ridiculous (let’s face it – catfish just aren’t scary), the plot is primitive, the acting is very weak, and the direction isn’t good. Nonetheless, the film is full of unintentionally funny dialogue, the use of sound and music is unique (if wrongheaded), and it’s more charmingly primitive than excruciatingly dull.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“Zaat is a schlocky sight to behold, inept as it is it’s quite watchable and I have to give it a recommend to others who crave a few reels of bad 70’s cinema, this is fun stuff. Corny revenge, some cool underwater shots, the largest hypodermic needle I’ve ever seen…” McBastard’s Mausoleum
“It somehow manages to combine the perfect amounts of cheesiness, seriousness, absurdity, shoestring budget effects, charm, over-the-top performances, and hauntingly terrible audio to create a formula so potent it would make any movie fun to watch.” 90 Lost Minutes
Zaat fans will be thrilled to know they can buy a wall clock from Redbubble
The same supplier offers Zaat stickers, t-shirts, mugs and tote bags.
Cast and characters:
Marshall Grauer … Doctor Kurt Leopold
Wade Popwell … The Monster
Paul Galloway … Sheriff Lou Krantz
Gerald Cruse … Marine Biologist Rex
Sanna Ringhaver … INPIT Agent Martha Walsh
Dave Dickerson … INPIT Agent Walker Stevens
Rich Valliere … Deputy Sheriff (as Archie Valliere)
Nancy Lien … Girl Camper
Jim Merrill … Boy on the porch
Elizabeth Barton … Girl on the porch
Green Cove Springs, Silver Springs and Switzerland, Florida
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1