After the craptacular Turks in Space (see here) I needed something entertaining to watch on this list, but with a name like Zaat, I didn’t have the slightest clue what to expect. Searching for this movie soon gave me some clues for what to expect though, and seeing a monster on the movie poster filled me with a deep joy. This far into our list, I wasn’t expecting something great like The Toxic Avenger, but at this point any movie featuring a man in a rubber suit looks like a ray of sunlight. So with that in mind I went into this movie with high hopes. So would I be disappointed, or would I be adapting the lyrics to The Automatic’s Monster and singing “What’s Zaat coming over the hill, is it a monster? Is it a monster?” all night afterwards?
Mad scientist Dr. Kurt Leopold (Marshall Grauer) has been brooding over his former (and sane) scientist colleagues laughing at him and denying his requests for human subjects for a formula he’d invented called ZaAt. This formula has the ability to mutate a human into that of a walking catfish. When he uses the formula on himself, he mutates into a monster, and plots his revenge against those he feels wronged him. He poisons the local water supply and kills the two scientists who stood in the way of his insane plans. Marine Biologist Rex Baker (Gerald Cruse) along with two INPIT agents (Sanna Ringhaver and Dave Dickerson) assist sheriff Lou Krantz (Paul Galloway) in trying to track down the cause of these nefarious occurrences. Will they be able to stop the monster before he makes himself a bride? Will the monster find the drugs he needs in the pharmacist? Why won’t the monster kill the hippies playing the rubbish folk song? What sort of movie could make me ask such ridiculous questions?
As mad scientists go, Dr. Leopold may not quite have the genius of Dr. Farnsworth, the vision of Dr Frankenstein, or the sheer evilness of Dr. Forrester (If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you must have watched some MST3K by now, if not (or if you’re a first time reader) then I recommend you check some out), but was probably mistaken for the janitor much more often than any of those, so that’s something.
His opening monologue praising various sea creatures like a paranoid schizophrenic Jacques Costeau, doesn’t quite show how insane he actually is, but he does fit highly amongst the most batshit of the mad scientists, To see the level of his madness you just need to look at his plans. These take the form of a bizarre hand drawn zodiac wheel stuck to the wall of his laboratory, which looks like a junior school project. Throughout the film he sticks first photo’s of his two intended victims onto it, and then later hand drawn sketches of women that he wants to turn into monsters like him. Looking at that you can see that Dr. Leopold is more unhinged than a broken door.
Looking even closer at his plans shows a man who should be bouncing off the walls of his cell like a human squash ball, rather than messing around with chemicals and harassing innocent octopuses. He mutates himself into a monster to kill just two people. Two. If he was really that desperate for revenge he could have just shot them or something, and then he wouldn’t have had to go to the trouble of kidnapping women to turn them into monsters like himself to find a bride. Instead he could have just got some new clothes, a decent haircut and gone dancing and tried talking to women. I hear that most women like that much more than being kidnapped and monsterfied.
Dr. Leopold isn’t the only person who seems to have lost the plot. Writer (also director and producer) Don Barton doesn’t seem to have understood that only having ten minutes worth of plot in a 100 minute film isn’t a good idea. Zaat is an extremely drawn out film. It could have easily been half an hour shorter and you wouldn’t have lost a single thing (except 70 minutes of your life). The pace really is quite clunky and the amount of pointless scenes is astounding, however even at a faster pace and without scenes of the monster making a quick trip to Boots or a ten-minute hippy interlude this would still have been a terrible movie.
The killings, which you’d normally expect to be amongst the more entertaining of scenes, are cut with stock footage of sea creatures, and are strangely brief. They’re also completely laughable. At one point one innocent victim of the monster gets killed by it barely swiping her sweater. The sheriff confronting the monster isn’t much better either, with him obviously failing his firearm exams when joining the police as he seems to think a gun should be used as a club, rather than used to fire bullets.
The movie also isn’t helped by so much of the screen time being occupied by a monster that looks like a cross between an ape, a fly and the Swamp Thing. How this is supposed to be a mutated walking catfish, only Don Barton would be able to tell you. I read online that the mouth of the monster was designed as it was (like a fly’s proboscis) as it was originally going to suck the blood from its victims, well they got one thing right, this monster really did suck. The costume itself looks like it was found in the bins behind the Doctor Who sets of the 60’s and the only thing in its favour, is that it doesn’t look too bad in the underwater scenes (which are probably the most professional looking thing in this whole movie).
Despite it’s length and ridiculous amount of filler, I actually enjoyed Zaat. I think a lot of it was down to how much fun it was to mock on Twitter (follow us here and here). It’s a bad movie, that’s got so much wrong with it, but somehow it adds up to be a strangely charming movie. It could have easily been made a couple of decades earlier, and for a while I thought it was. However by the 70s movies and costumes really should have improved even on low budgets, which makes this movie less Creature From the Black Lagoon and more Creature From the Broken Latrine…