Monster movies have a formula, and I'm not talking about the one that changes the man into the beast. (Rim/shot) Often times, there's an evil scientist: check. Often times, the scientist has been shunned by his fellow nerds: check. Often times, the scientist's driving angst forces him to turn into the monster: check. Often times, the monster falls head-over-heels with some comely female decked out in panties and a bathrobe: check, check. (Rim/shot) Often times, the scientist becomes obsessed with turning this lass into a monstery female as his mate, his own little ZaatGirl to his ZaatMan: check. Now, all you have to do is throw all of these elements into the cinema blender, mash it up real well, throw in a heavy dose of diabolical rhetoric, blinking science equipment, and some heavy-handed acting ... and you have ZAAT, the baddest of the bad monster movie ever made on the big bad Earth!
As for the story ...
Disillusioned ex-Nazi scientist Kurt Leopold (played with grim stoicism by a skinny and pasty Marshall Grauer) disappears into a run-down lab in rural Florida. (Wait a minute, you say: what's an ex-Nazi doing with an abandoned lab in rural Florida, of all places? Don't ask, I say!) He's convinced that the way he can rule the world is to become part-fish. (Wait a minute, you say: what in the Sam Hill was this ex-Nazi thinking in order to jump to this conclusion? Don't ask, I say!) But can the motley crew of a young black biologist (Gerald Cruse), a redneck sheriff (Paul Galloway), and two sexy government agents for the Inter-Nations Phenomenon Investigations Team (Dave Dickerson and the stunning Sanna Ringhaver) pool their strokes of genius before the world's forever flushed up a creek without a paddle? Only time will tell ... but, thankfully, it only takes about one hour and forty minutes for the audience to know for sure.
ZAAT, also known as "The Blood Waters of Dr. Z," is a special experience. Sure, it's a cult classic, not too far off the beaten path from such other cult classics as THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW or REPO MAN. It dabbles in weird pseudo-science all classically constructed around the traditional mad scientist, but it's all packaged with this inescapable 70's vibe, punctuated by wide lapels, slim jeans with bell bottoms, and garish colors. As for the story? Don't look for all it to make perfect sense, though it does in its own peculiar way, even past the stilted dialogue, campy production quality, and incessant voiceovers that sound like a `Mutual of Omaha' production gone really, really bad. Sure, it's backed with a slim musical score, but it's all reminiscent of the `so bad they're awful' offbeat sci-fi drive-in movies of the 50's and 60's. Don't worry about space aliens coming from the skies to destroy us; the enemy is us, and we're already here!
So when the federal agents show up wearing cherry red jumpsuits with the government insignia looking pinned onto their backs, you know you're in trashy movie heaven! And the monster? It's 'the Creature from the Black Lagoon' in drag! It's Swamp Thing, minus the Swamp!
Watching and enjoying a film like ZAAT takes a special audience. Sure, it's a monster movie, but it's monster schlock, meaning it was clearly made quickly and cheaply with probably not the kind of attention studio flicks get during pre-production, filming, and post-production. It was all bare bones, and, in one scene, you even get to see those bare bones on the screen. (Rim/shot) Seriously, I kid, but the film is one-part inspiration balanced with nine-parts kookiness. And just when you think you've seen it all, there's suddenly an in-character musical number to ease the tension! (I am not kidding!)
In short, ZAAT - for a film shot in 1971 in Jacksonville (FL), of all places - looks amazing here. The restoration, briefly featured in a brief bonus short on the disc, is nothing short of incredible. Colors are vibrant and bright (when necessary), and the picture has been cleaned up with tremendous care. Audio is only 2.0, but it works just fine for the purposes of a cult film. Additional features include the official trailer and television spots; a photo gallery regarding the film's production; a radio interview with Wade Popwell (the creature himself) & Ed Tucker; and an audio commentary by the film's writer & producer as well as a few stars. While nothing exceptional is learned from the commentary, it's clear that all involved participated in a `labor of love.' Disc packaging credits Cultra, Film Chest Inc, and HD Cinema Classics for their participation in bringing this release to the unsuspecting masses; no doubt, they'll be cheered and jeered for ages over it. It's a combo-pack (Blu-ray and regular DVD discs provided), and the buyer gets a nifty little postcard reproduction of the original movie art. All in all, this is a five-star presentation of a two-star production, which makes it all the more memorable in my book.
In fact, I can't tell you the number of times I completely burst out with unintended laughter while watching this one. I won't even bother trying to remember how many times I yelled at the screen, either. That's all part of the experience!
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of subvervise and/or cult cinema, though methinks everybody else probably just won't get it the joke. Indie blowhards have been trying to tap into the same creative vein that hatched a film like ZAAT for years; throw those imitators aside, or get ready to enjoy a true original. A true original what? I'll leave that up to you, fragile viewers!
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that I was provided with a DVD screener by the good folks at Greenleaf & Associates for the expressed purposes of completing this review.