In for one classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, in for another am I right?
This week, I’m taking B-Movie Enema to The Blood Waters of Dr. Z and check out this substance called Zaat that is used to make, I dunno… like fish monsters or something? I think it’s fish monsters. Anyway, Zaat has a bit of a reputation in certain corners of the bad movie loving world. Not only has it been riffed on MST3K but it was discussed by Red Letter Media’s Mike Stoklasa and Jay Baumann on an early episode of Half in the Bag. There’s something almost adorable in how silly it is.
But while it is kind of adorable in its silliness, it’s also oddly sterile. The story goes it was one of those regional movies made in Florida. It was produced by Barton Films out of Jacksonville, Florida. It’s the only film this company that mostly made commercials and industrial films ever made. It’s got that sterile look to it. It’s a lot of static shots, a lot of stock footage, methodical, etc. However, it starts to get a little kooky later on in the movie. In some ways, I’d even argue it has some atmosphere and look of one of my favorite early 70s horror movies, Messiah of Evil.
But let’s not go too crazy about that comparison. Messiah of Evil is an engaging and amazing work of moody art. Zaat is a guy in a fish monster suit. So this is the tale of Dr. Kurt Leopold. He is convinced that fish have just the best of lives. He decides humans can benefit if they became sea creature hybrids. So he creates this formula called ZaAt. It will give humans characteristics of cunning fish creatures. He gets mocked so he has to get revenge on those guys, but then also he decides to do other things too as a crazed human/fish creature.
Let’s be honest here… There’s a quaint level of charm associated with Zaat. It’s a movie that feels more like a 50s monster movie, but made in the 70s. I don’t know if it makes the movie more charming or if it’s the biggest mistake in independent film history.
I really wish I had more to say to set this up, but, frankly, there’s not much more to say. There are only two people in the movie that have any additional credits outside Zaat. Zaat has a website and it is awesome. It’s like one of those old Geocities websites. However, it’s basically a single page that talks about Ed Tucker, the world’s biggest Zaat fan. There are a couple news bits on the left saying that Zaat appeared in an issue of Scary Monsters Magazine (fine publication for real – check it out!) and two pull quotes (one from Boxoffice Magazine and another from American Cinematographer) talking about what should be commended in the production. There’s a funny bit saying that the scientist team that comes to help try to kill the Zaat monster in this had no connection to creating the real X-Files organization. There’s a link to the store with four items (two of which are sold out), and a link to inquire about purchasing a signed copy of the movie. That’s it. That’s all this website that looks 25 years old has.
It’s this that I mean when I say this movie and everything associated with it is charming.
The movie famously opens with a narrator, presumably Dr. Leopold, talking about sargassum, which is an underwater algae, and, apparently, the “weed of deceit”. Now we all know that oregano is the weed of deceit, but I digress. But within the sargassum is the sargassum fish, a “mighty hunter” who hangs out there and waits to… ATTACK! Apparently, we’re going to see this thing eat another fish after unleashing a surprise attack on its prey. This sargassum fish has been an inspiration to Dr. Leopod, and he loves that doofy fish and hopes to be a good imitator.
So yeah, we get a little bit of a biology of the sea with Dr. Leopold talking about the various hunters and such that live in the ocean and the various tactics they employ. The shark is, like, the king of the ocean. The scorpion fish ejects stingers to paralyze his food. There’s a manta ray or something there. And… And a shrimp. These are the things a weirdo loner loves. This weirdo loner likes Transformers and writing about dumb movies, but Dr. Leopold, he likes fish.
But who is Dr. Kurt Leopold? Why does he want to imitate fish? I… I don’t really know. He just likes fish. He shuffles his way to the beach. He shuffles to an abandoned fishery. He shuffles to his lab. He just walks around awkwardly here and there. He seems harmless and probably saves a few bucks by cutting his own hair. He shuffles around his lab and looks at some of the specimens he’s collecting including an octopus and then the walking catfish. He wants to mutate these fish to act as an army to get revenge on some people. He’s got a whole wall with a plan and dates to make realize his revenge.
He prepares his ZaAt formula and plans to first unleash it into the fresh water to mutate the fish and underwater life there. Then, it’s time to move onto the big time, baby, and get that shit into the oceans! Again, I’m not entirely sure what his plan is or who he’s getting revenge against, I just know he to do some shit with fish. Now, let’s not ever say that director Don Barton didn’t want to give some eye candy for the ladies in this movie. Oh no. This smoke show Leopold decides to test some of his ZaAt on himself by injecting himself with some goop and then shuffling his way into the main part of the lab with a pool and some electrodes and shit. Here’s where the eye candy comes in… He’s gotta strip himself down to his boxers to do so.
Drink it in, ladies!
You know he’s smart because he has two pairs of underwears on, with his boxers about a 3X to provide comfort and extra room when he forgets to take a dump in a bathroom like a regular human.
Anyway, Dr. Leopold precariously places himself into a suspended gurney to lower himself into the water where the ZaAt formula is mixing with the water. He must be ripping some massive farts because the water is bubbling all around him, and when the methane is mixed with the water and the ZaAt formula, he emerges a scary fish monster!
You wanna know what’s funny? This was NOT AT ALL what he wanted the experiment to produce. He wanted to be more like the catfish. The good news, though, he’s cool with this appearance. He calls it beautiful. He marks off that his March plans for self-transformation is complete. He grabs his catsup squeeze bottle full of his ZaAt formula and plans to mutate all the fish in the Florida waters.
For better effect, he decides to get into the water and start spraying his goop all over the place. Now, I have a question. Is he planning the underwater life to just become the dominant species on Earth or does he think he will just be able to lead the fish as an army because he’s super special? I really don’t know. I think he wants the fish to just do their thing and take over the world once they can get out of the water. But then again, this is kind of the dumbshit movie that would propose that idea.
I will give the movie credit for one thing… We’ve gone a whole 20 minutes with only Dr. Leopold and the ZaAt creature who is also Dr. Leopold. 20 MINUTES! Also, the actor playing Leopold, Marshall Grauer, has not spoken a line of dialog in the movie. Sure there’s a narrator, but I can’t tell you if that is Grauer or not. That’s an amazing feat for a movie of this caliber.
The first two characters we meet outside Leopold/Zaat are our first two protagonists – Sheriff Lou Krantz doing his best Leonardo DiCaprio meme impersonation above and Rex Baker, a marine biologist. Apparently Sheriff Krantz has gotten complaints about walking catfish in the area, so Rex was brought in to investigate and deal with it. You see, these two are a real odd couple full of laughs, I’ll tell you what. That’s because Sheriff Krantz is a Floridian sheriff and Rex is a black college type. Oh boy I’m sure this won’t be awkward to watch 50 years after the movie was released.
Zaat goes back to his lab and starts planning his revenge. He has two pictures on his board who embarrassed him and laughed his ZaAt formula out of the scientific community. Zaat takes aim on victim #1 – a guy I think he called Maxim. I had no idea that guy’s magazine was still around. Zaat makes his way to Maxim’s headquarters to find out how to get into their Hot 100 list. On the way, he discovers something more along the lines of what the magazine is looking for.
Leopold takes mental note of this and continues on his way. Elsewhere, Rex is testing some of the samples while the dullard sheriff kind of bugs him and makes it fairly clear that he’s leaving all of this walking catfish beeswax to Rex and he’s just gonna play with his gun. Rex discovers that despite pulling the water from a fresh water lake, it’s loaded with radioactive crap.
Maxim is fishing with his family and Zaat dumps the family overboard and ATTACKS! Intercut with Zaat attacking his rival, we see a crab and a turtle fight. I’m gonna guess the turtle is Zaat and the crab is meant to be Maxim. Zaat kills the guy but his wife lives and tells tale of a monster. Sheriff Lou and Rex go to check on the dead body. Rex thinks it is a claw slash. The sheriff thinks it’s a fish bite on the victim’s throat.
Zaat is planning to attack his next victim, Dr. Ewing, who scoffed at Leopold’s request for a human guinea pig for his experiments. Rex is on the pond trying to get new samples. He sees Zaat tear up his net. He gets the information for InPIT – the Internations Phenomena Investigations Team. They’ll come like a regular Scully and Mulder and take a look.
That night, Zaat ATTACKS! He goes to the home of Dr. Ewing and creeps up on him while the doc plays with a fishing pole and watches TV really loudly. Zaat uses his claws to tear at the throat of Ewing just as he did to Maxim. By the way, I still don’t know if the guy’s name was Maxim or something else. It really doesn’t matter because he’s dead now and there’s nothing more to say about it.
InPIT arrives and the music makes them sound really mysterious and important. They come with a giant vehicle with their own logo on it in bright colors, and walk around in bright red jumpsuits. Real secretive this group. As the deaths pop up and the condition of the ponds, springs, and lakes seemingly showing contamination, the town is getting uneasy. Naturally, as Florida is wont to do, they start tossing a few racists comments around because “MUH FREEDUMZ!” I guess they are mad they can’t go fishin’ or a snorklin’ or a nekkid swimmin’ or whatever the fuck Floridians do.
Anyway, as I was saying before I lost all of my audience from Florida, InPIT is here and that gives us a chance to meet this movie’s Mulder, Agent Walker Stevens, and Scully, Agent Martha Walsh. Martha is hot. Walker looks like the Six Million Dollar Man. Rex looks… pensive.
Walker says he thinks the marks on the two dead men looks like a scratch like a large cat. However, there’s something more to the condition of the men. They had marks that looked like burns or acidic marks from a fish venom. The sheriff thinks it impossible that the walking fish problem has gotten this bad. I think he’s going to find the reality really hard to believe.
Meanwhile, Zaat revisits where that sexy blonde is camping out and decides to nab her when she goes for a swim. What is it with these fish monster movies and them wanting to get laid by human ladies? But waitaminute… What have we here?
While Zaat experiments on the sexy bikini babe, Rex, Martha, and Walker (who I constantly want to call Steve because he looks like Steve Austin and his last name is Stevens) collect samples. It also looks like big ol’ walking catfish are starting to show up everywhere. Martha gets word from base that larger walking fish could come over from South Africa, and there’s a nearby lab that could be the source of the pollutants. Walker is basically on board with the idea that a South African kind of walking catfish could come over to the states, but it wouldn’t explain why they have turned killer.
Zaat dumps the pretty bikini babe into the water after injecting her with the junk he used on himself and putting the ZaAt stuff into the water. It… fails horribly. She has some partial changes and splotches of scales on parts of her body, but she dies from the chemicals. This makes Zaat really mad. In fact, it’s the kind of mad where you trash the place, but then end up making yourself look like a dummy in the process.
So, after cooling off and telling his fish buddies to never again speak of the whole trashing the room then tripping over the shit you trashed, he decides to take the sexy blonde and dump her into acid to turn her into a skeleton. Walker, Martha, and Rex are on a stakeout trying to find the creature. They set up a net and an alarm to find out if something messes with said net. The alarm goes off because Zaat is indeed messing with the net. But he gets through it. However, he comes out of the water to attack Walker. Walker sticks him with a knife before Zaat knocks him out. Instead of helping the guy she was just cuddling, Martha decides to snap a bunch of pictures of Zaat.
Sheriff Lou organizes an evacuation of the town. Those who can’t leave have to stay locked away and keep dem guns handy! Walker is on the mend while Martha tends to his wounds and Rex develops the pictures. Walker believes this lab they learned about is the key to the pollution. He tells Martha what he really wants, which gets her excited. However, he doesn’t want her smooth, nubile flesh pressed against his manly body. He wants all the information about that lab on the outskirts of town.
Zaat is in a little bit of trouble himself. He’s got a stab wound from earlier. He presses on to figure out how to not just evolve underwater life into a more dominant form of life but how he plans to select a mate. He begins doodling a girl on his little piece of paper that looks an awful lot like Martha… Or at least that’s what we are supposed to think thanks to some snazzy quick cuts in the editing.
Sheriff Lou tells Walker and Rex about Dr. Leopold buying this lab after it was abandoned, but that it seems like he too abandoned it after a few years. Just then Martha comes busting into shot wearing some super short shorts (as we scientists often do) and tells tale of how that facility was used during World War II for experiments on heavy water. The stuff produced there was radioactive and had an effect on the wildlife. The place was shut down and the radioactive stuff was sealed up into barrels, but some of the barrels were later reported stolen.
That night, while our gang works out the clues that will eventually lead them to Dr. Leopold, Zaat is walking the abandoned streets of town. He starts complaining of the pain from his stab wound. He does what any chemically created fish monster fiend would do – he breaks into the town’s pharmacy. He trashes a few things, but eventually finds what appears to be a bottle of cough syrup and just drinks the shit out of it. So, great. Not only do we have a fish monster killing guys, trying to mutate the underwater life in the area, but now he’s robo-tripping. Wonderful.
A young couple are neckin’ on the porch. You’d think that maybe they didn’t get the memo on the evacuation, but the dumb kid who looks like a young Beau Bridges clears that up by saying he doesn’t believe the story about a monster. That’s when our monster, still trippin’ balls on cough syrup, comes slashing his way in and kills the boy and starts eating him. Sheriff Lou hears the girl screaming, but, instead of finding her, he finds a haggle of hippies. This leads to the film’s very bizarre musical interlude.
Now… Call me crazy, and you’d certainly have a fair reason to, but isn’t there a monster rampaging through the town? Didn’t the sheriff just say he heard a scream and he wanted to go check it out? Was I supposed to think he heard the teenage girl from earlier who just watched her boyfriend get his ass killed? How’s that girl doing? I’m betting not well. Was this guy singing about a message the movie wants to give or something?
I dunno and I’m not sure I care. This movie already had that first 20 minutes of no dialog. So why not a musical interlude?
It serves as a good way to set up our third act. Zaat peeps in on Walker and Martha making out. He gets a little mad. But hold that thought… The sheriff has to deal with a squirrely reporter who thinks there’s vampire rape going on around here. Yeah, Zaat is now drinking blood. Walker and Rex work with Sheriff Lou at the pharmacy and they think they can start following the creature with radioactive signature. Martha is back at the hotel or whatever it is that she’s staying at with Walker and the guys are closing in on Zaat’s location. Speaking of Zaat, he’s prepping for his next move which is… to do stuff.
Martha starts to learn more about ZaAt. So she’s getting the details on the history of Dr. Leopold and how he was ultimately dismissed and disgraced after continual requests for human subjects to test and that’s when he started in on the whole underwater super race of creatures. Sheriff Lou suddenly remembers ol’ crazy Doc Leopold’s experiments to turn a man into a fish. Speaking of ol’ crazy Doc Leopold, he’s showing up at Martha’s room at just the right time because she’s changed out of her sweaty jumpsuit, got showered up, and now wearing a pretty dress for her gentleman caller!
This is also operating off of classic movie monster rules in two ways. You see, he comes busting in, and Martha throws stuff at him, dodges him, but the moment he grabs her and slings her over his shoulder, she passes out. The second rule comes later, and I’ve got questions about that, but I’m glad to see that the #1 rule of monster movies is that she must immediately pass out once in the grasp of our monster.
Walker, Rex, and Sheriff Lou arrive too late and discover Martha has gone missing. Walker is mad that not one of these dudes stayed behind with the sexy womenfolk. Walker sends Rex and Sheriff Lou to Leopold’s place while Walker uses a heretofore not seen six-wheel, amphibious vehicle to track Zaat. Walker’s Scooty Puff Jr. gets stuck in the water because it is 1971 and that type of vehicle is probably not up to snuff quite yet.
Walker is left to track Zaat through the swamps of Florida on foot. This gets him bitten by a water snake. So he’s delayed in catching up to the monster. But good news, everyone! Rex and Sheriff Lou are in Leopold’s lab. While Walker does sort of catch up to Zaat, Zaat will have a two-front war on his hands with boyfriend to the back of him, and a cop and marine biologist to the front. Sheriff Lou and Rex finds Leopold’s plans to kill the two scientists and Zaat’s drawing of Martha. Sheriff Lou is sent to call Walker, but he runs afoul of Zaat. The old fat sheriff is… easily defeated by the monster.
Zaat carries Martha into the lab with no further interruption from the armed policeman. He prepares Martha to be turned into a lady Zaat. Elsewhere in the lab, Rex is reading all about Leopold’s studies and experiments. He hears a woman screaming thanks to Martha waking up before being dunked in the magic Zaat water. Rex grabs a pipe to handle this mother fucker. Before being noticed by Zaat, he unties Martha, but she doesn’t escape? Or she’s passed out again? Rex gets slashed but he’s not killed yet. He fucks up some of the machinery to mess up Zaat’s plans.
Rex is hurt pretty bad, but Zaat makes the mistake of leaving the lab. Rex wakes up and is able to stop Martha from going into the magic Zaat water. Zaat goes to the beach with some giant canisters of his juice to start mutating the sea life. Walker starts shooting Zaat to stop him. Rex saves Martha, but she gets out of the contraption in what appears to be a trance.
Why? Because classic monster movie rules, that’s why! The damsel in distress doesn’t just faint when in the clutches of the monster, but she also seems to be inexplicably in the power of the monster too. With Dracula, sure, that makes sense, but even when monsters who don’t have mind control powers have a woman in its clutches, she seems completely powerless to him. And that’s what we have here.
Without explanation, Martha wakes up without having gone into the tank to make her a Zaat monster. She steps over her dead buddy Rex and just kind of mindlessly walks out onto the beach. She walks past boyfriend Walker and just walks straight out into the ocean. I’m not sure why. It doesn’t line up. It’s kind of like a bummer ending in which Zaat wins. Walker didn’t quite stop Zaat from getting into the ocean. I have to assume he let the ZaAt juice into the ocean. So already, we’ve got a downer ending that Zaat probably succeeded. But the extra kick in the balls is the pretty girl hero is now under the sway of Zaat (somehow) and wants to join him in his new underwater kingdom (that can also exist above ground too… I guess).
Yet… There’s no connective tissue that would indicate that either Zaat could gain sway over someone nor that Martha would be able to be swayed. It would be one thing if we discovered that Martha was excited about this mission because she had affinity toward sea life. Maybe she was sympathetic to how we trash the oceans, and the more she read about Dr. Leopold, the more it changed her from heroic agent for InPIT to wanting to join him. Or… Maybe you just give Zaat hypnotic powers. Either way, neither of these things are present and therefore we have no indication that this ending should happen. Wikipedia implies that maybe being injected with ZaAt put her into this state, but I dunno.
But, real talk here… While the first 20 minutes are weird and can be a problem for people to get through, and literally the last 5 minutes are confusing, I actually kind of like Zaat. There’s something here. I don’t think this movie was made half-assed. I seriously think Don Barton put his whole ass into this movie. Our monster is at least fun if not interesting in design. The cast is doing fairly well with what they have. These are not Hollywood actors, but the four protagonists are playing their roles fairly well for a regional production. Dave Dickerson, who plays Walker Stevens, is pretty good as the main hero. He takes on the monster once, and he has to have a water snake ATTACK! him to be able to prevent him from getting to the monster before Martha is apparently turned into a fish lovin’ lady. Speaking of Martha, actress Sanna Ringhaver is really pretty and alluring. You like that she’s a super secret government agent of some sort who likes wearing super short shorts.
I mean, I appreciate that choice in costuming.
Zaat is the type of movie that still gets made today. You get a kernel of an idea, even if it doesn’t make much sense, and you have a guy make a cool monster mask or, better, a full suit, and you shoot that shit. Sometimes you get enough things to work together to where your movie will survive 50 years and still be watched by morons online. I will give Zaat one thing ahead of a lot of indie movies that are made today. This came at a time in which these regional productions were charming as hell. The story goes the movie was made for a total of $50,000 with an extra $25,000 going into making prints and distributing them. Obviously, it caught on in enough of the right places beyond the south and made its way to Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 90s.
Alright… Let’s put a pin in this shit for this week. Next week, it’s B-Movie Enema’s 299th article. We’re sticking to the 70s for a thrilling kidnapping film about a rich girl who gets nabbed by some bad people in The Candy Snatchers! I’d say it’s gonna be a good time, but, well, the movie is probably going to get uncomfortable at times. If you want to know when the article is ready to be viewed by human eyes, then you should follow the blog right here through WordPress, or you can follow the site on Facebook and Twitter! In addition to that, B-Movie Enema: The Series has a new episode tomorrow both here at the site and at the YouTube channel featuring not a guy who turns into a fish monster, but a guy who turns into a turkey monster in Blood Freak!
So until next week, don’t go to Florida or you might end up being killed by a fish monster!