Monday, March 19, 2012

ZAAT (Blu-ray & DVD)

You know, there are still a great many movies not available on home video. The manufacture-on-demand trend from studios like Warners, MGM and Sony is making great strides in addressing that deficiency, but there are still a lot of titles that are M.I.A. on DVD.

And then there are the titles that you just can't believe are available on DVD - or, even more astoundingly, Blu-ray - because they're just so obscure... or just plain awful. One recent example: the 1971 low-budget monster flick, ZAAT... now available as a Blu-ray/DVD Combo from the HD Cinema Classics/Cultra label.

Mad Doctor Kurt Leopold (Marshall Grauer) employs a secret serum and transforms himself into a bizarre, bloodthirsty human-catfish hybrid. The monstrous manphibian then sets out to take his revenge on his former academic colleagues (who failed to see the genius in his plan to transform humanity into human catfish, 'natch) and find himself a nubile young woman to unwillingly mutate into an aquatic mate, all while going around spritzing his serum from a plastic squirt bottle into the local waterways in an attempt to further his nefarious plans. Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Paul Galloway), a young biologist (Gerald Cruse), and a couple of government scientists in a Winnebago working for an outfit called INPIT (Inter-Nations Phenomenon Investigations Team) investigate the strange killings and disappearances.

Shot in and around Jacksonville, Florida by producer/director Don Barton (his only feature), ZAAT (also known as ATTACK OF THE SWAMP CREATURE and THE BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z) is an astoundingly inept, mind-numbing cinematic experience that moves at a snail's pace, is filled with endless stock footage shots of fish and seaweed, and is narrated by the mumbled ranting of old Doc Leopold. The cinematography by Jack McGowan (CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS) is rudimentary, and the "acting" by the cast of unknowns can hardly be referred to as such.

I can say one thing about it, though: it's a monster movie where the monster is on-screen a lot. Clearly built up over a scuba-diving suit and face mask, the creature is rather endearingly cheesy, with tufts of green faux fur glued on to disguise the zippers and seams. It's also fun watching the performer (Wade Popwell) in the suit trying very hard not to walk into door frames or trip over various obstacles. My favorite scene in the film is one wherein the monster is supposed to chase a bikini-clad young woman out of the surf onto a beach, but stands immobile for several seconds because he clearly couldn't hear the director call "action!"

HD Cinema Classics/Cultra has brought the 40-year-old ZAAT to video with a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack that features a surprisingly good, uncut and remastered 1.78:1 1080p HD widescreen transfer, that exhibits strong, bright colors, stable blacks and remarkable detail. It looks like some noise reduction has been applied, as grain is minimal, but it's not too bad. In fact, for its age and budget, ZAAT looks terrific. The mono audio is adequate.

The unexpectedly extensive supplements include an interesting and lively audio commentary by producer/director Don Barton, co-writer/special effects coordinator Ron Kivett and actor Paul Galloway, moderated by film historian ED Tucker (yeah, that's how he spells "ED" - all capitals), a radio interview with Wade Popwell (who played the monster and who passed away in '06), the original 35mm trailer, TV spots, a few minutes of outtakes, a photo gallery, and a restoration comparison. The package also includes a postcard depicting the original poster art. The standard-definition DVD includes all the same features as the Blu-ray disc.

Chances are, if you're familiar with ZAAT at all, it's from its skewering on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 under the BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z title, or from late night UHF viewings in the 70s and early 80s. It is a truly terrible movie, but it's also an interesting artifact of an era where such independent, regional productions could play the drive-in circuit for years. And you know what? If the movie doesn't actually put you to sleep, you might actually experience a strangely hypnotic effect that's kinda relaxing.....

Recommended - but only for true connoisseurs of bizarre cinema obscura.

BUYZaat Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack