Is the monster man... fish... or devil?
Year of Release: 1971
Also Known As: Attack of the Swamp Creatures, Blood Waters of Dr. Z
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 100 minutes (1:40)
Director: Don Barton
Marshall Grauer ... Dr. 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
Strange occurrences begin to plague Cypress Grove after a disgruntled ex-Nazi scientist disappears into his makeshift lab on the outskirts of town, only to reappear as a half-human, half-catfish monster. As part of his sinister plan to rule the world, he also takes to polluting the local waterways, mutating the local aquatic wildlife. The mismatched duo tasked with keeping the townsfolk safe is made up of a young biologist and grizzled redneck sheriff. But quickly realizing they're in over their heads, a call goes out to the Inter-Nations Phenomena Investigations Team (INPIT for short). Before you can say "catfish po'boy" a groovy RV rolls in to the small southern town, driven by a pair of special agents armed with a six-wheeled dune buggy-like Amphicat. But will it be enough to take on the deranged creature and his army of deadly mutant catfish?
Zaat, the movie whose fast paced action and excitement reminds us that there are still places in the world where havin' catfish crawlin' through your yard is considered a serious problem. And on that note, Florida has to be the only state in the south where havin' would-be fish 'n chip baskets floppin' around your lawn is considered a problem. Any other state below the mason dixon line'd have their yard monsters out in force scoopin' 'em up for the deep fryer, meanwhile, Florida calls the sheriff. Now, I'll bet that if you've seen this one you'd say the only people that could possibly enjoy it are those with 200/200 vision or worse, but you'd be wrong. They can still hear, afterall. Only one guy could possibly enjoy this one, an even that's not gonna be for the reasons the director intended. Of course, we're talkin' about Troy McClure. How tortured the man must be, bein' pisceaosexual an all. Anytime you start gettin' romantic with a sucker fish the cops show up an lock you up for non consensual sexual relations with animals. You tell 'em you asked it to flop once for no an twice for yes but they're not buyin' it. Now dolphins they'll let you get away with sometimes, but there's a couple things wrong with that, first and foremost of course, they're mammals. Which is downright disgustin'. To put this in terms the average person can understand, it's like goin' home with somebody an realizin' they're a tranny. The other thing is they only wanna pitch, which is just completely unacceptable, not to mention ungodly. It'd downright depressin' to be Troy. But then, hope. Not just hope, but finally, a porno made for guys like him. After experiencing Zaat, there's no tellin' what kinda progress'll come about in the next several years towards achieving his goal of bein' at one with those he loves. Or at least lusts, the sucker fish are a good time, but they're certainly not the kinda fish you'd bring home to meet Mom. Yes, thanks to the efforts of guys like doc Leopold, Troy will one day achieve his dream of sleepin' with the fishes, on their level, without the use of cement shoes. And people say no important scientific research is bein' done anymore. So, now that I've got that straightened out, Zaat's not just great for teachin' would be film makers what to never ever do, but it's pretty dang useful for us average Joes too as far as betterin' ourselves psychologically. So here's just a few of the samplings that Zaat has to offer that I've now added to my own personal archive that I'd like to share. First, contrary to what you might see in the papers about government officials still tryin' to track down former Nazis so they can lock 'em in the bathroom after Joe Don Baker gets done usin' it, Nazis are actually free to do as they please an purchase real estate in our country. It is a free country, afterall. There's no need to be ogres about it. I mean, if they've got the money an wanna purchase science labs, I don't see a problem.
Second, acid vats in a laboratory are a must. It's like havin' a garbage disposal that's big enough to toss failed experiments in, with the added benefit of never havin' landfill disputes with the mafia over who gets to use the spot next to the pile of deflated rubber women. It's a prime location, cause nobody's ever gonna come within 50 feet of it. An third, don't assume that just because a guy's smart enough to create a serum to turn 'imself into a walkin' carp that he's necessarily swift enough to avoid a net. Some of those stealth nets the Indians use these days are pretty god damn tricky to negotiate. But Zaat touches on an issue that I think's gone on just about long enough; slut shaming. Now, in the movie, we've got an angry mob of Florideans threatenin' to pummel the sheriff into gator chow cause they keep runnin' over walkin' catfish with their lawnmowers an by the time they've got the lawn knocked down the bag's so full of piscean shrapnel they're gettin' mugged by herds of stray cats. That, in and of itself isn't a problem, it is the law's job to round up these fish an put 'im back in the tank where they belong. What I take issue with is the mob spittin' out real Neanderthalic phrases like "nigger lover" when referrin' to the sheriff. First of all, I fail to see how the sheriff's relationship with Gerald Cruse is any of their business in the first place. They aren't hurtin' anybody. Cept for that one time where the lube ran out, an even then they weren't hurtin' anybody ELSE. What's their forbidden love got to do with these walkin' catfish/mackerel-man-monster problems anyway? An aren't all these ruralites supposed to be pro-freedom, small government types? Ya know, live an let live? Oh, that is unless of course the government's cuttin' off other people's freedoms cause it satisfies their moral outrage about the inter-racial gay couple havin' wild animal sex outside of wedlock. Which, by the way, they forbid in the first place. So what do they do? Bring up the sheriff's personal relationship to try to rally support against 'im an run 'im outta town on an environmentally friendly bus. This kinda thing's really gettin' outta hand, can't these rubes just leave their porches an go in the house instead of sittin' outside lookin' for things to become enraged over? I hear Jesus was a real intolerant kinda guy that was in no way dark skinned. Do you tool sheds think he'd approve of this kinda behavior? I don't care what color you make 'im when you commission creationism homeschool students to paint his portrait, the man was from the middle east. An in case you didn't notice, he loved his fellow man, much like the sheriff in the movie. I tell you what, if these people really were "god fearin'" as they claim to be they'd be in the fetal position all day long, rockin' back an forth foamin' at the mouth after takin' too many Prozac tablets, considering some of the stances they've taken. Loud mouth malcontents.
The movie begins with the eighth string narrator for National Geographic (Dr. Leopold) talkin' about how fish're superior to humans in pretty much every way, at no point making any effort to conceal the fact that the subject has given him a raging boner. Kinda makes you wonder if he's just sayin' all this stuff to get in the tuna's pants. Then he goes on to explain that it's not he who is mad, it's everybody else that's mad, an since he's got nothin' better to do until The Outer Limits marathon comes on TV, he's gonna prop up his army of mutant fish an rule the universe. Which is fine, it's nice to have a goal that isn't too unrealistic. So he heads over to his laboratory an starts preppin' his lime green Re-Animator serum an gettin' all giddy about the surprise buttsex he's about to inflict upon mankind an when we finally get a look at 'im he looks like Steve Railsback's abusive, alcoholic father. So after he gets all aroused watchin' his walkin' catfish squirm around on a cuttin' board an checks to make sure the water in the sting ray tank is free of Steve Irwin's DNA he goes over to his wheel of misfortune. As he stands back an admires how far he's come as a mad scientist he starts narratin' again about how he's finally gonna have respect. An chicks. Hot, marlin-women as far as the eye can see. He'll be fertilizin' more eggs than a fish hatchery, man is it gonna be great. So Leo finally decides that there's no time like the present for takin' over the universe an starts fiddlin' with his Lite Brite fuse box an sticks 'imself with the Re-Animator juice. Then he turns on all the lights on his front loader washin' machine, turns on the Zaat hose, strips down to his shorts, an climbs into his home made fry bin contraption. Then, with the aid of a pully system he lowers 'imself into his holdin' tank an realizes too late that he's forgotten his nose plugs. Fortunately, it doesn't take long before he's transformed into a hairy shag carpet fish monster with a gas mask face an he don't even need no stinkin' air. Leo loves it when a plan comes together, so he heads over to the wheel of misfortune an crosses "play god" off the to do list, grabs a ketchup squeeze bottle full of Zaat, an heads for the Everglades. Then he starts hosin' down all the local aquatic fauna with the ketchup bottle an the soundtrack goes ape shit an starts soundin' like one of those handheld Simon machines when it gets goin' too fast for anyone but Neil deGrasse Tyson to keep up with. Elsewhere, the local sheriff (Lou) sits on his pasty white ass while a marine biologist (Rex) scoops up water samples to test an see if the walkin' catfish're evolvin' into a finely honed attack force, or if they're just exacuatin' the Everglades cause Charles Durning stopped by an took a bath in there. Meanwhile, Leo heads back to the lab an crosses Florida off the checklist, afterall, he did squirt an entire sippy cup's worth of the stuff into the ecosystem so he figures the state should be pretty well in the bag an starts workin' on the next order of business; the enemies list.
While that's goin' on, Rex just happens to have a Geiger counter with 'im as part of his marine biology studies, an when he tests the water the needle on the gauge spins all the way around about three times an lands on "Springfield Nuclear", which is about two notches past Chernobyl. Then Leo goes for a dip so he can leer at a camper, after which the director makes us watch scenes of lobsters fornicatin' just in case we didn't get that he wants to bang her. Leo needs a cold... okay that's no good. Well, whatever fish do to bring the swelling down on their wangs, he does it so he can get his head back in the game an go tip over the boat of piscean enemy #1. The moment the guy an his family hit the water the soundtrack has another seizure as Leo struggles against the buoyancy of his shag carpet skin tryin' to drown the guy an once he's able to make 'im suck a couple gallons of water into his lungs he comes ashore an kills his wife by wipin' somethin' offa her sweater (Seriously, no idea what was supposed to be happening here). Later on, Rex an Lou head down to the morgue to check out the floater an unfortunately nobody seems to notice the guy breathin' so they just inspect the wounds an make no attempt to resuscitate. Meanwhile, Leo heads home an crosses the egghead off the wheel an sets his sights on the guy that only thought his man/fish research was worth rats an wouldn't give 'im any human test subjects, probably a god damn conservative. See, this is exactly why we've fallen behind the rest of the world in regards to scientific research. Then Rex an Leo teleport out to the lake so Leo can get all tangled up in a fishing net an Rex can get all confused an angry about the loss of his best net. So Rex heads back to town an talks to his boss about needin' more petty cash on account of the hairy gas mask monster shreddin' his cargo net, but while the boss's willin' to give 'im the number of the best monster huntin' crew in all of Jacksonville Florida, that net's comin' outta his check. Later that night, Leo sneaks into the home of his other detractor an strangles 'im while he's playin' with his rod. The following morning, INPIT (Inter-Nations Phenomena Investigations Team) arrives on the scene wearin' orange jumpsuits like they just escaped from a prison work crew on highway 90. About that time, the townsfolk start swarmin' Lou's office demandin' he do somethin' about the rash of killins an the state sendin' an educated black man to their town to dispel their backwards notions of how things're supposed to be. Then INPIT busts into Lou's office an tells 'im they've examined the corpses an they're so well educated that they've already narrowed the killer down to a cat, an ape, or a fish. Then Lou gets this look on his face like he KNEW that skunk ape was up to no good but nobody'd listen to 'im. Seriously? A cat, an ape, or a fish? New name for these guys: INEPT.
Meanwhile, it may have taken an entire day, but Leo's camper finally strips down to her skivvies an goes for a swim, and then, at just the right moment... ATTACK! Leo's got her under one arm an back to the lab before you can say "Amber Alert", an once he gets her good an battered he straps her into the fry bin an tries deep fryin' the human taste outta her. Unfortunately the Jehova's Witnesses ring the bell while he's got her in the FryDaddy an by the time he gets back she's so overdone even Andrew Zimmern won't touch her. Leo's P.O.'d, an after he destroys his washin' machine doohickey an kicks the crap outta a few other discombobulator fluctuators he's got strung out around the room he settles down enough to dump her in the acid vat an go back to square one. Later that evening, INEPT is waitin' in the company vehicle... okay, fine, waitin' inside company headquarters, to see if anything interesting'll float down stream an get hung up in their net. They're not picky, they need funding, the guy down at the taxidermy shop'll give 'em $8 for every muskrat pelt they bring in. Unfortunately, Leo still hasn't mastered his net avoidance techniques an after INEPT tries to drag 'im out on land he starts poundin' the tar outta Walker while Martha takes pictures. The fact that Leo's got humiliation strength an the soundtrack's ramped up so high that it flies off the turntable an gets stuck in a box fan doesn't seem to phase Martha one iota an Walker eventually realizes she's just waitin' for 'im to die so she can make a snuff flip show with the Polaroids an stabs Leo til he stumbles away. Back in town, Lou decides it's about time to get up on top of a truck in the town square to hold a southern press conference an tells everybody that he's no match for the largemouth bass monster an that they aughta get outta Dodge like half an hour ago. That's some nice work, Lou. Then Rex an INEPT go over the pictures Martha took an determine that the monster is in fact an amphibious shag carpet mummy an rather than just sell the pictures to Weekly World News, they get greedy an decide to hang around an try to get the whole carcass. Unfortunately, Walker's laid up in a hospital bed with most of his organs pounded into cranberry sauce, so he tells Martha to get him the skinny on that weird lab on the outskirts of town an to bring 'im a bed pan cause his coccyx hurts too much to sit on the pot. Meanwhile, Leo's limpin' home thinkin' about his next move. He knows he can't give up on gettin' an aqua-chick, cause takin' over the universe with nobody to cook for 'im is just outta the question an eventually decides that Martha's pretty convenient. Which is really a pretty poor excuse for criteria cause convenience as a selling point is generally what leads to incestuous type relationships. Then Lou pops in to check on INEPT an tells 'em all about doc Leopold an how everybody used to tease 'im about havin' Moe Howard's hair cut an the fact that he never picks his feet up when he walks an maybe they aughta look into his old laboratory. He'd do it 'imself but his dogs're really barkin' an he's already 20 minutes past quittin' time.
So Martha starts diggin' deep an discovers Leo's lab was used for nasty Nazi experiments during WWII where they were tryin' to make radioactive man-fish to beef up the German Navy an to besmirch the work of Ricou Browning. By this point, Leo's really startin' to feel the effects of that stab wound, so he heads into town for a nice soothing ether an Pepto Bismol cocktail, but then the soundtrack gets so bad he has to destroy the entire pharmacy just to drown out the noise an keep his eardrums from bustin'. Then he skulks around town an carves the mark of Dr. Z into the chest of some Kentucky Fried teenager when he hears 'im tell his girlfriend he don't believe in the monster. Then he gets a big handful of blood an splatters it on the wall by the kid's head, only the kid notices there's another hand print right beside it an dies from complications of continuity errors. Then Leo attaches his gas mask mouth to the kid's abdomen an brings whole new meaning to the term "sucking chest wound." Elsewhere, Lou's leanin' back in his chair at the office so he won't have to go home an hear about what an "interesting" day his wife had at the American Legion bingo game when he hears somethin' from outside an goes to check. It's just as he'd feared, a band comprised of hippies with John Beuchler on lead vocals. So Lou rounds 'em up an puts 'em in the crossbar hotel for noise pollution an tells the deputy to bring 'em up on charges of Christian Yodeling without a permit. The next morning, Lou and INEPT check out the destruction of Mary Mallon's apothecary an spot gigantic foot prints in a pile of talcum powder. This means that the monster isn't far an that there's a good chance it's got diaper rash, so they'll wanna proceed with extreme caution on account of its fussy disposition. So while Lou, Rex an Walker're out lookin' for the merman Lou remembers that ole doc Leopold might be behind this cause he always had aspirations of one day becomin' a halibut. Of course, they blame Lou for leavin' out these critical details even though he already alluded to it last night when it kinda slipped through the cracks on account of Walker bein' preoccupied with tryin' to slip into Martha's crack. Really though, is it fair to blame a guy for forgettin' about the mad Nazi scientist that lives outside town that's sworn vengeance against the world? Jeez, the guy can't be expected to remember EVERY little thing that's happened in a raucous town like Cypress Grove, Florida, I think a little slack is in order here. Anyway, Leo eventually wanders over to INEPT headquarters an slings Martha over his shoulder like a deer carcass an hauls her back to Chateau Gestapo for processin', an it's up to Lou, Rex an Walker to get her back before Leopold can conquer the... I gotta be honest here, I think the universe is a little out of reach at this point. So, before Leopold conquers the area immediately surrounding his armchair.
It seemed to me like a little perspective was in order. I'm always rambling about how people rate movies far lower than they really deserve, but up to this point I hadn't done anything that really constitutes a terrible movie. Unquestionably, there are worse movies out there than Zaat (Better known as The Blood Waters of Dr. Z among Mystery Science Theater fans), but it should prove my point just the same. Zaat's on par with Troll 2 in terms of the sheer number of areas in which the ball has plainly been dropped, but unlike Troll 2, the pacing blows. Zaat is completely inept in the following areas: direction, writing, acting, special effects, cinematography, and most definitely pacing. And it's downright maliciously incompetent in the areas of editing, continuity and soundtrack composition. Just to name a few of its more crippling problems; you've got a scene where the monster's shufflin' around his laboratory in tennis shoes, visible breathing from every murder victim, hand movements from one murder victim, an extremely obvious hand slap onto a wall to create a blood splatter that's intended to come from the monster's victim, a half-assed job of cleaning off said hand slap from the previous take so there's already one visible before the guy even slaps the wall, and the coup de grace has to be the scene in which the guy in the suit is clearly waiting for his cue to begin the sequence which he does for upwards of two seconds. Some of these things are easily fixed with competent editing, others with a simple reshoot. Of course, when you think about low budget movies, you have to understand there won't be a whole lot of reshooting unless it's really necessary. But clearly, the director and I have different ideas about what is REALLY necessary. It's also got quite a bit of stock footage from various nature documentaries inserted into it, which in and of itself isn't a problem, but when you're just shovin' shit in at random it becomes apparent that there's next to no method or reasoning involved. And of course, what bad movie would be complete without a scene which was obviously thrown in as a favor to somebody, and that has no bearing on the movie before, or after that point. I refer of course, to the Christian Yodeling scene. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the director probably agreed to add this scene in exchange for the use of the song that plays during the opening credits, as it's obviously the same singer. At this point we're moving away from tacky into just plain pathetic. And just in case I haven't chided the movie enough, the dialog sucks too.
Alrighty, well, lets peel back the shag carpet monster suit an see if there's actually anything underneath. I'm not picky about monster movie plots, so we'll call this the single best thing the movie has going for it in the sense that it's not necessarily good or interesting, but because it's not bludgeoningly terrible. The plot was developed by Ron Kivett after reading a story about walking catfish and whether or not they were some kind of mutation, which is laughable now but probably less so in 1971. It's good enough. The acting is... well let me put it this way, most of the cast never worked again because, well how could they ever top Zaat? They figured they might as well pack it in cause it can't get much better than this. That or it's just amateurishly lifeless an they could never get another job, gotta be one of the two. It's not Troll 2 bad, but that's only about half praise, because Troll 2's bad acting serves as entertainment, where this cast is just curmudgeonously inept and drab. The only character with even a tiny glint of talent would be Paul Galloway, but it's like sayin' gettin' kicked in the ass is better than gettin' kicked in the junk. In total, three members of the cast ever acted again, here are the two that meet my usual criteria for relevancy: Rich Valliere (Jaws 3), Carol Thompson (Silent Night, Deadly Night 3). I'll stop for a moment so you can catch your breath. The special effects are the movie's downfall, because not only does the movie feature one of the most unconvincing monsters in cinematic history, but the crew seemed to be extremely pleased with themselves in regards to said suit and show it full bodied, on screen for probably 40 minutes of the movie, which is an inordinate amount of time for any monster to be on screen in a horror movie. To put it in perspective, if everything else about the movie was perfect, the suit would still cause it to have a failing grade, it's that bad. The other special effects are pretty poor as well, the blood's too vibrant and often times you can't see any sign of a wound that should be spewing it out. The neck wound showcased in the morgue scene is probably the best effect the movie has to offer, that is if you can stop giggling about the corpse's obvious breathing long enough to appreciate it. The shooting locations, you'd have to acknowledge as a second positive. Dr. Leopold's laboratory and some of the underwater sequences were shot in the same location as Revenge of the Creature, and the swamps of Florida are nice as well. That said, the cinematography is lousy and most of the time the scenery goes to waste due to the ineptitude of the cinematographer. The less said about the soundtrack, the better. In addition to some of the descriptions I provided in the plot summary, I'd say the best way to describe it is that sound your TV makes when you're playin' Asteroids on the Atari 2600 and the game freezes. I think it might be worse than Don't Go in the Woods. Bottom line, it's the best movie ever made in Jacksonville, Florida to feature a bipedal walking catfish in a shag carpet suit. Check it out sometime if there's ever a nuclear holocaust an it's the last surviving piece of media.