Zaat (1971) – By Duane L. Martin

Dr. Kurt Leopold is a disgraced scientist left over from World War II. In the course of his research, he had repeatedly requested human subjects to test his theories on. His ultimate goal was to create a human, sea creature hybrid, with his main focus being on combining a human with a walking catfish. Yes, there is such a thing. Anyway, Dr. Leopold takes over an abandoned government lab in Florida and continues his experiments, ultimately testing it on himself. The experiment is a success and he becomes what he’s always dreamed of. Once the transformation has taken place, he begins to focus on new tasks. Things like polluting the waters around the area with his formula that’s designed to create giant walking catfish that will wreak havoc on all of humanity, hunting down and killing the two scientists that forced him out and wouldn’t support him in his work, killing random people and kidnapping himself a mate that he can turn into a fish woman so they can spawn together.

When people start reporting occurrences of walking catfish creeping around all over the place, Sheriff Lou Krantz (Paul Galloway) has to investigate these strange goings on. He calls in a marine biologist named Rex (Gerald Cruse) to study the waters in the area and the fish to see if he can find out what’s going on. When he comes up with some strange findings that don’t make any sense, INPIT Agent Martha Walsh (Sanna Ringhaver), and INPIT Agent Walker Stevens (Dave Dickerson) are send in in their groovy research RV to assist with the investigation. What is INPIT? Well, it’s the Inter-Nations Phenomena Investigations Team. Jeez, I can’t believe you never heard of them? Anyway, they along with Rex and the sheriff must try to stop Dr. Leopold and put an end to his evil plans before it’s too late. But can they?

Apparently, people have been really wanting a great release of this film for quite some time now. This film didn’t really get the release it was supposed to have when it was made. The distributor went bankrupt the night before it was to be released, so there’s just sort of been random copies floating around out there under various names, such as Attack of the Swamp Creatures, Blood Waters of Dr. Z, Dr. Z, Hydra, and Legend of the Zaat Monster. This release simply has the original title of the film…Zaat.

This particular release has been completely restored and it’s been remastered in high definition for the blu-ray+DVD combo pack release from Cultra. I’ve been highly impressed with released from Cultra and the restoration work they do. The films they restore and release end up looking and sounding better than they did when they were made. They often include a before and after restoration demo on their releases. It’s really shocking to see how crappy the original looks, and how brilliant it looks after they do the restoration work. It’s like night and day.

The film itself is ok. It’s fairly typical of these types of early 70’s monster flicks, though it can be rather slow paced at times, even to the point of becoming tedious. The monster outfit they used for the creature looked decent, but the head was really hokey looking. You could tell it was made like a diving helmet with a mouth that was shaped in such a way so as the guy wearing it, Wade Popwell, could breathe during the underwater shots. The eye sockets even had a clear plastic covering so he could see. It also had moss on it that looked more like the kind of a thing you’d see lining a woman’s dress than a monster suit. I’m guessing they used it to hide the seams and such. Still, it was all sufficiently cheesy enough that it crossed over the threshold from bad to fun.

The acting, again, was typical of this style of film from this particular era. It wasn’t too awful bad, and like the monster suit, was just cheesy enough to make it fun.

As for the story…

The story is ok, but apparently it was supposed to also include "giant" walking catfish tromping all over miniature sets and destroying stuff. Aside from one really quick scene of one of the catfish destroying a little model fence, there weren’t any other scenes like this included in the film, because they were deemed too hokey looking and left out of the film. To be honest, no matter how hokey looking those scenes were, they would have only added to the fun of the film. As it is, their existence in simply implied through calls to the sheriff’s office and other reports.

One particular thing of note in this film is the set work that went into Dr. Leopold’s lab. It’s got its own giant tank for him to immerse himself and others into for his experiments, some nifty looking chemisty gear (test tubes, vials, etc…) and a bunch of electronic gizmos that look like they came straight out of a carnival. He’s even got a basket hooked up to a pulley system like the search and rescue guys use so he can lower himself and others into the tank. The whole place just had this really great look to it, and he even had various sea creatures in tanks all around the lab, just to add some authenticity. Something else that was special, and I know it had to have taken a lot of work, was this giant wheel he had that was sectioned off in months, with his goal for that month marked in each section and notes about whether he achieved his goal or not. It’s so cool, they even used it on the disc’s menu!

This release of the film is simply loaded with special features, including the following:

An original movie postcard, inlcuded in the case.
Television spots and outtake footage.
A radio interview with Wade Popwell and Ed Tucker.
A photo gallery.
Spanish subtitles. (This kind of irritated me though. Where are the English subs???)
The original 35mm trailer.
A before and after restoration demo.
Audio commentary.

While the movie can be a bit slow and tedious at times, it also has elements to it that are a lot of fun. Watch it with a friend or a significant other if you really want to have fun with it. This is another fantastic release from Cultra, and I really can’t express how impressed I am with this company. You really can’t go wrong getting anything they put out.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of this film for yourself, you can head on over to Amazon and grab yourself a copy of the blu-ray + DVD combo pack right here.