Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blu-ray Review: ZAAT (1971)

ZAAT (1971)
Blu-ray +DVD Combo

Label: Film Chest
Region Code: [Blu-ray] A [DVD] 0 NTSC
Rating:  Not Rated
Duration: 100 Minutes
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 with Spanish Subtitles
Director: Don Barton
Cast: Marshall Grauer, Sanna Ringhaver, Dave Dickerson, Gerald Cruse, Archie Valliere, Nancy Lien.
Tagline: Taking Cult to a Whole New Level … You Can’t Keep a Bad Monster Down!

HD Cinema Classics in conjunction with Film Chest and Cultra continue to bring fans of cult and schlock cinema "the best (and worst) of cult cinema, a cinematic cesspool of films that are surreal, eccentric, controversial, comical and scary but ultimately engaging and entertaining". They've proven true to their words with digital remastered Blu-ray/DVD combos of cult films like the Roger Corman b-movie classic THE TERROR (1963), the bizarre talking-chimp oddity CARNIVAL MAGIC (1981) and the demented sleazefest POOR PRETTY EDDIE (1975). These guys obviously love their cult cinema and they continue their streak by unearthing yet another drive-in cult classic from the dustbins of obscurity. This time it's the apparently much sought-after ’70s schlock-fest ZAAT (1971) which is also known by the alternate title of THE BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z. Like POOR PRETTY EDDIE before it I cannot say I've ever heard whispers of this 70's drive-in relic before watching this Blu-ray but I can tell you now that I've seen it I will never forget it, some things just cannot be unwatched.

In this zany 70's b-movie creature feature an obsessed former Nazi scientist (naturally), Dr. Kurt Leopold (Marshall Grauer) is a man scorned by his scientific peers when he becomes obsessed with transforming humans into fish using a toxic compound he calls Zaat. Disavowed by the scientific community the Dr. isolates himself in a marine lab outside of Cypress Groves, Florida he proves the naysayers wrong by actually transforming himself into an amphibious creature (played by Wade Popwell) that is part man, part walking catfish. That's right, 1/2 man 1/2 catfish and 100% ridiculous right down to the green feather boa trim of the costume, the creature from the black lagoon this most certainly is not. Bent on revenge the creature concocts a corny scheme to turn the tables on humanity by polluting the rivers with the Zaat compound in an effort to mutate the aquatic wildlife into over sized human-flesh crazed fish - now that's a plan and a half right there and it makes for one Hell of a silly 70's drive-in schlockfest.

All that stands in the way between the diabolical doctor and the total destruction of Cypress Groves and possibly the world is a small town sheriff (Paul Galloway) and a young African-American biologist (Gerald Cruse) who the Sheriff refers to as "boy" more than one would like to hear but hey it's 70's exploitation cinema, whattya gonna do. They have a good rapport but the nickname definitely makes your skin crawl especially when coming from a Southern-fried good-old-boy like the rotund sheriff. The duo also receive assistance pursuing the catfish creature with help from a couple of pre-X-FILES styled agents of the paranormal (Sanna Ringhaver, Dave Dickerson) from the Inter-Nations Phenomenon Investigations Team (INPIT) who show up in a snazzy RV towing a trailer with a neat-o amphibious vehicle.

ZAAT is a schlocky sight to behold, inept as it is it's quite watchable and I have to give it a recommend to others who crave a few reels of bad 70's cinema, this is fun stuff. Corny revenge, some cool underwater shots, the largest hypedermic needle I've ever seen, the creature's attempt to transform a few beauties into mate, it's weird and wacky stuff, the type of shenanigans that goes great with a couch full of drunk friends and some frosty beers, watching it alone just seems like a bad idea you're gonna need back-up on this one.

Blu-ray: ZAAT is digitally remastered in 1080p HD and transferred from original 35mm elements. The 16:9 Widescreen presentation is actually quite attractive with some decent depth and clarity for a obscure 70's drive-in film previously thought lost. There's some nice detail throughout and some film grain left intact despite some Digital Noise Reduction. Colors look great, the restoration included a nice color correction and the green and reds particularly pop onscreen. Overall the film really exceeds my expectations visually, a nice restoration for this schlocky creature feature rarity.

On the audio front HD Cinema Classics again have chose not to go the losses audio route and have included only an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack which is quite the stellar example of fidelity but it relatively clean if unimpressive.

Special features include a fun commentary from director Don Barton, co-writer Ron Kivett, actor Paul Galloway which is moderated by film historian ED Tucker, it's a great chatty interview that's not so much scene specific as just a lively discussion about the film and it's participants, a thoroughly enjoyable commentary. We also get a theatrical trailer and TV spots, outtakes, a gallery, movie art postcard, restoration demo and a 2001 audio-only radio interview with Wade Popwell and Ed Tucker recorded during the film’s 30th anniversary.

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Don Barton, co-writer Ron Kivett, actor Paul Galloway and film historian Ed Tucker
- 35mm Theatrical Trailer (2:34) 16:9
- Television Spots (1:15) 4:3
- Outtakes (3:53) 4:3
- Radio Interview with Wade Popwell and Ed Tucker
- Before-and-After Restoration Demo (1:06) 16:9
- Original movie art postcard
- Photo Gallery (8:10)
- DVD of the film with Special Features

Verdict: Lovers of 70's drive-in schlock rejoice, as cheese-tastic man-in-suits creature features go this is pretty great, a real treat for the bad cinema enthusiasts and it would make a fantastic double feature with THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977). Definitely a film that's just so bad it's good and in the best possible way, fun stuff. 2.5 outta 5

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