ZAAT review

Look…..I like “cult movies” as much as the next horror junkie. Some movies, like “Dolemite”, are so bad that they’re good. Others, like “The Warriors”, are just plain cool. Still others are underappreciated during their original theatrical release but find its audience on DVD, which is the category that “Donnie Darko” would fall into. The 1972 self-proclaimed “cult classic”, ZAAT, doesn’t fit into any of these categories. Rather, it leads the pack as “so bad it’s……BAD.” I understand it was the ‘70s and times were different, but there’s only so much artificial-camp that can be absorbed by a viewer before your head explodes.

Directed by Don Barton on a shoestring budget in scenic Cypress Grove, FL, ZAAT (also known as Hydra, Dr. Z, Attack of the Swamp Creatures, and countless other monikers) tells the tale of a crazed ex-Nazi scientist named Dr. Kurt Leopold, a man obsessed with creating a race of hybrid catfish men that will take over the world, apparently for enduring laughter at his ideas in the scientific community. I guess that overshadows the other stuff that he may’ve done wrong because, you know….he was a NAZI. Either way, that facet of his life is unexplored (inexplicably) as a biologist, local racist sheriff, and the grooviest pair of ‘70s phenomena investigators roll into town in a swingin’ camper with a modified jet ski in the back. You can tell they are awesome by their bright orange jumpsuits resembling prison uniforms, with “INPIT” (Inter-Nations Phenomena Investigations Team) on the back. The ZAAT monster continues to spray his evil liquid in the local swamps and lakes, trying to create an army of mutated fish. Unfortunately, the only living thing Leopold successfully turns into a hybrid creature is himself, a wonderfully hideous costume resembling the spawn of the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Godzilla. Only less scary. There is some predictable rising and falling action, and an inevitable climax. Typical fare, even for this type of movie.

I will give Barton credit for trying, just not for succeeding. After an unwelcoming 20-minute opening, which plays out like a bad episode of Wild Kingdom narrated by a second-rate Vincent Price voice, the movie chugs along and does provide a few funny and random moments, just not many scary ones. The kill scenes are laughable, but not in a “ha ha” sort of way. They’re more like a “wow….they could’ve done a little more editing and made that seem at least a LITTLE bit believable” situation. The narrator’s voice is uncovered to be Leopold’s conscious, so it simply won’t go away. Despite all of these flaws, purposeful or not, the ending is a bit unexpected and, amazingly, is pretty well done. Much like the ending to The Wicker Man, it’s very un-Hollywood and will leave you shaking your head a little bit. Of course, this may’ve been par for the course with these ‘70s campy flicks.

If ZAAT is considered a “cult classic”, then perhaps I need to reexamine my definition of “classic”. And “cult”. But for those that love intentional campiness with their creature feature cravings, then this may be the movie for you. But if it seems forced, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

For the rest of us, this movie would best be viewed with 3 heads silhouetted on the bottom of the screen, cracking jokes. The MST3K treatment may be the way to go with this movie.

Sean McLaughlin on Twitter
Sean McLaughlin
Staff Writer at Horror News Network
Sean McLaughlin has been writing for Horror News Network since 2012. Catch up with him on Twitter at @Makasupa and read his in-depth bio on our About Us page.
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