The Blood Waters of Dr. Z (1971) The Blood Waters of Dr. Z / Zaat / Dr. Z / Legend of the Zaat Monster / Attack of the Swamp Creature / Hydra (1971) -**

     We’re all acquainted by now with the concept of “Florida Man” news stories, right? You have to have seen at least a few: “Florida Man Leaving Strip Club Falls Out of Truck, Runs Himself Over.” “Florida Man Marks Favorite Fishing Spot on Pier with His Own Feces.” “Naked Florida Man Breaks Into House for Sesame Seeds.” That sort of thing. Well, it turns out Florida Man has appeared in his share of cheapjack monster movies, too. Consider Blood Freak: Florida Man Eats Entire Contaminated Turkey, Becomes Blood-Drinking Poultry Monster. Or Sting of Death: Florida Man Turns Self Into Were-Jellyfish to Prove Point About Portuguese Man o’ War Growth. And now we can add The Blood Waters of Dr. Z to the list: Florida Man Seeks World Domination by Becoming Human Catfish. All that’s missing is a denouement in which the monster gets arrested for pissing on the sidewalk outside of an Applebee’s with a blood alcohol content of 0.35!

     The Florida Man in question is Dr. Kurt Leopold (Marshall Grauer in human form; Wade Popwell inside the monster suit). As a young man, back in the 40’s, he was a promising biological researcher, but his colleagues quickly grew concerned about his mental stability. Maybe it was all that talk about creating a new master race of aquatic supermen. It was only when Leopold began pestering his superiors to supply him with human experimental subjects, however, that anyone could find a concrete justification for giving him the boot. That was 25 years ago. Leopold has been hunkered down in the little Florida community of Cypress Grove ever since, laboring diligently and in secret on his insane project. Eventually there came a breakthrough, the discovery of a substance which Leopold calls ZaAt. ZaAt encourages runaway growth in all species of fish, and Leopold believes it has the power, in combination with other products of his research, to transform humans into amphibious super-beings. Apparently Leopold is hoping for something along the lines of the South African walking catfish, but with big brains and opposable thumbs. That’s not quite what emerges after the mad doctor injects himself with ten CCs of who-knows-what and bathes in a tank of ZaAt -infused water under the management of an ill-defined panoply of electronic apparatus, however. No, what climbs out of that tank is the goofiest fucking gill-man since The Horror of Party Beach, but I guess so long as the results are somewhat fish-like, it’s all okay with Leopold. Personally, I’d be worried about algae growing all over those tasteful strips of forest green plush, but to each his own.

     The transfigured scientist begins his campaign for world conquest in a most curious way. He heads out into the swamp around Cypress Grove, looking for cold-blooded creatures to spritz individually with a hand-held spray bottle of ZaAt. Leopold takes particular care to get as many of the invasive walking catfish as possible. Soon Sheriff Lou Krantz (Paul Galloway) finds himself besieged by phone calls from Cypress Grove residents reporting unusually large and aggressive catfish making incursions onto their property. It gets so bad that the sheriff eventually feels compelled to call for outside assistance, which arrives in the form of Rex Baker (Gerald Cruse), a biologist affiliated with the State Department of Natural Resources. Alas, all Baker can tell Krantz at the moment is that the water around Cypress Grove is contaminated with some radioactive pollutant which he’s never seen before. Flummoxed, Baker calls in backup of his own from some outfit called the Inter-Nations Phenomena Investigation Team. Don’t even fucking ask me what that’s supposed to mean. INPIT sends Baker two agents by the names of Walker Stevens (Dave Dickerson) and Martha Walsh (Sanna Ringhaver), who arrive in a Winnebago tricked out as a mobile laboratory.

     Meanwhile, Leopold begins taking a more hands-on approach to his offensive of evil. Two of his former colleagues live in Cypress Grove as well, and Leopold takes time out from his busy schedule of fish-spritzing to assassinate both of them. About the most Krantz and his deputies can make of the victims is that they weren’t killed by any of those big catfish. Leopold also commits a third crime which never does come to light when he abducts a pretty, blonde camper (Nancy Lien) and spirits her away to his lab. It’s lonely being a gill-man, you see, so Leopold figures he should make himself a mate. Something goes wrong with the ZaAt treatment this time around, however, so that instead of a horny gill-girl, Leopold just ends up with a scaly corpse. What’s left of the camper goes into an acid bath, and Leopold returns to his reign of terror already in progress. He’ll be keeping his eye out for more abductable girls in the future, though, that’s for sure.

     Yeah, that means he’ll eventually set his sights on Martha Walsh. How could it be any other way? We’ve got a while to go before that happens, however, and writer/ director Don Barton has some pretty peculiar ideas about how to fill the intervening time. For instance, there’s the night when Krantz follows what sounds like people moaning and wailing in pain to some kind of community hall, only to find the place taken over by hippy Jesus freaks. The sheriff sits for a spell listening to their leader strum his guitar before making his presence known, meaning that we in the audience get to hear a song in its entirety. Then he persuades the hippies to accompany him to the safety of the town jail, where they contentedly continue their happening or their preach-in or whatever the hell it is behind bars and under the bemused gaze of a deputy sheriff (Jaws 3-D’s Rich Valliere). Then there’s the bizarre plot thread that unspools when Leopold is injured while attacking Stevens. Obviously the rampaging gill-man can’t just check himself into the emergency room, but a stab wound like that really isn’t something he can afford to let slide either. Cue human catfish ransacking the neighborhood pharmacy in rapidly escalating frustration. Why frustration? Because what Leopold requires isn’t carried by most drug stores, and his instincts tell him as much each time he pulls a new nostrum from the shelves to inspect its label. Leopold’s a monster now, so naturally the only cure for what ails him is fresh human blood. He gets it in the end by ambushing a pair of teenagers (Jim Merrill and Elizabeth Barton) whom he catches making out on the girl’s front porch. Unlike the bit with the Jesus freaks, Leopold’s turn to vampirism has some impact on the plot, because the evidence linking the crime scenes at the pharmacy and the house convinces the investigators that their monster is intelligent. At the same time, the pollution clues and the identities of the dead scientists lead them to discover Dr. Leopold’s background, the relevance of which to the current situation is eerily obvious. And that’s about when the mutated biologist makes his second attempt to create a Bride of ZaAt, significantly raising the personal stakes for all concerned.

     It’s a real pity that The Blood Waters of Dr. Z is, above all else, a Moseying Monster movie, because Don Barton does something so cockeyed here that I can’t recall ever seeing it anywhere else. Kurt Leopold holds by far the best claim to be this picture’s protagonist. He’s the first character we meet, he gets easily the most screen time, and he’s the only one with whom we’re ever alone for an extended period. Also— and this is the dispositive point, I think— Leopold gets an internal monologue delivered in voiceover. Nobody else gets an internal monologue delivered in voiceover. So what we’ve got here looks a lot like a forerunner to those Portrait of a Psycho films that came into their own in the 1980’s. What’s funny, though, is that that remains The Blood Waters of Dr. Z’s modus operandi even after Leopold turns himself into a monster. Portrait of a Psycho is one thing, but who the fuck ever heard of a Portrait of a Gill-Man movie?! I would dearly love to see a film that put its back into that premise, but man or monster, Leopold simply doesn’t do very much— at least not in proportion to his share of the screen time. What he does do, meanwhile, never quite jells into an intelligible program, despite all the time we spend watching Leopold make notes and cross items off on his big-ass homemade Calendar o’ Crazy. (The Calendar o’ Crazy is one of The Blood Waters of Dr. Z’s minor delights. It’s sort of a cardboard wheel of fortune divided, on who knows what basis, into concentric circles of wedge-shaped cells, each bearing some indecipherable notation. Just the thing for the truly obsessed whackaloon who can’t cram all of his Crazy onto a mere bulletin board.) A guy whose activities include turning into a monster, kidnapping girls to turn them into monsters, making still more monsters out of invasive swamp fish, committing a series of revenge murders, looting a drug store, and engaging in therapeutic vampirism really ought to come across as a purpose-driven individual, don’t you think?

     At least we see a lot of Dr. Leopold. The same cannot be said of his supposed army of ZaAt-enhanced swamp fauna. It’s very perplexing at first, considering what a big deal Leopold makes of his finned and barbelled minions throughout the first couple reels. Obviously giant fish cost money, but it’s a bold move to promise so extensively what you have no intention of even trying to deliver. Look closely, though, and you’ll see that Barton did intend to try. It’s just that he failed so catastrophically that even he had to admit there was nothing to be gained by keeping the results of his efforts. You see, Barton figured at first that he could combine forced perspective and miniatures to create the illusion of walking catfish hundreds of times their natural size. But the forced-perspective shots were ruined by the fish sharing the foreground with pebbles and blades of grass that betrayed their true dimensions, and the miniature effects were so ostentatiously phony-looking that no more than a second or two of one was permitted to besmirch the completed film. On first viewing, I missed it completely; I thought it was just another shot of a catfish slithering through tidal mud. But the second time I saw The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, I noticed something that had eluded me before: alongside the fish toward the bottom of the frame was a teeny, tiny fence, of the sort one might get as part of a playset of plastic toy farm animals. Even The Giant Gila Monster did a more creditable job, and I can only imagine what the rest of the effects inserts must have looked like! Who can blame Barton for tossing the footage in the dumpster and saying, “Let us never speak of this again?” Still, there’s really no watching The Blood Waters of Dr. Z without a nagging sense that something important has gone missing.



Home     Alphabetical Index     Chronological Index     Contact



All site content (except for those movie posters-- who knows who owns them) (c) Scott Ashlin.  That means it's mine.  That means you can't have it unless you ask real nice.