Monday, January 9, 2017

The Shallows (2016) [The Celluloid Zeroes Proudly Present: A Franchise Kill]

[Blogger's Note: Before we get started, I want to apologize for the lack of updates since November. After the election of a short-tempered Reality TV star to the highest office in the land, I found myself really struggling to get up the positive energy I needed in order to update and I also focused most of my energy into spending time with my loved ones--and spoiling my son rotten for Christmas]

The challenge with jumping on board a Roundtable focused on reviewing every entry in a franchise is that, well, sometimes a franchise does not have enough entries to go around. And the Celluloid Zeroes are all lovers of crap cinema, so when choosing to cover the entire Jaws franchise it should be obvious that we all wanted to claim the worst entries, but we couldn't all do Jaws:The Revenge, now could we?

Rip-offs were, of course, fair game. That left a lot of attractive possibilities such as Piranha, Alligator, or Great White (aka The Last Shark), which was considered to be such a brazen rip-off that it was sued out of American theaters by Universal. However, one film called to me as a way to address the continuing legacy of Jaws, even if it might not seem that obvious at first.

After all, if you've seen the trailers, you know that today's film is about a woman finding herself stranded in the ocean by a ferocious shark near a secluded beach. That premise owes more to a film like Open Water* than your typical Jaws rip-off, which usually feature large numbers of people likely to be eaten by its aquatic menace.

[* Granted, Open Water makes joking reference to Jaws by naming its protagonists after the first two victims, but it can't otherwise be said to be riffing on the film]

However, given that the menace in this film is an abnormally huge Great White shark, and the way the film ramps up ridiculously at its climax--I would argue that you could call this Jaws: The Shallows and edit in John Williams's famous theme, and it wouldn't be a stretch.

The film, in a move that seems more and more typical these days, opens with a scene that actually comes from much later in the narrative. A young boy (Pablo Calva) finds a damaged helmet floating in the surf, with a GoPro camera mounted on top of it. Reviewing the footage, the boy sees the camera's owner surfing with another man--and then suddenly sees footage of the surfer trying desperately to pull himself up on the rocks, as though something is chasing him. Given that he then submerges and gets a great shot right down the throat of a huge shark, the chances the guy is still alive are pretty slim.

The boy runs down the beach hurriedly, carrying the camera. He doesn't notice the shattered remains of a surfboard that washes up.

Too late, Orin Scrivello learned that becoming a shark dentist had been a mistake.
After the title card, we are introduced to Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), riding in the cab of a pick-up truck through a Mexican jungle. Thanks to the cinema magic that makes the contents of her phone screen float around her head like dialogue options in a Sims game, we see that she is staring longingly at a picture of a Polaroid--the subject of which is a young blonde woman on a beach with a surfboard. The caption reads 1991, so it's not surprising that when Carlos (Óscar Jaenada), the driver, asks if that's her, she tells him it's actually her mother.

The whole story will come out in due time, but she tells Carlos a piece of it: her mother found and surfed a secluded "secret" beach back in 1991, right before she found out she was pregnant with Nancy. Since her mother taught both Nancy and her little sister Chloe (Sedona Legge) how to surf, she had always wanted to take them to the same beach.

Unfortunately, we all know that being a parent means that shit like that is far easier said than done. And since Nancy has the most organized photo album on her phone, we'll later see the progression of her mother from young surfer, to middle-aged mom (Janelle Bailey), to obvious cancer patient. It almost doesn't need to be said that she's coming to the beach to honor her dear departed mom.

Unsurprisingly, it is incredibly tough to find stills from this movie that aren't focused on objectifying our heroine.
However, after Carlos drops Nancy off at the beach--and steadfastly refuses to take her money, because he saw driving her to the beach as a mere favor--we do get it explicitly said when Nancy has a Skype call with her sister. Since Nancy's Skype connection is immaculate, she is able to show her sister the beach before her father (Brett Cullen) hops on the call and expresses his concern about Nancy. It seems that her mom's passing made Nancy drop out of med school, and her father tries to point out that she ought to stay in med school to try and save others like her mom.

Well, that awkward call complete, Nancy swims out on her board--missing the text from her friend, whom she earlier told Carlos had ditched her in order to recover from "the Irish flu" at their hotel after partying too hard the night before. Unfortunately, she's ditching Nancy even worse than that now because she's going on a hot date while Nancy goes surfing.

She catches a few waves before making the acquaintance of two local surfers (Angelo José Lozano Corzo and José Manuel Trujillo Salas), both of whom have a bit of fun with lightly teasing her about her poor Spanish. Naturally, one of these surfers is wearing a GoPro helmet. They also helpfully tell her to watch out for the rocks that form a small island at low tide and to avoid the fire coral, as it will sting the dickens out of her if she bumps into it.

After surfing alongside them for a bit, Nancy goes ashore to have some food. The two surfers come ashore jut as she decides to go out once more, and start packing up their stuff. Unfortunately for Nancy, this means they're too far away when things start to rapidly go South.

First, she gets startled by a pod of dolphins that seem to be going somewhere in an awful hurry. She then discovers a dead humpback whale floating a few yards from the aforementioned tide island. Apparently not being much a viewer of the Discovery Channel, she floats next to the dead whale for a few minutes, even when she notices the huge bites taken out of it--and then it starts to be pushed from below by a large scavenger.

Thus it's too late when she decides to turn and surf away. A shark suddenly lunges out of the way she is surfing and wipes her out. After getting knocked around by the waves, she swims over to her board--only to be immediately yanked under the water by the shark. In true actual shark fashion, after it gets a good taste of her it lets her go. Also, because if if it went full Jaws on her, we wouldn't have much of a movie.

Bleeding, panicked, and desperate, Nancy swims to the first bit of safety she can think of: the dead whale. Unfortunately, in a cruel joke she can see the two surfers as they drive away, but when she sees their jeep stop it turns out to be because one of them had to secure a loose surfboard strap--and then they are gone, completely oblivious to her ordeal. She has no time to process that before the shark is pushing at the bottom of the whale to try and flip her into the water.

Nancy just makes it to the outcropping of rocks--planting her bare foot right in some fire coral in the process--before the shark can catch her. She's also not entirely alone, since a sea gull that was injured when the shark flipped the whale has taken shelter on the rocks, too. Well, and of course, the shark is very intent on keeping her company.

"Well, at least I'll get to be featured on shark week."
In a game attempt to not die, Nancy puts her medical training to use by making a tourniquet out of her surfboard tether, and stitching up the bite on her leg using her earrings and necklace. (You, uh, may want to look away during this bit. It's a bit unnerving how graphic you can be in PG-13 movies these days, huh?) She tears up her wet suit to use as a bandage, as well, so she at least won't bleed to death. Except now she's stuck over a hundred yards from shore and any chance of calling for help.

Worst of all, it turns out that the shark has decided that anyone else who gets into the water shall be killed instantly. A drunk man (Diego Espejel) who decides to steal her floating surfboard ends up bitten in half, and when the two surfers return and attempt to help her after they see doesn't end well for them.

So, now that the shark has proven it will not give up until Nancy is dead, she's going to have to come up with a plan. Especially since the tide is coming in, and soon she'll be right where the shark wants her...
I was skeptical when I first heard they were remaking Psycho Shark, but...
I'll get this out of the way: it's a bit awkward that the film introduces a total of five characters that aren't white and three of them end up killed by the shark. I don't think the filmmakers really considered this, but it's definitely a bit awkward.

However, aside from that I confess myself a bit mystified by the mediocre or bad reviews I saw about the movie before I caught it in the theater. Especially since many seemed to find it dull and meandering. I highly disagree.

This film is a brisk 86 minutes in a world when every fucking movie has to be two and a half hours long, and while it makes sure to establish our heroine as a character before it gets down to business, it makes sure not to linger too long on the set-up. Blake Lively may not get much credit as an actress--largely due to being part of such a lovingly trashy show as Gossip Girl, I'm sure--but she does a great job here. Especially since a lot of the film was shot in a large pool and yet she still sells the primal terror of being a land animal caught in the ocean.

It is true, however, that she is a bit upstaged by her costar--the seagull she eventually names Steven. I'm not kidding, that sea gull is a charismatic presence.

Her other major costar is, of course, the shark. Now, it's clear that this shark is CGI and it is also clear that this film's CGI is rather shoddy when we see the dolphins, jellyfish, and the occasional greenscreen flub. So one would think the shark would also come off vaguely like it swam off the set of a SyFy Channel Original.

However, the shark looks pretty damn amazing. It moves and behaves like a real shark, complete with rolling eyes and snarling lips when it lunges in for the kill. There are few scenes where it doesn't look great, even though it clearly changes size throughout the film. Most of the stills I chose above would make you think it was maybe a slightly larger than average specimen, but holy crap by the end that sucker appears to be at least as big as Ol' Bruce.

"Mmm, drumsticks! My favorite!"
It could be that the negative reviews came about because the film's climax is fucking bonkers. We go from a semi-realistic and subdued survival horror film, to an overblown action-packed monster movie showdown. It's like the film switches genres midway through.

And I Goddamn love it.

This is a movie that is harrowing, makes you jump, and then just becomes fun and even silly. So one could say that that is what it rips off the most from Jaws.

So, while I wouldn't put The Shallows on my list of top five films from 2016, I still highly recommend it. It's a damn good time and we need more horror movies this fun nowadays.

Maybe the secret is more seagulls,
This has been my rather tardy contribution to The Celluloid Zeroes Franchise Kill of Jaws:

Seeker of Schlock put a bounty out on Jaws

Checkpoint Telstar goes sailing with Jaws 2

Cinemasochist Apocalypse is Coming Right At You! with Jaws 3-D

Micro-Brewed Reviews took things too personal with Jaws: The Revenge

Web of the Big Damn Spider sighted The Sea Serpent

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Shin Godzilla (2016) [Political Science Fiction]

Despite the fact that Godzilla has been rebooted about six times and remade by American studios twice, Toho Studios has always kept the original 1954 film as the bedrock of the series. No matter what direction the reboot takes, the assumption has always been that every new entry will continue from the perspective of a universe where Tokyo was razed by Godzilla in 1954.

So, despite a lot of hints that Toho's 2016 film was going to be very unique--particularly with the creator of the influential and divisive anime Neon Genesis Evangelion at the helm--it was still a bit of a shock that it would be an actual remake. Even more surprising was the news that Godzilla would be the only kaiju in the film, which hadn't happened in a Toho film since 1984.

However, when one considers what Japan in 2016 is like, it makes a lot of sense to approach the story with what the unexpected appearance of Godzilla would look like now. After all, less than five years earlier Japan experienced the twin tragedies of a tsunami and a crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and a lot of Japanese citizens felt the government was utterly ineffective in handling the situation. Not far off from the "heckuva job, Brownie" bungling of Hurricane Katrina in America, in fact. Add to that the fact that Japan is a nation that has largely been stuck under America's thumb since the end of World War II, which has led to a lot of frustration from people who feel the nation needs to be able to stand on its own again.

And this is just the obvious cultural knowledge I've gleaned as a clueless white American nerd whose largest source of knowledge of Japanese society is kaiju movies.

Now, I need to offer a small caveat before I begin. Normally I hate reviewing movies if I have not seen them from minute one to at least the point where the end credits roll at least once. However, this film's American theatrical release was very limited (initially only a week long, though held over at just a few theaters for two more) and also apparently simulcast instead of each participating theater being given film or digital versions. This means that even though I was on time for the showing of the film that I saw, it started a few minutes early and I missed the very beginning. Unfortunately, that was the only showing I could make during its run.

I have, therefore, had to piece together the opening from other descriptions instead of what I viewed with my own eyes. So unlike the rest of the film, if you later see it and discover my plot description is wrong on how the film opens it isn't just because my memory sucks.

Well, the film allegedly opens with the Japanese coast guard finding a derelict yacht belonging to a scientist named Goro Maki floating in Tokyo Bay. I already know that Maki will be significant later, and I know that what follows will also be: something causes a huge geyser in Tokyo Bay and then the undersea tunnel in Tokyo Bay is collapsed and flooded, which was preceded by a red liquid pouring into it. It seems like a volcanic eruption, except for the viral videos that civilians are sharing of what appears to be a living creature moving in the chaotic waters.

I came in as the first of many, many cabinet meetings are held to discuss the disaster. Everyone intends to treat it like a natural disaster, but Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa, playing a very different role from Love & Peace) tries to point out the videos already circulating that prove it's more than that, but nobody wants to entertain that angle.

Rando Yaguchi
However, when an enormous tail rises from the water and multiple professional media outlets get it on video this time. The higher-ups call in experts to have smaller meetings with them, but the experts all have conflicting assessments of the footage that doesn't offer much help. And then the creature begins making its way inland via the river. It collects boats in its wake and pushes them along, causing chaos and panic among the fleeing citizens.

Hiromi Ogashira (Mikako Ichikawa), Deputy Director of Nature Conservation Bureau, is brought in to lend her expert opinion along with several others. Most argue that such a creature could never leave the water without being crushed under its own weight. Ogashira points out that the creature is already supporting its own weight, given it's mostly out of the water and pushing itself along with its hind feet.

Hiromi Ogashira

However, the prime minister chooses to listen to the other experts. While he is assured that the creature cannot come onto land, he is also advised to not mention that when he addresses the press. The PM delivers his prepared speech to assure the country that there is no cause for panic and they have things under control. Unfortunately, he decides to go off script and say there is no way the creature can come on land.

An aide immediately rushes over to inform the PM that the creature has come on land.

Baby Godzilla
The creature is clearly immature or not yet adapted to land. Its long neck is lined with large gills that occasionally leak a red fluid, possibly blood. It has no forearms, just partially formed stubs that wiggle uselessly as it pushes itself along with its powerful hind legs. The creature causes massive damage as it smashes its way through stalled cars and attempts to stand upright on its hind legs only to flop to the ground again.

At one point it rears up onto a building and pushes it over, killing a mother and her young children who had not been able to evacuate yet. Even with the creature leaving so much death and destruction in its wake, the government officials aren't entirely sure if they are allowed to deploy the JSDF to attack it. Eventually they determine that they are able to attack the beast as a means of pest disposal. The call is made to send helicopter gunships to kill it, just as the creature unexpectedly goes through a mutation that turns it into a reddish, dinosaur-like beast with short arms that walks upright.

Teenage Godzilla
The helicopters prepare to fire as the creature stands still near a train track--only for civilians to cross into the path of fire. When the information is passed up the line of command, the PM decides that he is unwilling to allow the civilians to become collateral damage and orders the gunships to stand down. The red creature then charges into the ocean.

Yaguchi decides to set up a task force containing Ogashira and several scientific experts. The group jokingly refers to themselves as misfits, but they're misfits who know what they're doing. Ogashira hypothesizes that the creature may be somehow powered by internal fission, which seems ridiculous until a scan of the region the creature rampaged through is shown to be radioactive. A possible break in the case is dropped into the research group's lap by a special American envoy, Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), who also happens to be the daughter of an American senator. She has brought the notes that Goro Maki had been working on before he disappeared. All she asks in return is for the US to be allowed to assist with the research and be allowed access to the group's data.

Kayoko Ann Patterson
Maki was a zoologist studying the effects of radioactive contamination on sea life. He became especially concerned about the effect it has on one ancient organism. What that organism started out as, his notes don't say, but he christened its mutated form "Godzilla," after a legend on Ohdo Island. One of the researchers points out that in Japanese the creature is "Gojira", while another jokes that it makes sense that Maki would put "God" in the creature's name.

Well, there's little time for jokes when Godzilla returns to Tokyo, now nearly 400 feet tall. The massive beast moves much more slowly than its earlier forms, but its sheer size means it cuts an even bigger swath of destruction.

Adult Godzilla
The JSDF is mobilized to attack Godzilla. Tanks, helicopters, and bombers are sent after the creature. However, to the horror of all involved, the creature is completely unharmed. It doesn't even seem to notice their assault and several tanks are crushed by the beast before they can flee. The US offers military support, which doesn't sit well with many in the cabinet, but the PM recognizes that they don't have much in the way of a choice.

As night falls, the US sends a squadron of B-2 bombers to attack the creature. The first plane's bombs strike Godzilla among its dorsal plates and it turns out the creature is not so invulnerable there, as the bombs draw blood and clearly hurt the creature. Unfortunately, they also piss it off and the creature's plates glow with purple energy as it seems to give off a strange gas. Then flame pours from its mouth, igniting the gas--only for Godzilla to unhinge its lower jaw as the flame turns into a concentrated purple, laser-like beam. Godzilla turns this beam upward and uses it to slice the offending plane in two like a hot knife through butter.

Laser Breath
The other bombers move in for payback, but the creature surprises everyone by suddenly firing multiple laser beams from its dorsal plates that obliterate both the bombs and the bombers. Godzilla then turns its beam back on the city. Buildings are sliced apart and collapse and the creature also destroys the helicopter that was meant to take the PM and several higher cabinet members to safety.

Tokyo becomes a sea of fire as the creature vents its rage on the city. However, soon the beast's laser beam turns back into flame as it runs out of energy. Once spent, the creature goes into hibernation in the middle of the city like an ominous living statue.

Tokyo in Flames.
As the American scientists help the research group study Maki's notes, they become convinced that the creature poses a threat to the entire world and should be destroyed at once. So the US and the UN are already informing the new prime minster--an agriculture minister who was the most senior politician still alive--that nuclear weapons will be used to destroy the beast before it becomes active again. When a search team in Tokyo discovers a chunk of flesh blown off of Godzilla during the bombing run that appears to be alive and maybe even growing wings, well that just seals it. The creature's spawn cannot be allowed to mature and spread.

Luckily for Japan, Patterson cannot abide the thought of her ancestral nation having nuclear weapons dropped on it for a third time. Even knowing it may jeopardize her future political ambitions, she uses all her connections to buy Japan time to come up with an alternative plan. It has been determined that Godzilla will need several days to replenish its energy, so the Japanese government is allowed to use that time to come up with an alternate plan. Luckily, they already have one in mind thanks to the data collected on Godzilla and Maki's research notes, but they're going to need the Americans to help with it...

Patterson and Yaguchi discuss the future
A lot of people have been referring to Shin Godzilla as the most divisive of Godzilla films. I say that's nonsense, because I haven't encountered a Godzilla film that wasn't divisive. Two years ago, fans were bickering about the quality of Legendary's Godzilla, twelve years before that it was arguments about Godzilla: Final Wars, and the upcoming sequel to the American Godzilla will likely be just as divisive.

I bet we'll still be having the exact same complaints about that film, too: that there isn't enough Godzilla, that the human story isn't good, etc.

When Shin Godzilla first revealed its final Godzilla design (since the fact that Godzilla went through multiple stages wasn't officially confirmed prior to the film's premiere), I had a bad feeling I would be among the detractors this time. I thought the design looked silly and like it was trying way too hard to be "scary" and "twisted." Then there were the odd proportions this Godzilla has: T-Rex arms, a tail as thick as its body and three times as long, and its huge thighs make it so bottom heavy that it makes the 1990s suits look like they have chicken legs.

However, like many Godzilla designs it eventually grew on me. And when I saw the creature's larval forms, I thought they looked amazing. What threw me for a loop was finding out that the creature not only shot laser beams out of its back, but from the tip of its tail as well. That sounded as ridiculous as the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon having the creature shoot lasers from its eyes.

I was not, however, as daunted by the rumors that the film was very talky and had very little Godzilla action. Nor did I put much credence in complaints that the film was disturbingly nationalistic. After all, American viewers can express alarm at excessive nationalism in the cinema of other countries when they acknowledge how disturbing it is that Michael Bay has a stupidly successful career.

Upon seeing the film, I found myself among its many raving fans at once. It's true that Godzilla does not have a lot of screentime and the film has so many human characters that I only focused this review on three of them to save myself a lot of time. However, should someone ever make a Godzilla film that is 90 minutes of Godzilla scenes and five minutes of human story, fans will probably complain that that one goes too far.

I loved the human scenes in this and fie on those who don't. For one thing, while the film spends a lot of its time on a cynical satire of the frustrations citizens often feel with their governments, this is a remarkably optimistic film. While I won't reveal the form it takes for anyone who missed the film in its brief theatrical run in the states or whose country hasn't gotten it yet: after the nightmare that 2016 has been I needed a Godzilla film that ends with people and countries working together to get shit done.

In a year that has given us Brexit and the frighteningly likely possibility of President Donald Trump, nothing has delighted me quite like a film giving me a world where Japan and America can work together to defeat Godzilla.

The cast is also amazing. It's no shock that Mikako Ichikawa's character Hiromi Ogashira has become a fan favorite already, though it's hard to put into words precisely why she's so great, and I already knew Hiroki Hasegawa was a damn good actor from seeing Love & Peace earlier this year. I feel Satomi Ishihara deserves a shout-out, as well. It's true that no American audience is ever going to buy that her character is American--there's already memes mocking the poor girl's heavily accented delivery of the inexplicable remark, "Personal service!" However, Ishihara was not informed the role would call for her to speak English until almost the last minute and even with that awkward task thrust upon her, she delivers a great performance and really brings life into a character caught between what is expected of her and what she feels is right. She's also gorgeous, of course.

Though I must admit, I was crushing hardest on Kimiko Yo as Defense Minister Reiko Hanamori.

I tend to have a powerful weakness for women who look like they can kick my ass.
There's also a great biting wit to the cabinet scenes. While it's a bit hard to follow in the subtitled version, one of the subtle running gags is that several times when we come back to a scene with Rando Yaguchi, the caption reintroduces us to him because his title changes constantly over the course of the film. The film also has many amazing uses of humor, my favorite of which I mentioned in my synopsis, but there's many more and yet they never reduce the film to a campy tone. I also have a feeling that the jabs at the Japanese government were incredibly cathartic for Japanese audiences.

It also has to be said that the effects in this film are amazing. Like many, when I heard that the film was going to use almost 100% CGI to realize Godzilla I was skeptical. However, while there are a few missteps--for instance, when we see Godzilla mature into his second form, the CG artists added a ripple effect over his skin that makes the CGI look briefly SyFy Channel-esque--this Godzilla looks like a physical effect in all of his scenes.

The music is a bit of a mixed bag, though, The film uses Akira Ifukube's themes to absolutely flawless effect, but it seems to only have two original themes: the ominous "Persecution of the Masses" that was used in most of its trailers and the enthusiastic theme it breaks out for scenes of people getting stuff done. The latter theme reoccurs over and over, with almost no variation except for the one time it's turned into an electric rock version, It's not a bad theme, but its repetition makes it feel like library music.

Oddly enough I seem to be taking the opposite view of many other fans who liked the movie, as they felt it was the Ifukube themes that didn't fit. There have also been objections to the film's use of Showa-era sound effects, but I enjoyed that as well, and never found them distracting.

As for the film's take on Godzilla, it's not surprising that some fans love it and others have reacted with a level of vitriol on the level that greeted the 1998 Godzilla. To be fair to the detractors for a moment, this is a very unusual take on the character. While it's not stated in the film, apparently Godzilla is actually supposed to be mutated from a frilled shark. Changing his origin from a beast created by H-Bomb testing to one created by nuclear contamination is actually pretty brilliant, in my opinion, as a way of focusing on the fears of modern society when it comes to nuclear disasters. Hell, the graphs showing the radioactive plumes emanating from Godzilla look nigh identical to that (admittedly bogus) image of Fukushima radiation polluting the Pacific.

As for Godzilla being a mutant fish instead of a mutant dinosaur? Well, it's not like it's any less realistic and I always rather enjoy a new take on the Big Guy once I get over my initial shock. Hell, I have to say the scenes of the larval Godzilla awkwardly rampaging through the city are far more compelling, and downright terrifying at times, than anything his more "traditional" adult form does later. The larval Godzilla is also just an amazingly appealing design, a strange mix of the disgusting and the vaguely adorable--so it's not much of a shock that fans all over the world have fallen in love with the silly creature.

It's gross, yet kawaii as hell.
I won't spoil what the Japanese and Americans do to defeat Godzilla, but I do think it's important to address the idea from some fans that it was "too easy." I understand that reaction--indeed that's my reaction to how he goes out in Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, despite many other fans adoring that film. However, I think many of them miss the point that the defeat of Godzilla in this film is a tenuous victory. The last shot of the film is a stunning moment of body horror and a marvelous way of suggesting that this is not the end without stooping to a cheap stinger--like the aforementioned GMK.

If there's any fault with Godzilla, it's that having him go into a coma for a huge section of the film really undercuts a lot of the menace they had built up so well to that point. Although, I must admit I have no idea how the ticking clock section of the film would work without that coma and the film does try to show that Godzilla is still waiting to strike again, such as when the skull in the kaiju's tail suddenly cracks open its jaws. (I admit to being shocked when it was officially clarified that the film was not a sequel to the 1954 film, as I assumed the twisted appearance of Godzilla and the skeletons embedded in the tip of his tail would be explained as the bones of sea creatures it absorbed when regaining its form)

There's been a strange need to pit this film against the 2014 Godzilla in much the same way as it was felt necessary to pit that film against Pacific Rim. I feel that comparing these two Godzilla movies is just as silly as I thought that was. Sure, I think Shin Godzilla is the better of the two--largely based on the fact that I found its human story far more engaging--but so what? That doesn't mean I can't enjoy both!

Mothra vs. Godzilla is my favorite Godzilla movie of ever, but that doesn't mean I can't also love the hell out of the clearly inferior Godzilla vs. Gigan. The idea that enjoying one film means you can't enjoy the other is as silly as the annoyingly unending conception that you can't love Star Trek and Star Wars. That's just silly: both franchises have space lizards! There's no reason to choose!

Space lizards make everything awesome.
As for Shin Godzilla, I definitely recommend it to both fans and non-fans. My girlfriend loved it and she's not even remotely as hardcore into Godzilla as I am. Literally, the first words she ever said to me included, "So tell me: what exactly is the appeal of Godzilla movies?" And despite my best efforts, I have never fully succeeded in bringing her into the fold, even though she admitted that many of the films were very good.

So when I say that this movie genuinely moved her, that's high praise indeed.

A face only an action figure collector could love.

This review is part of the Political Science Fiction roundtable, where the Celluloid Zeroes comfort ourselves on the most terrifying Election Day of my lifetime by taking a look at genre films with a political bent.

Checkpoint Telstar gets a load of The Parallax View.

Micro-Brewed Reviews gets caught in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Psychoplasmics wanders into The Mist.

Web of the Big Damn Spider gives us A Report on the Party and Guests.

Monday, October 31, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 26: Zaat (1971)

I don't actually recall my very first introduction to the legendary horror hostess, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. I can be relatively sure I was at least ten years old at the time, however. And, obviously, like a large majority of people attracted to women on the cusp of adolescence, I was quickly won over by her inherent charms.

I'm not going to make a boob joke here because, let's face it, she's already made any that I could think of twice over.

I think I've already made it clear that I was a deprived child with only four channels of TV to choose from, and therefore would not have had access to any showings of Elvira's actual show on TV. However, Elvira has always been popular enough that it was considered necessary for those outside of her TV market to get to ogle her whilst groaning at her lovably terrible jokes. This continues even now on DVD, but when I was a kid several episodes of Elvira were released on VHS. Despite loving her, and her first feature film when I inevitably saw it, I only recall ever renting one of those VHS tapes.

And that is probably because I got burned bad.

See, despite having been given ample opportunity to learn my lesson with countless films ("Wow, that monster holding that helpless woman in its tentacles on the Octaman VHS cover is awesome! I can't wait to see it in action!") and countless other films, my painfully naive younger self still honestly believed that not all cover art was a filthy, filthy lie. And so, I rented the following VHS because the tentacled, fanged monster menacing a buxom victim surely had to bear some resemblance to the monster in the film!

Elvira wouldn't lie to me, right?
I suppose I have to give Elvira some credit, since her opening host segment quickly revealed what the film's creature actually looks like before the movie even started and the movie itself shows it to us in all its, uh, glory right away, as well. Naturally, it looked nothing at all like that poster. Nothing. At. All.

You've probably already guessed what movie "Attack of the Swamp Creature" actually is by this point. Like many a demon, it goes by many names to sucker in the unwary--but the two it is best known by are The Blood Waters of Dr. Z (which it made its inevitable Mystery Science Theater 3000 appearance as) and Zaat. The latter is its most accurate title, conveniently, since it's damned hard to find a non-zombie movie that starts with Z and I am officially zombied out this year.

Now, Zaat is a very curious film because it's a movie about a mad scientist who turns himself into a gill man and keeps him as a viewpoint character. You'll see what I mean shortly, because as I said this film wastes no time in introducing us to the voiceover of Dr. Kurt Leopold (Marshall Grauer) as he muses over what an inspiration to him "Sargassum" and the "Sargassum fish" have been to him. He's referring, of course, to a fish that lives among seaweed and ambushes prey that comes along. We watch this happen, in fact, and after the Sargassum fish has snagged its unwary prey Leopold says, "I love you. I hope I will be a good imitator."

I can't decide which is funnier: the truly sincere way he tells a fish he loves it, or the way he stresses the syllables of "im-uh-tay-TORE."

He then goes on to say loving things to footage of a shark, though he doesn't love it enough to refer to it by species, and a Scorpion fish. In case you're not clear on the fact you're listening to a mad scientist, he actually laughs and says, "They think I'm insane. They're the ones who are insane!" He then clarifies that today is the day he becomes one of the creatures of the deep, as well, and refers to them as "my family." Cut to Leopold on the beach, staring out at the sea as he finishes his internal mad scientist soliloquoy with, "...and together, we'll conquer the universe!"

Look, doc, if Aquaman can actually talk to all sea creatures and he can't conquer the universe, how is one fish man gonna do it?

The credits roll as Leopold wanders the shore and then makes his way to some sort of abandoned facility, perhaps a water treatment plant of some sort. After wandering around inside, he comes to a lab full of electronic equipment and begins fiddling with tubes and a bottle. His voiceover says this is the formula they all laughed at, "Z-sub-A and A-sub-T. My little gem, Zaat!" So this just makes how to write the title even more confusing because that would technically be "ZaAt" and the damn word looks stupid enough the way I've been writing it.

I'm not entirely sure what Zaat even does but he's pouring it into a spray bottle and promising that everyone will soon be seeing giant, walking fish that crave human flesh. (Let me break your heart right now: he's a fucking liar) Then he goes to fiddle with a tank pool which has what appears to be a metal stretcher hanging next to it. He then goes into another damn room to reach into a tank and tickle an octopus, before reading a series of technobabble instructions from a notebook that clearly refer to a transformation he intends to make. Then he fishes a walking catfish out of its tank and goes on mental a rant about the invasive and aggressive species and lets it wriggle on a table. He then mentions the largest specimen was 18 inches long. "We must do something about your size," his voiceover coos, "you can't fight people being only two feet long!"

Well, yes, that is rather an obstacle, isn't it?

After burning more screentime by checking on the acidity of a ray's tank, he finally walks over to his big "wheel of diabolical plans" calendar and strokes the "self transformation" wedge. I guess that's the capper on the day's agenda, finally turning himself into a gill man after 20 years of planning.

"Hmm. I don't know about this section here; shouldn't I return my overdue library books before I turn into a horror of the deep?"
He goes to yet another room and injects himself with a chemical via a syringe with a ludicrously long needle. He barely even pokes it into his forearm, why did it have a spinal tap needle on it? Finally he goes into the pool room again, turns on all the machines with blinking lights and beeping noises, and lowers himself into the pool that he has filled with Zaat.

The transformation is fairly quick and soon our gill man (Wade Popwell) is swimming to another section of the pond, surfacing, and giving us an immediate good look at the suit as it clumsily climbs out of the pool. Seeing himself in a convenient mirror, Leopold thinks to himself, "Nothing at all like the catfish, but it's beautiful!" He's lying to himself.

"I don't understand why they didn't cast me as Alf! I killed that audition!"
This may be the silliest gill man I have ever seen. Its not just that the suit's texture is lumpy and weird with a hint of pinata to it, that it has random green fur in places, or that the head looks like a seahorse with dollar store vampire fangs in its tiny mouth. No, for me the capper on this whole sorry enterprise is the fur on the suit's chest, collar, and waist that appears to be meant to cover seams in the suit, but makes it look like the gill man is wearing a fur-lined winter coat.

If I wasted 20 years of research to turn into that, I'd take revenge on myself.

Look at it. Look at it!
However, Leopold is satisfied with his transformation and crosses that item off the wheel of revenge. The next item down is "transformation" and then a crude drawing of a penis--oh, sorry, that's Florida. He marks a spot, grabs his spray bottle and says, "And now another big challenge for you," by which he means the suit actor trying to walk down some stairs when he plainly can't see shit. Unfortunately, the filmmakers really liked the location they used for Leopold's lab so now we get to see his fishy self shuffle through the basement and back outside. Admittedly, it's worth it for the take they used where the suit actor trips on something.

After a weird insert of what I'm pretty sure is a copperhead snake swimming somewhere, we see Leopold wandering through woods and spraying his Zaat bottle at...the snake? Then footage of a walking catfish wriggling about. He finally makes it into a body of water, which seems to be a lake--and we see frogs and freshwater fish in the shallows--before he wades in and submerges, whereupon it's apparently the ocean because we see footage of an octopus and mantis shrimp as he sprays his Zaat around. Also, for some reason, whenever the Zaat is being used the soundtrack goes crazy with a Geiger counter sound effect which doesn't make any sense.

 And here we see why the makers of The Monster of Piedras Blancas were much smarter than these filmmakers. They knew their gill man could never be as convincing in the water as the Creature From The Black Lagoon so they didn't even try. However, this movie believed they could do it and they were hilariously mistaken.

As Leopold watches from the water, we are introduced to Sheriff Lou Krantz (Paul Galloway), who appears to literally be chewing on a hayseed, as he watches state-employed marine biologist Rex Baker (Gerald Cruse) net a walking catfish to take for study. The Sheriff called in the report of the catfish, since it's an invasive species, largely to appease the locals since he thinks it's all a big fuss over nothing. Rex doesn't quite agree but either way his job is just to collect the fish. After the two depart, Leopold wades out of the water to his lab. There he crosses off that part of the wheel of revenge, and the next part is the photo of one of those colleagues who laughed at him, Maxson. He hears Maxson dismissing his theory as unrealistic and ordering him to cease all further experiments.

That motivates him to walk back out of the lab again because what we need is more walking in this movie. At a bungalow in the area, Rex has a lab set up and is running tests while Lou sits in the corner and plays with his revolver. Rex would prefer Lou not do that, but the sheriff has no intention of going back to his office if he can help it as he's trying to avoid the complaints about catfish. After an uncomfortable moment where Lou calls Rex "boy" in a tone no black man ever wants to hear a sheriff use, Rex observes that the freshwater body of water (uh, then where did the octopus come from?) they took samples from is showing a high concentration of radioactivity. Okay, so I guess Zaat is radioactive, but I'm confused why Rex framed this revelation as though saltwater being radioactive is more normal.

Sheriff Lou demonstrates firearm safety.
Leopold, meanwhile, is busy swimming somewhere. He spies on an attractive blonde (Nancy Lien) who is painting next to a tent and a VW Bug. Then he swims off to watch Rex take samples. Then he swims past an excessive amount of footage of sea life to find Maxson, his wife, and son fishing in a boat. He swims up under it and dumps them all into the water, before attacking and drwoning Maxson and his son--which is undercut with a baby sea turtle attacking a crab. Maxson's wife escapes and, in a truly hilarious moment, we see Leopold standing and watching her crawl out of the shallows because the editor clearly didn't cut the part before the director yelled action. She collapses on the sand, screaming, and then Leopold...swipes at her chest but obviously does not touch her and she goes limp.

In the coroner's office, Rex and Lou examine Maxson's "dead" body (the actor's breathing is not even a little bit disguised) because his neck has a strange wound on it. Lou thinks it's a fish bite, since he was found dead in the lake (why are we constantly seeing sea life in this fucking lake?!) but Rex disagrees and thinks they're claw marks. Meanwhile, Leopold has declared his next target to be Ewing, whose voice we hear denying him the use of human guinea pigs. Okay, but like, as mad scientists go, Leopold's revenge justification is even more tenuous than most.

Leaving a hospital, Lou finds himself mobbed by reporters...okay, a reporter, because Mrs. Maxson survived the attack and claimed she saw a monster. Lou dismisses it as shock and the wounds Maxson suffered as fish bites, but then the reporter asks about the rash of illnesses in town which Lou angrily declares is probably just a bug going around and he storms off. Meanwhile, Leopold is watching Rex cast a net into the lake. Leopold's voiceover declares that nets will no longer be for fish and tears Rex's net to pieces, but Rex is able to see him so Leopold essentially gave himself away as Rex is able to report it to the head office.

We only hear Rex's side of the conversation, but he's directed to contact something called INPIT, but I can't be arsed to parse out the acronym. Leopold watches the camping blonde wash her clothes in the lake, ignoring her dog barking at Leopold. That evening as Ewing watches TV and plays with a fishing rod with his recliner facing away from his open sliding door, Leopold easily walks up behind him and chokes or claws the life out of him.

"I told you never to leave that door open! I am not paying to air condition the back yard!"
The next day an RV rolls into town. For some reason this is set to sinister, bombastic music as we see the hilariously silly INPIT logo on the side and the RV disgorges a man and woman in orange jumpsuits with the logo on the back. Rex greets them and for some reason a crowd is watching them be led into a building with great interest. Of course, I suppose it's because the building is revealed to be the sheriff's office. Inside there's an angry murmuring crowd of people harassing a deputy at his desk, and one man randomly rants about the sheriff being useless, "and a damn n*****-lover to boot!"

Well. I see Florida hasn't changed a bit since 1971.

Rex makes his way in to see Lou, who is clearly tired of dealing with a panicked public. Rex introduces the jumpsuit Wonder Twins as INPIT Agent Martha Walsh (Sanna Ringhaver) and INPIT Agent Walker Stevens (Dave Dickerson). Rex confirms that the marks on Ewing were the same as on Maxson, but weirdly this time the victim was also burned or stung with some kind of chemical. Walker says it could be a mammal of some sort but the burns suggest "the fish family" (?!) and Lou says he can't accept that they're implying the damn walking catfish are now killing people. Rex demands that Lou listen because Walker has an idea.

Well, we don't hear it now because the camping blonde has stripped to a yellow bikini and gone swimming. At least a full minute after the point when an attractive blonde ceases to be intrinsically interesting to any viewer, Leopold finally grabs her and drags her off underwater. If he intends to drown her, he's off to a great start. We then cut to the girl strapped to that stretcher that Leopold used to make himself into a goofy monster, so clearly he's trying to make a mate.

The film gets really weird here as we watch Rex and Marsha take samples, which is intercut with footage of the walking catfish gathering on land in large numbers. One shot, weirdly, looks like a catsfish wriggling into a miniature fence so I have no idea if we were meant to infer it was gigantic or not! Marsha radios somebody for information but the dialogue doesn't serve any purpose but to make us think the plot is advancing. She goes to tell Walker and Rex some suggested explanations for all the weird fish, none of which make any sense, while Walker and Rex string a net across a narrow section of the lake.

Well, Leopold tries to turn the terrified blonde into a gill woman, but during the process a truly annoying alarm bell goes off and continues going off for way longer than the audience needs to be hearing it. When Leopold lifts her out of the tank, she has a few patches of scaly skin but is also dead. His reaction is to smash all of his equipment and then tear off the nice picture he drew of her on his wheel. Dude, if that's your reaction to every failed experiment it's no wonder they all laughed at you.

Self-tanning hot tubs proved to be a bad idea.
His next step is to dip a live fish headfirst into a vat of acid to, uh, test it, I guess? Seems kind of like an odd thing to do to the troops you're trying to rally, Leopold. He then slips the dead blonde into the acid so she can be dissolved into nothing but bones.

In the RV that night, Rex and Marsha are falling asleep but Walker intends to stay up and listen for signs of their quarry. He doesn't have to wait long before the net sensor goes off. Rex and Walker try to pull the net in. Rex falls into the lake as Leopold struggles in the net but the others help Rex out. However, when the three notice the net seems to no longer have anything in it, Leopold suddenly charges out of the darkness and punches Walker. Walker pulls a knife, though, and stabs Leopold as Marsha takes multiple flash photos of her companion being brutally beaten by a gill man. Finally Leopold has had enough knife wounds for the evening and returns to the water, leaving Walker lying prone on the bank. We never see Marsha move a finger toward checking on Walker before the scene ends.

Lou finds himself addressing an angry mob via loudspeaker, telling them the Red Cross has set up in a gymnasium a town over and everyone who can make it should evacuate to said gymnasium and those who can't should lock their doors and keep their guns handy. Meanwhile, Marsha is actually tending to Walker's claw wounds while Rex happily shows him the clear photos they got of Leopold. "He even photographs ugly," Walker remarks and hilariously we then cut to Leopold listening right outside the window. Walker pretends to make an innuendo to Martha after she gives him a shot, but actually he's leading up to asking her to get him all the info on the government lab out in Cypress Grove. I would swear their knowledge of this lab was never mentioned before but it's possible I just didn't give enough of a shit to catch it.

Speaking of said lab, Leopold staggers back into the lab--whereupon, in many versions, you can see clearly that Leopold is wearing white sneakers because the shot wasn't cropped right. You'd think he'd have wanted to go there first to treat the stab wound he's still suffering from. But even in his lab, his first thought is to remind us via voiceover that his plan is to enable aquatic life to triumph over all others and to have flashbacks to his failed attempt to create a mate, as he thinks to himself about how vital it is to successfully choose a viable specimen to make into his mate. It's apparently vital that he reproduce with said mate to create a new race of gill men, but he also frets that he's running out of time and I don't know if he means his plan has a time limit or if he fears the INPIT agents are on to him.

To give a sense of how weird the pace of this film is, it has two settings: static shots that go on far too long, and rapid cuts in such quick succession that they might trigger seizures. This sequence is first the latter and then the former, as we watch Leopold draw a picture of Martha in what seems like real time before he nails it to the section of his revenge wheel. Side note, the wedge of his grand wheel of revenge devoted to creating a mate is at roughly 3 o'clock if you view it as a clock face, and that seems to be a major step in the plan. Why does he need the entire rest of that damn wheel? In case he needed to plan even more revenge and global domination?

Now that I look at it, it appears to be a calendar, but...that makes even less sense.

Anyway, Lou tells Walker (still in his bed) and Rex about how the lab closed down after the war and at one point an old scientist named Leopold bought it from the government but then disappeared again. Martha comes in to say that during World War II it was used for heavy water experiments. This involved the use of a radioactive chemical that mutated sea life, and three canisters of it were stolen. Rex asks if the monster is a mutated catfish (nothing at all like the catfish, Rex), and Walker suggests it could be but it seems to have human intelligence and two of its victims were supervisors at the lab during the war so it can't be a coincidence. Wait, how did Walker know that when Martha was the one who dug up the information?

I guess he somehow read Martha's report despite never looking at it, because he tells Lou to warn two other former supervisors at the lab for he feels sure they will be next. He may not be wrong, for Leopold walks out of the water (more like stumbles and nearly falls out of the water) dramatically to stroll around town. And I don't know how it's possible, but the gill man suit somehow looks worse in a scene lit only with streetlights than it does in all the other brightly lit scenes we've had with it so far. Luckily for Leopold there's no one on the streets as he staggers about, clutching his stab wound and thinking, "The pain!"

I guess Leopold didn't think he might need medical supplies in his lab after he turned into a gill man determined to end humanity, because he breaks into a drug store. He smashes a lot of bottles, breaks into a cabinet, and then knocks the lock off a fridge before he finally finds what he wants and chugs it. And I gotta say, watching him pretend to drink something is hilarious. Whatever he drank, however, has the side effect of first making him woozy and then inspiring him to smash up the drug store some more.

Have you talked to your walking catfish about prescription drug abuse?
We cut then to the deputy at Lou's office just sitting at his desk. He's doing nothing and obviously bored, which is precisely something you want to show to your audience. Well, Leopold finds his way to the station and the deputy hears him sneaking around outside. Lest you think this is going to turn interesting, the deputy ignores the sound and scribbles on a notepad absent-mindedly before having a radio conversation with Lou that adds nothing except to remind us that the town is being plagued by walking catfish.

Instead of killing the deputy, Leopold goes for the old standby of attacking two necking teens on a porch swing. The male half seals hsi fate by mentioning he doesn't believe in all that monster nonsense, so Leopold immediately walks up and starts punching him in the chest. Somehow this actually supposed to indicate him being clawed at, because the boy's shirt rips open like he's William Shatner and then fake blood gets smeared on him. After the boy collapses on the porch, Leopold bends down and awkwardly rubs his snout on the lad's chest to indicate that he's drinking the poor bastard's blood.

I don't know what happened to the girl. She literally seems to vanish as soon as Leopold makes his move on her paramour, without even a scream. So I guess she either teleported out of there or did a cartoon dash off. However, Lou does hear a woman scream and rushes to the source--only to find a group of hippy types inside the abandoned community hall having some kind of guitar circle. Lou stands and watches the long-haired guitarist play his piece with an odd look of admiration on his face.

Lou then sits down to watch as a flutist joins in. The song is something about following and Jesus, and it's not bad, but I don't understand how into it Lou gets. Hilariously, Leopold appears at the window, staring in at the hippies and then...wanders off. I'd be annoyed that the film deprived us of a prime opportunity for gill man mass carnage, but I'm too amused by the implication that the music disgusted him. The film gets truly weird as we then see the hippies all walking behind Lou, still playing the song, with Lou's car slowly trailing behind them with a couple hippies on its hood. We don't know where they're going at this point, but when the deputy comes outside to investigate the song, we see Lou has led them to the sheriff's office.

He loads them all into the holding cell, tells them they'll be safe in there for the night, and tells the bewildered deputy to take good care of them. Well, that...certainly was a way to burn up five minutes of film instead of, oh, I don't know, moving the fucking plot forward.

We then see Leopold wandering outside of the INPIT RV and then spying on Martha and Walker making out inside the bungalow. The monster suit looks away, attempting to appear as forlorn as an inexpressive mask can, as rapid shots of the two kissing flash on the screen. Walker is clearly feeling a bit better, because after Lou is accosted by a reporter at the scene of Leopold's last victim who wants to hear more about the vampire monster on the loose--which causes Lou to threaten to step on him like a bug--we see him investigating the drug store with Rex. The tracks on the floor and the inhuman fingerprints prove it was their gill man that did it.

Lou joins them shortly. Rex wonders why a monster would need drugs, and Walker replies it's for the same reason he drank the boy's blood--to satisfy some urge or need inside of him. Rex is incredulous, but Walker is sure the creature has human intelligence. Yet he somehow does not make the connection between "I stabbed this intelligent monster repeatedly" and "it smashed a drug store to ingest drugs." At any rate, Walker thinks they can track the creature's tracks and it's daylight when he and Lou set out to do so, with Walker using a Geiger counter to follow the trail.

We see Martha returning to the bungalow with what looks like fishing equipment as Leopold readies a syringe in his lab and setting up his equipment. Martha gets a radio call just as she was starting to strip out of her jumpsuit. The INPIT agent on the other end of the radio gives her the rundown on Leopold's academic history and his focus of study on radiation's effects on marine life, as well as the fact he had discovered new elements "Z-sub-a and A-subt-t." Walker and Lou drive around to the various places they know Leopold has been, trying to find a trail to follow. I have to say I'm not sure how helpful just a Geiger counter is with that, since he doesn't seem to be looking for tracks, too. Wouldn't it just tell you where he'd been, not necessarily which way he went?

Leopold heads into the lake for whatever he's got planned now. Martha is hilariously informed that Leopold was declared to be mentally unstable and paranoid, and was dismissed from his position because he wanted human guinea pigs and had declared he was going to create an underwater race to rule the world. Yeah, usually that's the kind of thing you try to keep off your resume. "Sure, Leopold was always punctual and performed his duties perfectly, but his rants about taking over the world with fish men really made for a hostile work environment."

It gets funnier, because Lou and Rex pull up to where Walker has been dicking around with his Geiger counter and Lou mentions that, well, a human fish sounds like something kooky old Dr. Leopold would have been into. There were rumors that he had approached death row inmates about taking part in an experiment to turn a man into a fish. Walker, understandably, wants to know why Lou is only mentioning this now. Lou sheepishly says he only just remembered it, but that seems like the sort of thing you don't just forget. At any rate, Lou asks how long the gill man they're tracking could be out of water and Walker says the trail indicates it should be headed for water now.

He's wrong because Leopold is creeping around the bungalow. After Martha takes a shower with a translucent curtain to taunt the audience with the barest suggestion of nudity, unaware that Leopold is peeking in the windows, she sits at a typewriter and begins typing up notes. We see Leopold walk past the window behind her, but despite the filmmakers' best hopes, this does not generate suspense. I also begin to question the intelligence of the heroes at this point, even without the information Martha has, Lou, Walker, and Rex already know it was rumored that Leopold wanted to turn people into fish and he owned the old lab Walker was so keen on knowing more about. So why haven't they gone to investigate the lab?!

Do you think her nudity even appeals to Leopold or is he the sort of guy who always wanted to fuck fish? My money's on the latter.
The real answer, of course, is so the film can pad out the running time with Lou, Walker, and Rex trying to follow Leopold's trail. Meanwhile, Leopold just casually walks right into the bungalow and Martha makes a token effort to try not to be captured by him. However, tossing random junk at him doesn't drive the beast off and he picks her up, whereupon she instantly faints so as to be easier to carry. To be fair, there was dialogue earlier suggesting that Leopold has some ability to render his victims unconscious, but it's still pretty ludicrous.

Well, the three doofuses find the trail leads to the bungalow and Leopold has clearly kidnapped Martha. Walker remarks that one of them should have had the sense not to leave her alone. Gee, ya think? Walker says they're no longer planning to take this thing alive--wait, they were ever planning that? News to me. Only now does he send Rex and Lou to investigate the old lab while he continues trying to follow Leopold's trail.

Did I mention he does this in an adorable six-wheeled red buggy that sounds like a ride-on lawn mower? Hilariously, the buggy is apparently amphibious and yet it promptly dies on Walker before he can get very far and he has to abandon it to continue on foot with his rifle. Honestly, he's probably faster on foot. Leopold is also trudging through the swamp, still carrying Martha, as Rex and Lou arrive at the lab and begin poking around outside. Hilariously, Walker manages to get himself bitten by a snake and I instantly recognize the stock library music used to make the scene suspenseful as having come from the American dub of War of The Gargantuas. (The track is by Phillip Green and is called "Terror Hunt" and was composed specifically to be a library track. Thank you Google and kaiju nerds)

After Walker does the old "slice up your leg to make sure your snake bite gets infected and ends up even worse" trick, Lou and Rex make their way into the lab. They find Leopold's wheel of revenge and notice the picture of Martha. Rex tells Lou to go get on the radio to get Walker over to the lab. However, Walker is only about twenty feet behind Leopold and Martha when we cut back to him, but then somehow he manages to lose track of them--apparently due to his snake bite. It doesn't really matter, because as Rex settles in to reading Leopold's notebook, Leopold arrives in time to see Lou heading to his truck. Despite the fact that Leopold has just set Martha on the ground and he could easily be shot without risking her life, Lou opts to try and knife the gill man. I suppose it's possible that he didn't have a side arm, but we saw him with a shotgun earlier and he was close enough to his truck to have gotten in.

So, really, it's kind of Lou's fault when he ends up being fishstrangled. Then we watch the suit actor somehow manage to stumble up the stairs without dropping Martha. Given the guy can barely walk on normal surfaces without also carrying a human around, I'd have opted to infer that bit if I were making the film. Leopold preps Martha for her transformation into a gill woman, while Rex reads aloud from the notes about how the canisters of ZaAt, when mixed properly, "can turn a man into a fish and mutate all sea life." Sure, okay, it totally makes sense that one chemical can do all of that.

Rex hears Martha scream and sensibly grabs a loose bit of metal as a weapon before going to investigate. Hilariously, we see a POV cam walk into the transformation tank room, observe Leopold pouring the ZaAt into the tank, and see Martha's prone body on the stretcher. Then the film confirms that was Rex's POV as we cut to him trying to untie Martha. Somehow Leopold did not spot him until right then, which doesn't say great things about the creature's eyesight. Upon being spotted, Rex makes a successful first strike with the metal bit, but unfortunately he insists on using it as a club instead of trying to use it to impale Leopold and he gets fishslapped on the second try.

However, Leopold doesn't finish the job, but turns to secure Martha and to move the stretcher over the tank. The wounded Rex tries to first mess up the settings on one of the machines, but then opts for beating on it with the metal bit instead. Leopold stalks toward him and, hilariously, Rex delays the creature by tossing a convenient net over him. That's like a vampire keeping a handy silver crucifix with a sharpened point in its lair. Unfortunately, when Rex tries to pull Martha back away from the tank, Leopold gets free and Rex has no room nor enough strength to escape. Leopold finishes the job this time--

No, wait, actually he doesn't. Rather, he decides to just take his two remaining canisters of ZaAt and fucking leave. Rex sure looks dead when we cut to his bloodied body, as the rope holding Martha begins to unwind and slowly lower her toward the transformation tank. However, determined to make the most of being the rare black guy in a horror film to make it to the final reel, Rex summons his last strength to pull Martha to safety, and then he dies.

Man, though, can you imagine what this film's idea of a gill woman would look like? Would it just be the Leopold suit but with long green hair, big bumps on the chest, and green fur that makes it look she's wearing a mink stole?

As Rex is giving his life to save Martha, Walker comes upon Leopold marching toward the ocean with the ZaAt canisters and fires his rifle at the gill man. His first two shots go wide, since he's not in prime fighting condition, but the third connects and Leopold falls to one knee, dropping one of the canisters in the process.

Rex seems to have died in vain, however, because Martha gets off the stretcher and seems to be in a trance. Whatever Leopold injected her with, it causes her to walk toward the ocean like a zombie. "Terror Hunt" kicks in again as Walker weakly drags himself toward the wounded gill man, but even with a bullet in him, Leopold staggers into the waves with his one remaining ZaAt canister and disappears. Walker collapses and then is overjoyed to see Martha as a more appropriate, "haunting" synth theme kicks in. Walker weakly tries to stop Martha, but when he collapses again as she wades into the ocean, it's clear the snake bite has finally done him in. Martha walks straight into the ocean until she disappears under the waves. The End.

"I'm so sick of my roommate eating my Pringles. I'm gonna hide this can in an anemone."
There's a rather decent 70 or 80-minute movie in Zaat, but unfortunately the film runs for 100 minutes and all too often you feel every one of those minutes. This baby is so padded it could play football and never have to worry about getting a concussion. Its bungee cord could break and it would just bounce upon impact without a single bruise. Any time it can drag a sequence out longer than is morally acceptable, it will do so.

This film staggers around much like its central menace, and if it has a plan for what it was trying to achieve it makes even less sense than Leopold's. I mean, aside from padding the running time, what purpose did the hippy musical sequence serve? Why include the walking catfish subplot and mention of ZaAt in the water supply making the townspeople sick, but then completely drop those plots midway through?

I would so much rather have seen an awkwardly staged attack by killer catfish (or several such attacks) than that damn hippy bit or the endless scenes of people wandering about. Cutting away from the menfolk trying to save Martha from Leopold to show a gigantic catfish eating someone or having them be swarmed by smaller catfish could not possibly have killed the suspense any more effectively than the way the sequence is actually constructed.

Plus, the poster promises a woman being devoured by a gigantic catfish, so even if I had seen an accurate VHS cover I'd still have felt ripped off by the actual film.

Speaking of the catfish plot, why does Leopold's gill man look "nothing at all like the catfish" when supposedly he was trying to become one? Did they intend for him to look more like a catfish, only to find out too late that the suit designer didn't have a clue how do that so they just added a line acknowledging that?

Now, despite how hilariously awful its gill man is, I have to give the film credit for really going for it. I'm pretty sure we see that gill man on screen for longer than the Creature From The Black Lagoon ever appeared in his movies, and the fact that we're literally placed in the perspective of the murderous mad scientist gill man by hearing his thoughts for most of the movie is pretty damn unique.

I also rather enjoy its ambiguous 1970s bummer ending. As far as we know when the film closes, everyone including Leopold is dead or will be shortly. That or Leopold has survived and will return to get his second revenge. (Cue someone trying to make a decades too late sequel aaaaand now I want that to happen) I think the only other gill man movie to end on such a down note is probably The Creature Walks Among Us. I mean, Humanoids From The Deep doesn't exactly have a happy ending, either, but at least there's some sense of hope.

Rather like Yongary, Monster From The Deep, there is something oddly charming about Zaat, but unlike that film I am afraid I lack an affection for it that allows me to enjoy it in spite of its awfulness. It's a rather fascinating oddity, but it's just too ponderous to enjoy. With a little judicious editing it could actually be a pretty spiffy flick, but as it stands the film is trying to swim with cement shoes on.

Pity. The world could use more movies about scientists who turn themselves into gill men because they want to use fish to conquer the universe.

And with that, another HubrisWeen draws to a close. I'm sure I'll be back next year, stressing myself out with self-imposed deadlines and having to resort to even more blank Scrabble tile reviews.

Make sure you still click the banner above to take yourself to the HubrisWeen central blog and see what everyone else chose for Z, and we'll probably be back in 2017 for A New Beginning.

Wait, wouldn't that require us to find four other review blogs and make them do HubrisWeen while we sat it out? I'm gonna have to talk this over with the other Celluloid Zeroes...