Cinematic Titanic – “Rattlers”

Cinematic Titanic are five comedians who used to be the stars of my favourite TV show, “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. If you’re unaware, it was about a man trapped in space with only his two robots for company, who was subjected to awful films by a mad scientist and his assistant. The show had plenty of cast changes down the years, and of these five people, they never all appeared in the same episode together (the other three main cast members now do the similar-but-I-don’t-like-it-quite-as-much Rifftrax), but almost 25 years after the show started and 13 since it ended, they’re back doing the same sort of thing.

The first few Cinematic Titanic releases were in-studio affairs, high-concept stuff about a time capsule where they’d put these bad old movies with a special new commentary on, but as they were getting offers to do live shows, they realised that they actually enjoyed doing them much more than they enjoyed the studio stuff, and it allowed them to try jokes out on live audiences, refine their stuff, so all their DVD releases for the past few years have been recordings of live shows. So you’ll get the five performers on the far left and right of the screen, largely immobile but occasionally gesturing to get a joke across, and the film in the middle. If you’re not sure about your tolerance for having a bunch of comedians crack wise over the top of an old film, I’d suggest dipping your toe in the pool with some of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 clips on Youtube.

Their latest release is “Rattlers”. Now, I’ve seen a lot of films, and thanks to my university habit of reading a few pages of a film review book every night to help me fall asleep, I’ve read about a lot of damn films. But I’ve never heard of this one, and from the look of it it’s an early-mid 70s release. How do they keep finding these? Have they got a hookup at an old abandoned drive in cinema who kept copies of all these Z features? Anyway…whole bunches of rattlesnakes are messing people up, and a few cops, a herpetologist and a war photographer are on the case to bring them down.

I don’t I even really need to mention the commentary from the CT guys all that much, other than to say they really nail it with this one. There’s lots of dead air for them to fill with jokes, and there’s also quite a bit of stuff on screen that’s so stupid that the audience just laughs without any prompting from the people on stage. For instance, there’s a cage containing a snake in a lab where the lock falls off thanks to someone slamming a door into it. Now, I’m no genius, but if I’m designing a lab, I’m probably going to make sure that the poisonous snakes are a bit safer than that.

I like dreaming up behind-the-scenes stories for very bad films (well, it helps pass the time), and this film gave me rich pickings. The war photographer is a woman, and her first line, pretty much, is a passionate and angry defence of the rights of women, of equality, of the sexism inherent in society, and so on. I reckon the director had a particularly liberated girlfriend at the time, who was influencing him – perhaps a little too much, I mean, it’s pretty strident stuff. Anyway, she’d clearly dumped him by the half-hour point of the film, because the rest of it’s just appalling – they go to visit a guy in hospital and he’s just sat there reading porn; one of the guys on the military base just acts like the sleaziest dude imaginable, then offers to look after the woman while the man goes off to do man stuff, and she’s a simpering little girly-girl; and the inevitable transformation of the strong, independent war photographer into a pathetic “I can’t run any further, please help me” wreck is complete by about the hour mark.

So, we’ve got snakes (who, when real ones are shown, seem much more interested in getting away from the humans than they do biting them), a military base with a dark secret…which gets accidentally given away by a dumb helicopter pilot, and a bunch of mutated snakes (spoiler!) The film doesn’t so much end as they just got bored of filming stuff and drove away. And they left it open for a sequel…I hear the rights are still available, producers!

This guy is seriously trying to hypnotise a snake

I enjoy watching films in the company of Joel Hodgson, J Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl, Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu. They’ve been doing this forever so know what to do – not talk over the important parts of dialogue, and if someone on screen asks a question and there’s a pause, you know one of them will jump in with something good. I was thinking of something critical to write here, so you know I’m not just a gushing fan, but screw it. This was a great DVD, and I reckon you’d enjoy it. Some of the films they pick are so leaden that you can’t really do anything with them, and there is the occasional duff CT episode, but this is them really working well.

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Blood Waters of Dr.Z (aka “Zaat”) (1972)

With this film, you get two names for the price of one. “Zaat” sounds a bit too much like some fertilizer additive (which is quite accurate, given the manure this film is – BOOM! This review is going to be a fun one), whereas “The Blood Waters of Dr. Z” sounds like it might be quite entertaining. Oh, how misleading!

I was going to do a review of “Immortals”, because I’m a sucker for films like that, but about half an hour in the sound and picture went crazily out of sync and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, so you’re stuck with this. Dr.Z doesn’t speak during the film except in German-accented voiceover, and we learn from the voiceover that Dr. Z was kicked out of his university research position for wanting a human guinea pig for his experiment to turn a man into a fish. Now, I’ve never been in charge of a University, but I’m thinking ol’ Dr. Z can’t be too upset at only being kicked out, and not, say, arrested. Turns out, as his attempts to get someone off Death Row have failed, he’s going to do the business on himself!

A bizarre, unwieldy bit of apparatus is used so the doctor can lower himself into a nice concrete pool, which may well lead to the sea. Seemingly at random, we’re treated to shots of underwater stuff – mainly octopi and catfish. I’m willing to lay good odds they don’t live very close to each other, and the octopi certainly don’t live anywhere near wherever this film was filmed. But the producers of the film found that stock footage, and by god they’re going to use it! Dr. Z has made some liquid that, when injected…and a bunch of dials on what looks like an old washing machine decorated in fairy lights are turned…and then exactly 5 minutes pass…might, just might, turn a fella into a catfish-man hybrid. Dr. Z has been doing some serious planning, though – he has a wheel of accomplishments, where he crosses stuff off as he does it, like “human testing” and so on. It does look a little bit like the Mayan calendar, which is perhaps a subtle realisation from the filmmakers that watching this makes it feel like all human existence has ended.

The experiment works, of course, and Dr. Z becomes…well, I think he was supposed to be some sort of catfish / human hybrid, because they show you an alleged “walking catfish” at the beginning of the film, but he’s the ugliest-looking thing I’ve seen in many a day. Let’s see if I can get a screengrab of the monster:

This film has sapped my energy for writing funny captions

It looks like our man here took some lessons from the great Don Dohler. Dr. Z has a tub of his mutating goo, which he transfers to one of the things you have for spraying your plants with water – a nebulizer? Plant-sprayer? All this is fairly clumsy, as he’s not got human hands any more…although he does have fur here and there, and I’m not sure humans or anything that lives underwater has fur. This is where things get confusing, and it wasn’t helped by the fact I have a new cat, and watching her bat a piece of paper round the floor of my living room seemed a much more entertaining prospect than forcing my eyes to stay on this film. He takes his spray-gun, goes into the swamp, and sprays stuff. He sprays things on the surface, and bizarrely, sprays things which are underwater as well – to make them into weird hybrid monsters who will grow, pop onto land and kill all the humans. I think he mentioned that, anyway.

Then he swims. Oh god, does he swim. If there was a point to it, I’d understand, but it’s like they fitted a scuba suit to the inside of his monster outfit (this idea courtesy of my wife, who I just think was impressed she’d stayed awake to that late point in the film) and by god they were going to use it! So he swims, and watches a woman bathing, and sees some other people, and moves closer to the bathing woman although in the next shot he’s even further away…basically, the gist of all this is, he’s attempting to conquer the world by killing a bunch of people down by the swamp, then finding a woman to turn into a monster and impregnate, creating some particularly useless master race.

I’ve noticed a trend in my reviews that I lose the will to live, around the one hour mark of my recaps. Well, I’d also like to leave a little mystery for you, the viewer. Does Dr. Z succeed in conquering the world? Do the authorities, so poorly written and acted that I’ve not even mentioned them up to this point, beat him? Oh, there is an interesting bit, the relationship between the redneck sheriff and the black scientist who’s studying radioactivity. Well, they seem quite friendly, and there’s one scene where they’re having a conversation while the scientist is in his pyjamas. Are they lovers? Was this a clever bit of subtext in this godawful film? Probably not. Also, count for yourself how many different outfits the scientist wears. I think the filmmakers had some sort of product placement deal with a gentlemans’ outfitters.

 A bunch of other stuff probably happened around this point. I mean, if you can get through to the last 20 minutes of this film and still care what happens to any of them, you’re a braver soul than I.

This film is bad. I mean, I’ve seen my fair share of bad films. Heck, I’ve seen twenty or thirty people’s fair share of bad films; but this is just the pits. Nothing happens, slowly, and there’s not even any camp laughs to be had. This film is, bizarrely, quite popular in our circles – “Mystery Science Theater 3000” did it in their last, going-through-the-motions season, and the guys at RedLetterMedia did a much funnier and more interesting review than this as part of their “Half in the Bag” series. Whoever owns the copyright to this film is re-releasing it, presumably to cash in with schmucks like us. Don’t bother. Watch literally any other film released on Earth, and chances are you’ll have a better time.

Zaat on IMDB
Buy Zaat [Blu-ray] [1971] [US Import]