When I first began working on what eventually became my book, Regional Horror Films, one of the first directors I reached out to interview was Don Barton. Barton was an industrial/commercial filmmaker in Jacksonville, Fla., whose sole venture into feature filmmaking had been the crazed, 1950s-style monster flick Zaat (a.k.a. The Bloodwaters of Dr. Z).
Barton and his monster suit. Image: Jon M. Fletcher/Times-Union
I first encountered the film under its Bloodwaters title on late-night TV, and caught it again as an episode of Mystery Science Theater. When I began researching the book, I discovered that not only did Barton still live in Florida, but he still had the Zaat monster suit in his garage, and had been organizing screenings of the film with the help of Zaat Fan Numero Uno, Ed Tucker.
If you've only seen Zaat in the washed-out, pan-and-scan versions that used to play on TV, the DVD will serve as a revelation. The film itself (which boasts a great human/catfish hybrid monster) isn't any better than you remember, but with its vibrant color intact and in its original aspect ratio, you can at least appreciate Barton's skill as a low-budget filmmaker. There may not be traditional artistry on display (although that creature suit really is something), but there is certainly craftsmanship at work.
Barton died last week of complications from obstructive pulmonary disease, according to an article in the Jacksonville press. The day he passed, he was scheduled to attend yet another screening of Zaat, this one to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Marineland, where movie was filmed.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, his nine children, 23 grandchildren, and of course, Zaat.
Make sure you check out the Zaat website, and the videos below.
As part of our ongoing coverage of Blood Feast's 50th anniversary, here's an item from the summer of 1964.
From The Toledo Blade
Wednesday, July 1, 1964
Grisly 'Trailer' Brings Protests, Policy Change
Ray Oviatt, Blade Entertainment Editor
The movie exhibitor's problems, created by the wide suitability range of current films, extends to the previews of coming attractions. This was emphasized by the experience of the Telegraph Drive-In this past week.
While showing a bill, generally acceptable to general audiences, a trailer promoting a grisly item called "The Blood Feast" was run, much to the outrage of numerous patrons who had come in family groups. As a result the Armstrong Circuit, operator of the theater, has canceled the scheduled showing of this reportedly distasteful picture altogether.
Also, according to Fred Lentz of the Armstrong home office in Bowling Green, managers around the circuit have been authorized to delete from their schedules any trailers which might not be in keeping with the current program.
The reasonable complaints which were registered with me were based on the fact that movie-goers had gotten something they had not bargained for. Having purchased tickets for inocuous films such as "Spencer's Mountain" and "The Wheeler Dealers," they had not expected to see gore and sadism.
Callers were not necessarily demanding that the film not be shown at all, only that they be given the opportunity to avoid it and any excerpts from it.
The Dead Next Door is a blog about regional or "backyard" horror and science fiction films made from the late 1950s to the earlyl 1990s (and beyond). These films were released during the peak years of independent film production, created by a motley crew of seasoned pros, gifted amateurs, and enthusiastic genre fans, along with dozens of eccentric dreamers -- doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, publishers, commercial filmmakers, TV production crews and moonlighting pornographers -- all looking for their big break or a fast buck or both.