Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Zaat's a Wrap: Donald Barton, 1930-2013

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.

Within a few years, Barton's film had been re-released on VHS and, just recently, in a DVD/Blu-ray special edition from Cultra.

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.

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