Thursday, January 15, 2015

Zotz!, a Magic Amulet Right Out of Weird Fiction

A professor of archeology comes into possession of a dangerous ancient amulet.

A rather quirky movie from my youth is the William Castle “B” movie from 1962, Zotz!, which involved possession of a powerful ancient amulet that accidentally falls into the hands of an average guy.  This is powerful stuff and once word gets out, rival governments also want the amulet, of course.  Both a comedy and cautionary tale, the movie was made during the Cold War when fears of atomic war were grist for Hollywood’s movie mill. 

Stop me if your have heard this one:  A professor of archeology and ancient languages comes into possession of an amulet found at an archeological dig and sent to him by mail.  The professor can read the language and finds that the amulet is magical.  By intoning the magic word (Zotz of course) or by pointing at the target, the user can stun, inflict pain or kill.  In the book, the powers are a bit more dire, as just pointing at an human or even animal while holding the amulet will cause them to faint.  If you also utter the magic world while pointing the person will die.  In the film the professor used the amulet to slow his fall.  While not flying, this power comes in handy.

The original release of the film for theaters was in October of 1962 saw a promotional item in the form of plastic replicas of the amulet from the film.  A number of these turn up from time to time with varying degrees of accuracy to the film used prop.  A screen capture shows the original prop and a couple of snapshots show a plastic version and a metal version.  The plastic original one has the most detail.  Note the dimples on the face, which is probably from the mold ejector during the casting process.  The pot metal version lacks most all detail and there are other plastic copies that really look soft.  Clearly there are a number of copies around with varying accuracy to the one in the film or those given out at the original release of the film.

This film was based on a book by Walter Karig published in 1947 with clear indications of being a reference to the misuse of modern technology.  Karig knew all about it as he was a US Navy captain who also wrote on the side.   Interestingly Karig wrote scripts for the TV series, Victory at Sea, which was rerun on TV and another old favorite of mine when I was a kid.  Amusingly enough, he also ghostwrote three Nancy Drew books under the name Caroline Keene.*  He also wrote Perry Pierce stories around the same time.

I remember this film as a kid, but wasn’t too taken with it at the time.  Over the years, with some readings in Weird Fiction and H. P. Lovecraft and the like, my interest returned.  Especially with my interest in movie props and prop blogs, such as Propnomicon as well as costuming and role playing games such as Call of Cthulhu and the like.  So the story line works for an RPG and the ZotZ! amulet would make a great prop as well. 

I haven’t read a copy of the original 1947 book by Walter Karig that inspired it all, but it’s on my “to do” list.  I’d like to recommend another quirky book another book about an eccentric professor of Eastern cultures called When the Assyrians Came Down From the Trees (1969) by Gwendolyn Reed and Angela Conner about a professor of archeology who goes mad and begins to believe that squirrels are the descendants of the ancient Assyrians.  The illustrations become progressively more stylized in the manner of ancient art as the story unfolds and the professor’s madness takes him to the trees.  A really great children’s book. 

I learned a bit myself researching about Zotz! and Walter Karig.  I hope this post will get you out thinking and reading a bit yourself.  The idea of the Zotz amulet is not a new one by any means but it lends itself quite well for a prop in an RPG.  Also at the end of the film, the amulet disappears down a storm drain, to be found by the next person.

    *Those books were:  Nancy’s Mysterious Letter (1932), The Sign of the Twisted Candles, 
      and Password to Larkspur Lane (both 1933)

     Update:  I just found ZotZ! on YouTube, so interested parties can see the film:
The theatrical trailer is on YouTube:
The film itself is on YouTube in 9 sections:
For a little extra credit: 
Zotz is also a German language surname as well as a month of the 365 day Mayan Haab calendar (also as Sotz’)

There was a fizzing candy that came out in 1968 also called Zotz, which had nothing to do with the book or film  and here's a blog entry on the candy

A review of the film Zotz! as well as a nice overview with photos, well worth the visit

         ZotZ All!