From the DVD case: Director Edward L. Cahn teams with another great writer, Bernard Gordon (using his blacklist nom de plume, Raymond T. Marcus) for this delightfully loopy adventure about a sunken ship’s cargo of diamonds guarded by its zombified crew members. And wouldn’t ya know it, there’s a bunch of foolhardy scavengers who aren’t scared of the swimming dead. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: The DVD description gives us a hint as what to expect from Zombies of Mora Tau. It’s never favorable to hear a zombie flick described as a “delightfully loopy adventure.” It makes you think the film might feature Abbott and Costello (which it doesn’t).
What Zombies of Mora Tau does have is a strong cast of B-movie regulars. Most notably, Allison Hayes (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) stars as Mona Harrison, a greedy and voluptuous vixen. Mona has her eyes set on Jeff Clark, played by Gregg Palmer (From Hell It Came, The Creature Walks Among Us), even though she is married to George Harrison (Joel Ashley). Morris Ankrum (Kronos, Earth vs the Flying Saucers) portrays Dr. Jonathan Eggert, a man more interested in a story than diamonds. Marjorie Eaton (The Reincarnation of Peter Proud) is a Maria Ouspenskaya-like character (see The Wolf Man) known as Grandmother Peters. You’ll also recognize Gene Roth (Twice-Told Tales, Attack of the Giant Leeches) as Sam, the chauffeur.
However, you probably won’t recognize Autumn Russell as our heroine, Jan Peters. I was disappointed to discover that Ms. Russell had a short film career. She’s a lovely leading lady and is at least on the same acting par as her better-known co-stars. She seems a natural for the genre, if not something better. Autumn played bit parts in films such as Anything Goes and Spatacus, but seems to have disappeared after 1960.
The plot goes something like this: In 1894, off the coast of Africa, a ship known as the Susan B. went down with her crew and a cargo of uncut diamonds. Ten of the original crew members, including the captain (Frank Hagney), became zombies and were doomed to guard the gems forever. Several expeditions have already been slain by these “walking dead.” George Harrison (not the Beatle) and his assembled crew are the latest to try their luck at recovering the jewels.
Furthermore, Grandmother Peters was married to the Captain of the doomed ship. She built a mansion on the African coast in hopes, with the aid of the new expedition, of somehow saving her husband from the eternal torment of zombiedom. Jan Peters is her granddaughter whose visit coincides with the arrival of the campaign.
These details are painstakingly revealed to us through a long, tiresome dialog between Dr. Eggert and Grandmother Peters. Astonishingly, we aren’t given a hint as to why or how the crew members were transformed into zombies. The most interesting part of the tale is withheld.
The zombies themselves are unremarkable. They aren’t nearly ghastly enough and look rather like well-fed men walking around with their eyes wide open. Their movements are too slow to be menacing, and they don’t inspire dread in their numbers as they are relatively few. Ten measly zombies? A lame child could out-maneuver this brood. Not only that, they are so afraid of fire that a simple candle is enough to chase them away. It’s amazing that no one thinks to torch them, even after Grandmother Peters plainly states that fire is the only way they can be destroyed.
One interesting aspect concerning the zombies is that they can walk underwater. Unfortunately, the underwater sequences are ridiculously unconvincing and are more apt to make you laugh than shudder. Nice try, though.
Allison Hayes with her stunning figure is easily the high point of the film. Her character, Mona, with her constant complaining and suspicious nature is thoroughly unlikable. She lashes out at everyone, except for Jeff, who clearly has little interest in her. When Mona becomes zombified she is decidedly more agreeable. Strangely, no one believes that Mona has become a zombie (except for Grandma) even after she hypnotically stabs a crewman to death and refuses to talk or even close her eyes to sleep. A particularly silly scene features Zombie Mona approaching her intended victim who throws a candlestick at her. The candlestick bounces off her forehead with a cartoonish clunk! and Mona continues her assault unfazed.
There are other campy moments, but too much dialog and a slow pace hamper the film from being enjoyable even on a kitschy level. I was particularly frustrated with the crew’s absolute denial of the existence of zombies even after they shoot them full of bullets without effect and then witness them walk underwater. Discovering that they rest in coffins should have been some sort of clue, too. The film’s anticlimactic conclusion does not help matters.
Zombies of Mora Tau will tantalize hardcore genre fans and admirers of Allison Hayes, but I imagine the general populace will be disappointed.
Scene to watch for: Dr. Eggert (Morris Ankrum) gets shot down in flames when he asks Mona (Allison Hayes) for a kiss.
Line to listen for: “You old hag! You’re dead already; you just don’t have sense to lie down!”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.