Thursday, 11 September 2014

Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)

Zombies of Mora Tau was one of producer Sam Katzman’s 1950s low-budget science fiction/horror flicks, included in Sony’s four-movie Icons of Horror Sam Katzman Collection.

Jan Peters (Autumn Russell) arrives at her great-grandmother’s house in Africa and something very strange happens on the drive there. Her great-grandmother’s chauffeur hits a man on the road and just drives on as if nothing had happened. He assures Jan that she is not to worry because it was not a man that the car hit. She remembers stories of zombies from her childhood but surely no-one believes such stories in the 1950s. It is obvious however that her great-grandmother most certainly does believe in zombies.

She discovers that a miscellaneous collection of adventurers and rough-necks are nearby, searching for a fabled treasure lost off the coast of Africa in the late 19th century. Her great-grandmother clearly knows a good deal about the story. In the past half-century half a dozen expeditions have tried to find the famous diamonds that went down with the Susan B in 1894. They are all buried in a nearby graveyard.

George Harrison (Joel Ashley) has no patience with legends of zombies. He aims to get those diamonds. Dr Jonathan Egger (Morris Ankrum) is accompanying his expedition, but for scientific reasons rather than greed. Handsome young deep-sea diver Jeff Clark (Gregg Palmer) shares Harrison’s interest in the diamonds. When a member of the crew of Harrison’s ship falls victim to a zombie Jeff starts to have his doubts about the wisdom of the whole undertaking but he puts those doubts aside when Harrison offers him a bigger cut of the loot.

It soon becomes apparent that the zombies are all too real and that the chances of getting those diamonds and getting out alive are not very promising. Jan’s great-grandmother tries to persuade the greed-obsessed adventurers that the diamonds are the reason for the existence of the zombies and that only by destroying the diamonds can the zombies find eternal peace. The zombies are of course the original crewmen of the Susan B and the various men who have since tried to claim the diamond treasure from its watery resting place a hundred feet beneath the sea.

This is a distinctly low-budget affair so don’t expect elaborate special effects or zombie makeup. In spite of this the zombies still manage to be fairly frightening. They don’t look particularly horrific but they just keep coming after you and nothing can stop them.

The diving scenes, surprisingly, are very well done and pretty convincing. And pretty exciting as well.

The acting is better than you generally get in such a low-rent feature. Gregg Palmer is a likeable hero and while Autumn Russell is a little insipid at times she’s an acceptable heroine. Allison Hayes has some fun as Harrison’s hardboiled wife. Marjorie Eaton is perfect as the great-grandmother who knows all the secrets.

The most common failing of the cheap sci-fi and horror movies of the 50s is poor pacing but Zombies of Mora Tau does not share that flaw. The action movies along in a very satisfying manner and the script does not get bogged down in unnecessary romantic sub-plots. There’s nothing startlingly original in the story but it hangs together and it offers a reasonably plausible explanation for the events. Plausible, so long as one admits the existence of voodoo and zombies.

Despite the low budget this movie is generally well-crafted. This is a movie that is enjoyably schlocky without Ed Wood-style incompetence.

The 16x9 enhanced transfer looks terrific. The four movies in the set are spread over two discs with (surprisingly) a few extras as well. Sony have done a fine job with this release.

Zombies of Mora Tau is just creepy enough to be more than just a so-bad-it’s-good movie but just silly enough to be great fun. It is in other words ideal entertainment for anyone who loves science fiction or horror B-movies. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.

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