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Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957)

Starring: Gregg Palmer, Allison Hayes, Autumn Russell, Joel Ashley, Morris Ankrum, Marjorie Eaton

Written By: Bernard Gordon, George H. Plympton (story) Directed By: Edward L. Cahn

The Short Version

Zombies guard sunken treasure in Africa!

Alas, that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds.

The zombies are boring, and I think they directed the movie, too.

On the other hand, Allison Hayes is here, so the flick’s not totally lifeless.

Zombies of Mora Tau is for major zombie enthusiasts only; and even then, only once.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

GENERIC BOXED MAC & CHEESE.

Even if you get the formula right, it’s not exactly tasty.  Edible, but…


Pairs Well With...

SAILOR JERRY.

Something of appropriate theme to keep you busy while you wait for Allison Hayes to come back on screen.

“You’re listing to port, Mona.  Your husband is over there.”


Living as we are in an age of remakes, I nominate Zombies of Mora Tau as a flick for someone to take another crack at.  The potential is there for this to be a reasonably decent movie, given a few adjustments… assuming that one of those adjustments involves scrapping the ending entirely and jazzing things up by adding in something about a volcano goddess and including a real (or at least decently rendered) volcano as part of the package.

Unfortunately, though, there is no volcano here, and while there are lots of leering comments that could be made about Allison Hayes, there is no volcano goddess.  Instead…

Instead, there’s just a convoluted mess.  Here it is in notecard form:

- In 1894, some sailors steal some uncut diamonds from an African temple after murdering their captain and a few of his other men.

- The murdered men turn into zombies, swim over to their old ship, avenge themselves upon their killers, and sink the vessel, with the diamonds still inside the safe.

- Apparently, the zombies are now stuck guarding that safe from robbery until such time as the diamonds contained within are “destroyed.”

- The captain’s widow (Marjorie Eaton, Mary Poppins) buys the land adjacent to the wreck site and builds herself a manor house there.

- Over the next sixty years, five expeditions come to try and recover the diamonds from the wreck.  The zombies kill them all, and the widow buries the bodies in her backyard.

- All of the above happens off camera.

- Flash forward to the mid-1950s and the real start of our story.  The widow’s great granddaughter, Jan (Autumn Russell, Untamed Women) shows up so the movie can have an innocent blonde “good girl.”

- Meanwhile, a new expedition shows up to try to recover the diamonds.  When a zombie hops out of the water and kills one of the crew, everyone else decides to make landfall, and the widow happily gives them a tour of her graveyard.  This new group includes wannabe adulteress Mona (Allison Hayes, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), which allows the movie to have a naughty brunette “bad girl.”

I’d say that at this point, hilarity ensues, but there’s nothing fun about Zombies of Mora Tau.

Let’s start with the zombies themselves.  As is true of so much else with this movie, they have the potential to be interesting, but neither the writer nor the director seems inclined to capitalize on that.  This is a shame, because “underwater zombies in Africa” could have been very cool indeed.  Instead, these guys put the “dead” in “walking dead.”  They move at a speed of roughly one mile per decade.  They attack by rudely bumping into people, slowly.  No biting, no strangling, just… colliding. One might have collided while holding a knife once, but that felt like an accident.  They don’t even have the benefit of cool (or even half-assed) makeup; just vacant expressions and poor joint flexibility.  These may indeed be the most boring zombies I’ve ever seen on film.  [Bonus: most of the zombies are actually pro wrestlers, though they certainly don’t bother to display their day job skills on camera.]

In most traditional (read: pre-Romero) zombie flicks, the upside to having monsters that are barely sentient enough to be considered walking plot devices is that they usually have some dastardly god or witch doctor controlling them.  No such luck here.  Though the greedy sailors were raised from the dead by a curse for desecrating a temple (a temple that the audience never gets to see, by the way), the curse appears to have been an automatic type thing, so if you’re hoping for some sinister witch doctor or the aforementioned volcano goddess to show up and give some kind of respectability to these soporific zombies, don’t hold your breath.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for anything about this story to lend the zombies any respectability, for that matter.  Early on, the old widow explains that the zombies are afraid of fire, since fire is the only thing that can hurt them.  For the rest of the movie, torches and even candles are used to keep the walking dead at bay whenever they get too close… but no one ever bothers to actually try setting one on fire.  It doesn’t even seem to occur to anyone.  Too bad; might’ve saved everyone the trouble of the rest of the movie.  But no… instead, they go with the other bit of advice that says the zombies can only be stopped through the destruction of the diamonds.

Let’s pause for a moment.

First off, this whole fiasco allegedly started when these diamonds were stolen from a temple.  Wouldn’t it make more sense for whatever god got pissed off by this theft to demand that the diamonds be returned to the temple from which they were stolen?  This whole “destruction” angle just seems kinda dumb, you know?  But fine; gods are fickle.  This still leaves us with a problem so obvious that even one of the idiot characters in the screenplay manages to think of it: it’s really hard to “destroy” a diamond.  (See, this is one of the reasons I’d put a volcano in my theoretical remake.  But anyway.)  The old widow responds to this challenge with some circular nonsense about just making sure that no one can ever spend them.  Uh-huh.  Sure.  And how would some heroic person manage to accomplish this, you ask?

I’m going to be nice and not spoil the entire movie for you by giving you the answer… but it’s stupid.  It’s really, really stupid.  Had everything else about Zombies of Mora Tau been spectacularly awesome – which it isn’t – I’d have hated the movie anyway just because of the dumb ass ending.  If that’s “unrecoverable…”  Ugh.

Meanwhile, the human characters are barely less of a disaster than the zombies are.  They’re all fine at the gate – this is a mix that could be worked with – but, as with the zombies, no one seems to have been willing to bother.  No one, that is, save for Allison Hayes.  If one wants to be base about things, yes, she’s gorgeous, and the only thing the cameraman appears to have been awake for during the entire process of filming Zombies of Mora Tau was to make sure that the camera took in her physical assets to the maximum effect allowable by 1957 standards, and considering how dull everything else here is to look at… hey, I’m game.  More importantly, though, Hayes is also far and away the best actor in the entire picture, and the only one who’s actually capable of carrying a feature film for any length of time.  Yeah, her character is stuck in the “tramp” archetype, by Hayes plays it for all its worth and then some.  She obviously knows this flick will never win any awards, but she’s not about to waste everyone’s time by sleeping, blustering, or mumbling her way through it; alas, no one else seems to have gotten the memo, and most have elected to go with “blustering.”

Not that I can entirely blame them, mind.  Yes, I do believe that anyone who accepts a paycheck for a project should give it his or her all as a matter of principle, but there’s still no denying that this is a very dumb script.  For example, say you’re given the following scene to read:

A character has disappeared.  Those who remain form a posse and head off to the zombies’ lair.  There, they find the character lying motionless on the floor.  They check; the character is pronounced dead.  The zombies start to get antsy, and then, the character in question sits up.  Now, given the evidence, wouldn’t it be obvious to you that the character in question has in fact also become a zombie?  Yeah, well, this doesn’t occur to anyone in the posse, and so they cart said character “to safety” and… yeah.

I need a drink, and after that scene, I’m pretty sure that everyone making this movie at the time needed one, too.

And yet, there’s potential.  Somewhere under all of this crud, there’s a modern movie waiting to happen here.  The “treasure no one can actually have” thing is a tried and true frame upon which many a decent movie has been built.  The zombie fodder gets knocked off according to what a present-day horror fan would readily recognize as slasher logic.  The zombies could have been made not just cool but indeed awesome had someone actually put some effort into it, and the human character dynamics could have been made into something interesting given another pass on the script and a cast that had more than one performer actually ready to act at the feature level.  Could have been, and still could.  As noted before, I really do think that Zombies of Mora Tau deserves another go.

As for the go that’s already in the can… how much liquor do you have on hand?

Bottom line, though it has the potential to be interesting, the fact is that Zombies of Mora Tau is just a dull, lifeless movie.  Unless you’re an absolutely die hard fan of either Allison Hayes or the zombie genre – and I mean die hard – there’s just no reason at all to bother with this flick, and if you are one of those fans, you’ll find that there’s no need to bother with it more than once.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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