Friday, November 16, 2007


Fans of vintage Saturday-matinee spook shows will get a kick out of THE ZOMBIES OF MORA-TAU, a slight but fun 1957 release from Columbia Pictures (who were apparently trying to ape the B-movie success of American-International), directed by workhorse Edward L. Cahn.

A motley crew of stock character types (including B-veterans Morris Ankrum and 50-Foot Woman Allson Hayes) travel to the village of Mora-Tau on the African coast on a diving mission. Their goal, recover the cache of diamonds in the shipwrecked remains of the Susan B. It won't be easy, though, as the titular zombies protect the sunken loot, killing anyone who attempts to steal the diamonds (the zombies are so good at what they do that when our characters arrive ashore they find their graves have been dug in advance).

Like most B pictures of the 1950's, the film is good for quite a few unintended laughs, notably in the acting and dialogue departments (Hayes is the exception here, playing against type as the icy wife of George Harrison (?)); Cahn gives the proceedings a rich shadow-cloaked atmosphere that makes up for these flaws. The zombies are wide-eyed automatons reminiscent of the slave workers of WHITE ZOMBIE, and despite the goofy expression here and there, they're largely effective, particularly in the underwater sequences.

Those times underwater, when rugged hero Gregg Palmer dons a bulky old-fashioned diving suit to recover the diamonds and ends up fighting off zombies, are the real highlight of the picture. Though obviously working against the constraints of money and location, these scenes provide the goods as the zombies lurch across the seabed, intent on defending their loot. It isn't until the actual fighting commences that they lose their power; by simulating underwater movement, the action ends up being slow and awkward, generating little excitement. (While watching these scenes I couldn't help but think back to LAND OF THE DEAD, which included zombies walking underwater and chose to show most of it offscreen; with the technology available it would've been easy to update a sequence like that, and probably woukd've been damned creepy to boot.)

While far from a classic film, zombie or otherwise, THE ZOMBIES OF MORA-TAU at least manages to entertain during its scant 68-minute running time (though the action does lag a bit by mid-point). It also helps to have a taste for old-fashioned cheese.

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