Zombies of Mora Tau was released in 1957 and was directed by Edward L. Cahn and was based on a screenplay by George H. Plympton and Bernard Gordon.
It was also released under the alternative title ‘The Dead that Walk‘.
In 1884, European sailors who steal diamonds while pillaging an African village get transformed into voodoo zombies, condemned to walk the earth and kill anyone who comes for the loot until it is “destroyed.”
Over decades, scores of treasure hunters try their luck in salvaging the sunken ship, only to end up six-feet under. The latest crew (made up of Captain Harrison, his wife Mona, diver Jeff, and expert-at-African-something-or-other Dr. Eggert) to try their luck use the home of the elderly wife of the undead captain, Mrs. Peters, and her great-granddaughter, Jan, as their base of operations.
Unimpressed by warnings and motivated by greed, the divers continue on their expedition and are attacked every time they hit the water.
The plot of ‘Zombies of Mora Tau‘ leaves room for an exploration of colonial greed and the rape of the African continent (these are true “blood diamonds”); here it is white men who are “enslaved.” Unfortunately, that message never really hits home; everything hinted at just falls flat. This seems to be the only village in Africa without any Africans, lessening the impact of racial themes.
There are so many larger issues alluded to in the film, and it is a shame that none of them really get delved into. Such as the zombie’s attraction to the two young women, which gets no real explanation in the film; they are not trying to take the diamonds, and the undead show no interest in Mrs. Peters. In separate instances, both Jan and Mona are kidnapped and taken back to the creatures’ home (a mausoleum), laid on the floor, and surrounded by looming undead men. The imagery cries group sexual assault; Jan is saved in time, while Mona has been left with them for “too long” and is transformed. These are by far the creepiest scenes in the movie, and deserve further exposition.
Overall ‘Zombies of Mora Tau‘ is a great idea, with a poor execution. It’s still a good B-movie romp with a few great scenes, and is worthy of viewing.
The voodoo pirate zombies (ok, technically undead sailors), transformed by treasure, lumbering underwater make me think Pirates of the Caribbean took some inspiration from this movie. Although the monsters lack any make-up (or really anything that sets them apart from the living, aside from some seaweed draped cross their shoulders), this film may have influenced many of the tropes we see in later subgenre flicks – like zombies attacking en masse, almost as one body, the characters’ complete vulnerability in the face of the undead threat, and the zombies’ ability to turn others. Shock Waves (1977), released 20 years after ‘Zombies of Mora Tau‘ also contains more than a few parallels with this movie.
At a mere 71 minutes, there isn’t enough time to get bored with this flick; short and sweet is the way to go for ‘50s B-movies. Luckily, the filmmakers knew what the audience came for so there is plenty of zombie screen-time; they don’t attempt to hide the monsters for a final reveal. This is a good one to get together with some friends and either MST3K it (bad acting equals many pauses for audience witticisms), or make up a drinking game (feigned adultery: drink!; spousal abuse: drink!). Cheers!
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Written by: Danielle Beauchea