Monday, September 09, 2013

Zombies Of The Ocean Deeps

One of the all-time great movie titles headlines an occasionally spooky horror set off the coast of western Africa. Produced for Columbia’s B unit by Sam Katzman, 1957's ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU suffers from a limited budget that prevents prolific director Edward L. Cahn (CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN) from exploiting writer Bernard Gordon’s (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCER) lurid premise to its fullest.

A salvage team bankrolled by irritable George Harrison (Joel Ashley), which includes stud diver Jeff Clark (Gregg Palmer) and Harrison’s hot-to-trot wife Mona (Allison Hayes, later in ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN), arrives on the island of Mora Tau to cannibalize a sunken ship containing a fortune in diamonds. What they don’t know until they arrive at the stately seashore estate of elderly Mrs. Peters (Marjorie Eaton) and her innocent blond great-granddaughter Jan (Autumn Russell) is that the treasure is being guarded by zombies—the dead crewmen who went down with the ship sixty years ago and have killed all the fortune hunters who have pursued the diamonds ever since.

Shot mostly on the Columbia backlot and at the Los Angeles Arboretum (the Peters estate exterior is the Queen Anne Cottage, also seen on many TV shows like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and FANTASY ISLAND), MORA TAU moves along at a decent clip and serves up plenty of zombie action. Cahn films the zombies in a similar style as his CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, complete with chilling shots of bloodless bullet squibs tearing apart the zombies’ chests.

Katzman’s tightness with a buck harms the picture at times. The exterior of Harrison’s ship is clearly a set with a gray “sky” backdrop, and the underwater scenes are filmed on “dry” sets with the actors wearing soap bubble blowers on their diving suits and unconvincingly walking slowly to evince moving through water. Besides Hayes’ smoldering bitch of a performance, the acting is none too great and often, like Gordon’s dialogue, hilarious (I especially love the dumb crewman who forgets he has one flare left in his gun and throws the weapon at his zombie pursuer).

No comments: