Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Zombies of Mora Tau

Despite a misspent youth watching every classic and not-so-classic horror and science fiction movie I could lay my little peepers on, I never managed to see “Zombies of Mora Tau” (1957), a Columbia “B” from cheapo producer Sam Katzman. In those pre-cable and home video days, the local stations in Chicago played an incredible assortment of horror pictures from Universal (Creature Features on Channel 9), Hammer (Channel 7), American International and Monogram (Channel 32 on Saturday afternoon and Screaming Yellow Theater on Friday evenings) and everything in between.

I saw a lot of them, but “Zombies of Mara Tau” never played on any of the stations. It probably wasn’t very good, but it was a black and white horror picture and it starred Allison Hayes from “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman” (1958), the title intrigued me and I desperately wanted to see it.

I finally had the opportunity to watch it last night via a new DVD set devoted to Sam Katzman. The fact that such a set exists is mind-blowing to me, and one much appreciated (Thank you Sony).

It was pretty routine, and it was about what I expected, but I must say I enjoyed it. Running a trim 70 minutes, “Zombies of Mora Tau” deals with a group of characters looking for a treasure ship full of diamonds off the Africa coast. The ship is guarded by the deceased crewmen, zombies who protect the ship at all costs.

Actually the underwater scenes of the zombies walking on the ocean floor around the ship are quite eerie and have a nice dreamlike quality to them. The zombie attacks on land won’t make George Romero seek retirement, but they are par for the course for the era.

Most of all it’s a fun film. For young people raised on current horror films, the idea of a horror film being fun is probably anathema to them. But I think horror films can be fun, and I can imagine that 1957 matinee audiences felt they got their money’s worth.

In addition to Ms. Hayes, the cast includes Gregg Palmer, future John Wayne co-star and star of the immortal killer tree movie “From Hell It Came” (1957). (Boy, would I love to see that again. I haven’t seen that since a kid, I believe on Channel 32).

There’s also dependable Morris Ankrum (not playing a general this time, as he does in the other Katzman 1957 “classic” “The Giant Claw”.)

Who’s that in the opening scene, playing a chauffer who runs over a zombie in the middle of the road and doesn’t think anything of it, because “he’s one of them”? Why it’s frequent Three Stooges foil Gene Roth. A year later Gene would co-star in one of my favorite 1950s schlock B horror movies, “She Demons” (Nazi scientists experiment on beautiful South Seas native girls, turning them into hideous monsters until rescued by Irish McCalla, on leave from her Sheena, Queen of the Jungle television series. A splendid film.)

So far I’ve been enjoying the contents of the Sam Katzman collection. I thoroughly enjoyed “Creature with the Atom Brain” (1955). (Nazi scientists again, this time experimenting on dead gangsters, bringing them to life and giving them super-human strength. What’s not to like?)

I have yet to watch the aforementioned “The Giant Claw”, memorable for what is widely considered the worst looking monster – said to resemble a giant flying turkey. I saw it years and years ago and don’t remember it, but it can’t be worse than “Transformers” (2007).

The best film in the collection is considered “The Werewolf” (1956) and I’m saving that one for last.

All in all, a fine, fine set. I’m glad I have it and thrilled I finally got to see “Zombies of Mora Tau” after all these decades.

Rating for “Zombies of Mora Tau”: Two stars (but an enjoyable two stars, while recognizing the film’s limitations).

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