History of the Zombie Genre (Part 3: Zombies of Mora Tau)

Well we’re chugging along in our look back at the Zombie sub-genre, and we’ve come to the golden age of cheese: The 1950’s. What can I say about this decade? It was a time of prosperity after the hard years of depression and WWII. The baby boom was in full swing and audiences were looking to let the good times role. It was all about the American dream and fast, cheap entertainment. The 1950’s also experienced a big boom in the Sci-fi genre, seeing as we had just entered the atomic age. Films heavy in dialogue and atmosphere were out, lasers and aliens were in. The Universal style horror movie, however, was still alive and kicking with huge hits like The Creature From the Black Lagoon. For the most part though, people were watching genre films that had titles like “Attack of” or “Invasion of” and maybe the word “Giant” tossed in there.

A standard formula for lot of these movies is as follows: Generic scientist or generic alien creatures do something that makes humans sad. I would note that the zombie genre was around in this decade, but it wasn’t anything like the other monsters of horror (although a few of them were forced to meet Abbot and Costello).

While inspecting some of my options for the 1950’s, I noticed a problem: I really hate all of them. Although there wasn’t exactly a lot to choose from, for the most part they are all pretty terrible. Barely qualifying as Zombie flicks themselves, most fall into the realm of Sci-fi that just so happens to have Zombie-like creatures in it. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958) is easily the biggest example of this, but I’m not really interested in discussing an Ed Wood movie. I will at least mention that his film Night of the Ghouls came out in 1959. Check them out if you dare, they are definitely in the so-bad-it’s-good category. Well, Night of the Ghouls is just bad. Anyway, I am running low on further movie options, so I won’t drag this out any more. Today we tackle Zombies of Mora Tau.

The film was released in 1957, directed by Edward L. Cahn, and produced by Columbia pictures. The 1950’s saw a lot of Cahn, for that matter. He was the one
responsible for: It the Terror From Beyond Space, Invisible Invaders and the absolutely coma-inducing Voodoo Woman. Essentially, he was a director who was charged with making movies as cheaply and as quickly as possible.

So here’s the deal with Zombies of Mora Tau: Mora Tau is a far off coast in Africa that is infested with zombies (sort of). I like how they are always hard selling the “Dark Continent” with voodoo and mysticism. This time instead of a spell brought on by some evil mastermind, the dead are basically cursed. It’s a lot like Pirates of the Caribbean, really. A group of sailors mutiny and kill their captain and his loyal men in order to steal a diamond treasure for themselves. Their murder triggers a curse where the Captain and his men rise from the dead and kill the traitors then sink the ship and the treasure. Now every time someone comes to find it; the Zombies rise to stop them. Of course, a crew looking for the diamonds hears this story from a gnarled old woman and don’t listen. Needless to say it’s a mistake they have to deal with through the entire film.

It’s easy to see that the classic image of an undead pirate walking along the seafloor could possibly have come from this movie. Not to mention the funny little fight scene with the guy in the divers suit. I don’t know why but it was pretty amusing watching the slow mo, and camera tricks they used to get the effect.

An interesting thing I found about this movie is that the zombies’ one weakness seems to be fire. It’s pretty much a way to get them away from you, while bullets seem to have no effect (a lot like in King of the Zombies).

All in all, this is a pretty standard film and I can see where it might serve to inspire other filmmakers as time progresses. I will say for any who are interested that this film is hard to come by (I had to use my internet powers to find it). I don’t really recommend it, but I felt compelled to include at least one movie from the 1950’s. Next up we hit the 1960’s where a little independent film changed everything.

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