Cast & Crew
As American Jan Peters is driven to her great-grandmother's house in deepest Africa after a ten-year absence, a man stands motionless in the road, refusing to move, and the chauffeur, Sam, drives right over him, stating that he is "one of them." In the bay offshore, meanwhile, George Harrison, the owner of a salvage ship, his flirtatious wife Mona, scientist Dr. Jonathan Eggert, diver Jeff Clark and the rest of the crew discuss their hunt to retrieve a trove of missing diamonds that sunk with the sloop The Susan B years earlier. Their conversation is interrupted when a zombie climbs out of the water and kills one of the crew. George and the others take the dead man to shore, where Mrs. Peters, Jan's great-grandmother, shows them the graves of previous diamond hunters, all killed by zombies. Mrs. Peters then recounts the story of how the crew of The Susan B stole the uncut diamonds from a nearby temple in 1894. Ten men were killed in a fight over the gems, and those men rose from the dead to guard the diamonds, sinking the ship and killing the crew. Among the undead is Mrs. Peters' late husband, Capt. Peters. Later, in the seclusion of her living room, Mrs. Peters confides to Jan that she hopes George and his expedition will destroy the diamonds, thus allowing her late husband to rest. Afterward, Jan asks Jeff to help her find the man run over by Sam, but when they return to the accident scene, all they find is seaweed and water. Suddenly, a zombie springs from the brush, slings Jan over his shoulder and stalks off with her. Jeff follows the zombie to a mausoleum that houses the coffins of the undead. Having been told by Mrs. Peters that the creatures are afraid of fire, Jeff disperses them with his torch and rescues Jan. Back at the house, Jeff describes the mausoleum to the others and announces that he has decided to give up the diamond hunt, but George changes his mind by increasing his share to 50%. The next day, Jeff dons his diving suit and descends to the bottom of the bay, where he finds The Susan B . As Jeff begins to pry open the ship's hold, he is surrounded by zombies, who detach the air hose from his suit. Barely alive, Jeff is hauled up to the surface and taken to Mrs. Peters' house, where a concerned Jan takes care of him. Mona, who has romantic designs on Jeff, bursts into his room and accuses Jan of trying to steal him from her. Furious at his brazen wife, George chases Mona out of the house, and when she fails to return, Mrs. Peters speculates that the zombies have captured her. George and now recovered Jeff then drive into the jungle in search of Mona, and when they break into the mausoleum, the zombies rise from their caskets to surround Mona's dead body, which is sprawled across the floor. While Jeff holds off the zombies by firing flares, Mona rises from the dead, and George pulls her out of the mausoleum and takes her to Mrs. Peters' house. When Mrs. Peters declares that Mona is dead, George, unable to accept his wife's demise, puts her to bed. Later that night, Mona rises in a trance-like state, stabs one crew member and attacks another. Imprisoning Mona in a circle of lit candles, Jeff decides to use fire to hold off the zombies while he dives for the treasure. After setting a blaze in front of the mausoleum, Jeff descends into the waters of the bay while George accompanies him with a torch. When Jeff enters the ship's hold, several zombies surround George after he instructs the ship's crew to haul him up the surface. Once Jeff has secured the treasure chest, the zombies attack, but he fends them off with a torch and reaches the ship with the diamonds. Jeff and George take refuge in a locked cabin, but when the zombies begin to beat down the door, Jeff grabs the diamonds and heads to shore, followed by the walking dead. At Mrs. Peters' house, Jeff pries open the chest, and soon after, George arrives and demands the diamonds. Jeff then hands over the chest, which George uses to lure Mona to his launch. As George is about to climb onboard, Mona picks up the chest and slams it into his head, then walks away with her fellow zombies. Back at the house, meanwhile, Mrs. Peters admonishes Jeff, who removed the diamonds from the chest before giving it to George, to destroy the jewels. Bent on riches, Jeff instead schemes to sell the gems, but when he asks Jan to marry him, she refuses unless he abandons the diamonds. Jeff then insists that the women leave with him, but as they board the launch, the angry zombies march toward them and Mrs. Peters spots her late husband among them. After she calls out to Capt. Peters, Jeff hands her the diamonds, and she casts them into the sea, causing all the zombies to crumble into dust.
The Zombies of Mora-Tau
Zombies of Mora-Tau begins with a bang, or at least a loud thump: Jan Peters (Autumn Russell) arrives after a ten-year absence to the coastal African home of her great-grandmother (Marjorie Eaton). While approaching the estate, Jan's driver Sam (Gene Roth) hits a man walking in the middle of the road. When Jan protests, Sam replies "It wasn't a man - it was one of them." At the same time, a group of treasure hunters arrive at the location to dive off the coast. It is well-known among salvage ship owners that in 1894, The Susan B sunk off the island of Mora-Tau with a fabulous diamond treasure aboard. The ship owner George Harrison (Joel Ashley) arrives with his sexy wife Mona (Allison Hayes), ace diver Jeff Clark (Gregg Palmer), and the scientist of the group, Dr. Jonathon Eggert (Morris Ankrum). The salvage group immediately clash with Grandmother Peters, who believes that the treasure is guarded by the ten dead crew members from The Susan B, including her own husband. A zombie has already killed one of Harrison's crew, and yet the diving team doesn't believe her story. Grandmother Peters shows them the graves of several previous diamond hunters - A German group in 1914, a British group in 1923, a Portuguese expedition in 1928, and a previous group of Americans in 1938 - all killed by zombies. Apparently always prepared, Grandmother Peters also has fresh empty graves ready to be filled with more adventurers! When Jan is kidnapped by a zombie, Jeff follows them to a jungle mausoleum, where the zombies rest when they are not wandering around underwater. Jan is rescued, and the divers begin operations to recover the diamonds and avoid the zombies.
The exteriors for Zombies of Mora-Tau were filmed at a popular location outside Los Angeles called Baldwin Ranch, located near the Santa Anita Racetrack. The topography there included lakes and patches of dense foliage which could be dressed with minimal effort and passed off as a variety of exotic locales. The interiors for the film were shot on small Columbia soundstages, and that included the underwater sequences. The numerous shots of the divers and zombies fussing over the contents of a shipwreck were filmed, rather unconvincingly, dry-for-wet with a camera positioned to shoot through a stationary fish tank in the foreground!
Speaking with interviewer Tom Weaver (in Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers of the 1940s through 1960s, 1991), leading man Gregg Palmer recalled his role as one "...I'll never forget. The producers hired a bunch of wrestlers to play the zombies and they caught me a couple of times within the film. They would grab me and literally pick me up and throw me against a palm tree! And I could hear my vertebrae just cracking, going down! Then one of the wrestlers would say, 'Come here, Gregg.' I'd walk over to him, he'd turn me around and lift me up and pop my back for me, and put it back into place!" Palmer also explained why director Edward Cahn was known for his lightning shooting speed on the set: "...he knew what he wanted and he always had his shots all lined up. He was once a film cutter, and directors who had film cutting experience know in their heads as they go in just how they're going to cut it and what they need."
The credited screenwriter of Zombies of Mora-Tau, Raymond T. Marcus, was actually Bernard Gordon, using a pseudonym because he was currently being blacklisted in Hollywood. Gordon had only amassed a few screen credits by 1952, when he was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee then investigating Communist influence in the entertainment industry. He did not testify, but was named by others who did. Under the Marcus name, Gordon wrote several screenplays during the decade, including other science fiction movies for Sam Katzman, such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957). For producer Charles H. Schneer, Gordon also wrote Hellcats of the Navy (1957), the only film to costar Ronald Reagan with his future wife, Nancy Davis. Later, Gordon (using Philip Yordan as his "front") adapted a John Wyndham novel into the screenplay for the British production The Day of the Triffids (1962), a vast improvement from the Katzman Columbia quickies he worked on in the 1950s.
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Screenplay: Bernard Gordon (as Raymond T. Marcus), story by George H. Plympton
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline
Film Editing: Jack Ogilvie
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Gregg Palmer (Jeff Clark), Allison Hayes (Mona Harrison), Autumn Russell (Jan Peters), Joel Ashley (George Harrison), Morris Ankrum (Dr. Jonathon Eggert), Marjorie Eaton (Grandmother Peters), Karl 'Killer' Davis (Zombie).
by John M. Miller
The Zombies of Mora-Tau
The working title of this film was The Dead That Walk. The film opens with the following written prologue: "In the darkness of an ancient world-on a shore that time has forgotten-there is a twilight zone between life and death. Here dwell those nameless creatures who are condemned to prowl the land eternally-the walking dead." According to a 1997 letter from blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS library, Gordon wrote the screenplay using the pseudonym Raymond T. Marcus, the name that appears onscreen. Although a November 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Rube Schaefer, Wally Rose, Cuga Tuitama and Stubby Krueger to the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.