Another movie from the COLD WAR CREATURES: FOUR FILMS FROM SAM KATZMAN Blu-ray set from Arrow Video. This one is ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU, a 1957 tale of the walking dead directed by Edward Cahn.
Somewhere off the coast of Africa, a group of treasure hunters searches for a safe filled with diamonds that went down with a ship over a half-century before. The members of that ship's crew have been cursed to remain in an undead state and protect the loot. Various groups have been trying to grab the diamonds for years, only to wind up dead. One of the latest treasure hunters (Gregg Palmer) must decide between greed or the lives of his companions.
ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU is the outlier in this set in that it is not a science-fiction story. The zombies featured here have not been reanimated by scientific means, as in CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN. But there's nothing particularly atmospheric about this undead crew. They do not have gruesome make-ups, and they don't go on gory rampages. They're basically pudgy middle-aged white men who stagger about in a daze. They do have the ability to fight underwater, but for the most part, this film moves as slow as the zombies do.
The entire movie lacks atmosphere as well. Despite the African setting, there are no black characters whatsoever (the story could have easily been set in Florida with no changes to it). The treasure hunters are an argumentative, unlikable lot, and they're not all that smart either.
Cult movie legend Allison Hayes easily makes the biggest mark as the shrewish wife of the captain of the treasure hunters' boat. It's another of Hayes' roles where she plays a caustic, conniving, and flirty woman, but she does give the movie what little spark it has. Towards the end Hayes gets turned into a zombie, and she's held at bay by candles instead of crosses (the zombies here can't stand light or fire). Autumn Russell (who is quite attractive herself) plays the blonde nice girl equivalent to Hayes. Fifties sci-fi veteran Morris Ankrum appears in a civilian role (it's strange to see him not wearing a military uniform).
Arrow presents ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio (the movie is in black & white). The extras include a introduction by Kim Newman, who discusses how elements of the film made their way into more famous zombie flicks made in the latter part of the 20th Century. A featurette titled "Atomic Terror: Genre In Transformation", has Josh Hurtado talk about how the four films in this Katzman set mixed 1950s science with classic horror film tropes. Kat Ellinger contributes a rather dry audio commentary. There's also an original trailer and a image gallery.
The script of ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU has some intriguing ideas, but the final product doesn't make the best use of them. A director such as Roger Corman might have given this story some extra juice.