Howdy Folkses! Did you miss me? You don't have to answer that. I missed you and that's all that really matters.

I'd decided back in February that I needed a little hiatus to recover from the dual diminutions of pandemic fatigue and bad-movie burnout. I figured that with Nate still hiding in the ductwork someplace, slowly grinding his way through his Blockbuster DVD clearance stack, and with Pam's long-gestating Gorath review soon cresting the horizon I could afford to take a few months' sabbatical to relax, recharge and reconnect with my life outside of MMT. I packed up my sturdy portmanteau and headed back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to eat some Hammond's pretzels*, sip some Amish-made birch-beer and spend some well-earned quality time with my family. I'd been sequestered alone at Million Monkey Towers for far too long, however, and bereft of the social pressures of living with other human beings I had reverted to a largely animal state. I had neither shaved nor cut my hair, nor bathed nor changed my clothes for months. Worse still, I had not spoken aloud for so long that I had temporarily lost the power of human speech. So far had I physically degenerated and so wild had my outward appearance become that my own wife didn't recognize me...in fact, she wouldn't even let me in the house until I'd pulled down my pants and showed her my birthmark.

I can't show it to you but it kind of looks like Godzilla's son Minya.

As liberating as it has been for me to unfetter myself for a time from the grinding digestive machinations of Million Monkey Theater, I find that with the coming of Spring I feel a gentle longing to return to them. Perhaps it is the inescapable smell of horseshit, spread thick on the majestic fields and farmlands of Lancaster, that turns me back towards that cinematic manure that is MMT's fertile stock and trade. Even here in the city the pungent aromas of the Earth are profuse on every breeze, and every garden, however small, has been studiously turned to aerate the rich and acrid loam. As the earthworms and earwigs awaken from their months-long sleep a dense, musty vapor of compost and damp decay rises from the dirt to pinch the nose and awaken the long-dormant senses. Once-dead shoots claw up through the soil of their wintertide graves, revived by the mystic songs of abundant April rains and the penetrating warmth of the strong and nurturing Sun. Soon they will yield a life-giving bounty of the sweet corn, cucumbers, peppers, peas and heirloom tomatoes for which our county is so justly famous.

This is the sacred circle, and upon it we are bound to the enduring rhythms of the Earth. Steeped in our brains and in our bones, these inevitable cycles of life, death and rebirth match the internal music of our own beating hearts, and like all else that lives, dies and is reborn, we must also rise from our death-like winter sleep and dance to those rhythms once more.

Speaking of dead things coming back to life, here's Zombies of Mora Tau, the first film in our Edward L. Cahn Voodoo Double Feature! Cahn was an absurdly prolific b-movie director known primarily for westerns, criminal dramas and Our Gang comedy shorts, but he also made some notable forays into horror and sci-fi, including such schlock classics as Invasion of the Saucermen (1957), The She-Creature (1956) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958).

Cahn was a workmanlike director who churned out consistently decent films at a remarkably brisk pace, helming one hundred twenty-eight projects in just over thirty years. It was rather surprising to me to note that we've never featured any of his work before, so I decided to review a couple of my personal favorites and bestow upon him the unique immortality that only an article or two on Million Monkey Theater can provide.

*I can totally hook you up with some Hammonds. The bakery is three blocks from my house.

We open with a lonely Rolls Royce travelling a lonely road through a lonely jungle at night. You'd asume by the looks of it that this was a forest somewhere in Southern California, probably within the thirty-mile radius "Studio Zone" surrounding Los Angeles where film crews are paid only basic union scale without any travel reimbursements, but you'd be so wrong. This is a Jungle in Africa, as the conversation between the car's occupants makes perfectly clear.

These two are a lumpy-faced middle-aged chauffer named Sam and an attractive late-twentysomething blonde named Jan Peters who is awkwardly bouncing at every irregularity in the road. She gently admonishes Sam for seemingly hitting every single pothole and he humbly apologizes, commenting that the road is so bad "there's nowhere else to go but in 'em."

Maybe if he'd stop checking her out in the rear view they'd have a smoother ride.

Jan has just returned after an absence of over a decade to visit the great grandmother who'd raised her until her late teens. She muses that she'd thought perhaps the modern world might have intruded on the Dark Continent, at least to the extent of some paved roads, but Sam assures her nothing has changed in this part of Africa for the past fifty years, let alone in the past ten.

Suddenly their conversation is interrupted by the sight of a strange, balding man standing in the middle of the road just ahead of them, and to Jan's shock and horror Sam plows straight through and runs him right over! Jan pleads with him to stop and help the man but Sam says cryptically "It wasn't a man...it was one of them!"

They arrive at a mansion set a hundred yards or so back from a nearby bay and Sam apologizes, telling Jan he couldn't stop, that she should ask her Grandmother about it and for sure she'll agree that running the dude over was not, in fact intentional vehicular homicide but a totally legit and appropriate thing to do. Sure enough, creepy old Granny shuffles out onto the porch of the mansion to greet them, and when Jan explains about the "accident" Granny just sighs and tells her "there's no one on the road...remember that."

Jan is disappointed to discover that her great grandmother still believes in the voodoo stories she'd thought were merely a nightmare from her childhood, but the old woman just looks at her sadly and tells her she'll just have to decide what to believe in for herself.

"Well I believe Bill Gates put microchips in every dose of the Covid vaccine and that Trump won the election, but voodoo? That's ridiculous!"

As Jan, exasperated and bewildered, turns to enter the house we hear a ship's foghorn blast from the bay. Sam takes Jan inside as Granny gazes out towards the distant vessel.

We cut to the cabin of the boat where three guys and a gal are about to enjoy a celebratory whiskey, and one of them, an already-tipsy, marmot-faced huckster, toasts "to a calm crossing which we already had...and a million bucks in diamonds which we're soon gonna get!" It seems these four are here to conduct a salvage operation on a sunken vessel called the Susan B, and Marmot is bankrolling the operation. There's also a professor named Eggert who's there to write a book about the Susan B but isn't due a share of the diamonds, a hired professional diver named Jeff Clark who is due a share of the diamonds as payment for his work, and Marmot's sultry Hotwife who seems to think she's due a little diving of her own with Jeff, if you get my drift.

Jeff, Hotwife and Marmot negotiating terms for some MFM action.

"Hotwife" isn't just some cheap-shot, barely-humorous, ever-so-slightly chauvinistic nickname I just pulled out of my ass. It's actually a pretty accurate description of her character. She seems to be an early pioneer of the oncoming sexual revolution, openly polyamorous and undisguisedly putting some heavy moves on Jeff right in front of her tacitly approving husband.

No judgement here. Ya'll know I'm a die-hard liberal snowflake. I say let your freak flag fly, Hotwife. Jeff, however is more conservative than I am. He feels a little uncomfortable with this socially taboo amorous attention, but the Marmot insists he go ahead and get friendly. He encourages him to kiss his wife, then watches with vicarious satisfaction as they passionately lock lips right in front of him.

It's an odd, unexpected detail, instantly adding some psychosexual depth to what are, essentially a couple of standard "shyster looking for a big score" stock characters. It's sure not something you'd expect to see in a censor board-approved, support feature programmer made by a major studio in the late 1950's. I'm kind of impressed.

A sailor, played by Ray "Crash" Corrigan, former serial star and owner/operator of one of the most in-demand gorilla suits in Hollywood, pops his head into the cabin to let them know a boat has been lowered to take them to shore. We cut to another sailor crouched on the launch platform and looking over the edge into the water. Suddenly a man pops up out of the brine and pulls the sailor under!

Marmot and Jeff run to the railing above and Marmot pulls out a gun, getting off a couple of shots before Jeff stays his hand in fear of hitting their own man. Marmot insists he hit the intruder square with both bullets, but when they reach the launch and pull their man out of the water the intruder is gone and the sailor is dead from a broken neck. Jeff says they'd better get his body to shore.

Back at the house Jan is busy unpacking and hears Granny's dog barking outside. She looks out to see her standing by the edge of the water and watches as a glassy-eyed man walks silently from the jungle and directly into the bay, disappearing beneath the water and leaving barely a ripple behind him to indicate he was ever even there. She throws a cardigan across her shoulders and runs out to join Granny, who has come out to meet the oncoming boat.

Eggert, Marmot, Jeff and Hotwife arrive and step onto the small dock. Eggert introduces himself to Granny and Marmot informs them that one of the men has been murdered, but cheeky Granny already knows. She'd watched and heard the whole debacle from the shore. She says she'd warned them in her letter of the dangers they'd face if they insisted on their salvage expedition, but Marmot isn't buying into the voodoo angle any more than Jan, especially with so much of his own money already invested in the scheme.

Marmot says he wants a police investigation of his crewman's murder, but Grandma explains there's no police nearby to help them and they'd better just go ahead and bury the guy, stat.

"Gather 'round. Granny's gonna tell you a story."

Granny leads them to a makeshift cemetery on the mansion grounds, which is little more than a long row of rough, weathered wooden crosses divided into sections with signs bearing the year each group was interred. As they come to the first sign she tells them "These are the graves of the first group that came after the diamonds," a British expedition in 1906. Then she shows them the graves of a second group from Germany in 1914, then the graves of a third group in 1923, then another in 1928, and yet another in 1938. Finally they step around a mound of earth to find a row of freshly dug graves that she's already had her men prepare for each of them!

Marmot figures Granny is just trying to scare them, but she says she's learned over the years that no one who comes for the diamonds can be frightened away.

Suddenly we hear Hotwife scream! The group turns to find that she's slipped and fallen into one of the open graves and is struggling desperately, clawing at the sides trying to pull her way out.

It's not the first time she's made that face, but it usually involves a paddle and some whipped cream.

Jeff pulls her out and hands her over to Marmot. She begs them to take her away frantically screeching "That grave! It's for me! I know it!" Well, no shit, Inspector Gidget! Didn't Granny just fucking tell you that?

Hotwife faints in her husband's arms and they carry her up to the house, where later we see Marmot and Jeff poring over their charts trying to pinpoint the exact location of the wreck, while in an adjacent room Granny is spilling the beans to Eggert about just what the heck is going on in this God-forsaken place.

It seems the Susan B was a trading ship that pulled into the bay in 1894 and while on shore looking for fresh supplies the crew stumbled across a jungle temple with a gold casket full of uncut diamonds. They swiped the casket and were followed by a tribe of pissed-off natives who managed to kill nine sailors and the captain while the others escaped with the diamonds back to the ship. As they tried to sail away, however, their ten dead crewmates emerged from the water, climbed aboard and slaughtered them. Somehow in the melee the ship was sunk, and ever since the zombie sailors have killed everyone who has come trying to plunder the wreck and retrieve the diamonds.

Such is the sinister tale of The Wreck of the Susan B...not to be confused with The Wreck of the Oral-B, which was when I accidentally dropped my electric toothbrush in the toilet.

'Tis a sad tale, but every last word of it be true.

Granny shows Eggert a photo of Jeremy Peters, captain of the Susan B, and explains that he was her husband. She tells him that she's seen him, recently, and that he looks today exactly as he did in the photo--except for the eyes. She'd come to Africa over fifty years before looking for definitive answers regarding her husband's death but found a crew of deadly zombies instead.

She'd had the house built there by the bay and has lived there ever since, piecing together the story and watching helplessly as the zombies unleashed their wrath on everyone who came with the intent of finding the diamonds. She stayed on all these years in the desperate hope that she might someday break the curse and help her husband find his eternal rest.

Eggert finds it difficult to accept that she actually believes the curse is real, but she insists she does, adding: "and so will you before the week is out."

"Also a baby echidna is called a 'puggle.' I thought you'd like to know."

Before Granny can explain exactly how the curse might be broken we hear another scream from Hotwife, which merely irritates her until she hears another voice screaming and realizes Jan is in danger, too.

We cut to a dark bedroom where a zombie in a little knit beanie is threatening Hotwife and Jan. Eggert, Jeff and Marmot rush in, the latter with his gun drawn, but before he can use it Jeff zips past him and jumps on Beanie's back. He wrestles and punches him, but Beanie doesn't even flinch.

The zombie picks Jeff up by the neck and throws him against a wall, and he crumples like a ragdoll. Suddenly Granny appears with a lit torch. She holds it up towards Beanie's face and he slowly backs away from it and out an exterior door.

"I am the god of hell fire!"

Later Jan confronts her grandmother about letting these people come here when she knew it was likely they'd all be killed. Granny says she couldn't stop them even if she wanted to, but Jan correctly surmises that she actually doesn't want to. She wants to help them find the diamonds so that she can destroy them, claiming it's the only way to break the curse. I'm not sure exactly how she plans to destroy diamonds unless she's got a handy active volcano or some kind of powerful industrial crushing equipment nearby, but we'll set that point aside for the moment. What Jan questions is how she can expect these people will give up the gems after all the trouble they'll have gone through to get them, but Granny is confident that once they experience the full horror of the zombies they'll be glad to get rid of them.

"I'll be glad to get rid of these heels...my feet are killing me!"

If the rest of the movie had been as good as this first act, we might have had a bona fide horror classic on our hands, but despite some spooky imagery and decent individual scenes later on, the film's carefully woven suspension of disbelief begins to fray from here on out, and the internal logic of the plot slowly and inexorably breaks down into absurdity. It's not enough to spoil the fun completely, but inch by inch the viewing experience changes from committed engagement to something more distanced and ironic. As for me, I'm pretty easy with entertainments of this ilk and from this era. Genuine horror and unintentional cheese both hit my sweet spots, but as the rest of the movie plays out there is a distantly nagging, slightly intrusive awareness of a much better film lurking just a couple of rewrites away.

So Jan leaves her grandmother in the house and steps out for some air, and as she does so she notices Jeff standing at the pier smoking a cigarette. She joins him and they discuss whether they believe in all this wild talk of the walking dead. Jan says she doesn't, but Jeff isn't so sure and intends on keeping an open mind about it. She says she wishes he and the others would just leave before anyone else gets killed, but he's determined to do his job, find the gems and take his share.

Jan tells Jeff about the man Sam hit as they were driving up to the house earlier and says she'd like to go back to the spot to have a look around. Jeff says if they can take the car he'll go with her, so they grab some flashlights and a flare gun from the boat and take a drive. There's a nice bit of continuity in that one of the headlamps on the Rolls is dark and hanging loose like an eye out of its socket as a result of the hit-and-run in the opening scene.

Did you know that over 65% of all Rolls Royce vehicles ever produced are still on the road today?

They come to the spot where Jan believes they hit the man and hop out of the car to have a look. A few feet down the road they spot a depression in the road full of water mixed with a little bit of blood, and a little further on from that they see some broken glass from the headlamp, a clump of seaweed and some footprints.

We see that they're not alone.

"I like to watch. Do you like to watch?"

As they follow the footprints to and from the road they realize that after being hit Baldie just got up and walked off into the jungle, as if getting plowed by a big ol' Rolls Royce just ain't no kinda thang.

Jeff says he'd like to follow the prints but that they should wait until daylight. As he steps away to find something to mark the spot Baldie ambles out of the jungle and snatches Jan! She's been impressively strong-willed, skeptical and assertive for a 50's horror flick heroine up to this point, so it's a bit of a disappointment when she suddenly folds over in a dead faint as soon as he grabs her.

Maybe she has low blood sugar.

Jeff follows the footprints through the woods and confronts the zombie, even managing to stick a knife into his neck clear to the hilt, but he just keeps on coming. Baldie knocks him nearly unconscious and shuffles away, but when Jan briefly awakens and screams Jeff shakes it off and follows her voice to an old, overgrown European-style cemetery stuck smack in the middle of the jungle. Baldie carries Jan into a huge tomb full of open sarcophagi, and from these the remaining zombies slowly emerge.

Yeah, um...I have some questions.

It's certainly conceivable that there might be a Christian cemetery in a jungle in Africa within spitting distance of a bay where foreign vessels used to put into port, although we neither see nor hear any other evidence of this alleged trade beyond what we've been told by Granny. There's no buildings, no infrastructure of any kind, just this one tiny cemetery with a few tombstones and marble crosses. What I really want to know, though is why are the zombies even in this big tomb with all the open crypts? If these men were killed by non-Christian natives and resurrected through some voodoo ritual to protect or retrieve the sacred temple diamonds then who would, or could have interred them here in the first place? It would have made more sense if Baldie had led Jeff to the now-abandoned temple from which the diamonds had originally been stolen--and that would have also solved an unforgivable inconsistency that opens up like a massive sinkhole beneath the final scene of the film...but I'm getting ahead of myself here. There are plenty of smaller plot holes to point out before we get to the big one.

So Jeff bursts into the crypt, and taking his cue from Granny and her torch he fires a flare to distract the zombies long enough to grab Jan and run. Realistically a flare would bounce chaotically around inside the stone chamber, striking walls, crypts, zombies and maybe even our supine damsel-in-distress higgledy-piggledy until it was spent, but this particular flare just sits quietly off-camera, cheerfully shining its bright, magnesium light to mesmerize the dead sailors and allow that damsel to escape.

The flare burns out pretty swiftly, though and soon the column of dead dudes resume their relentless march towards our heroes. Baldie reaches the door first, with the captain third in line behind him, but when the group steps outside it's the captain out front and Baldie is nowhere to be seen.

The classic zombie bait-and-switch.

Jeff fires a second flare and as the zombie crew back slowly away from the light Jan and Jeff make their escape back to the house.

The next morning at breakfast Eggert, Jeff, Hotwife and Marmot discuss the previous evening's events. Hotwife believes Jan led Jeff into a trap and that Granny is behind the entire plot, and just as she's saying so, quite loudly, Granny herself enters to thank Jeff for saving Jan's life.

When Marmot says maybe they ought to be getting to work back on the boat Jeff threatens to quit the entire enterprise unless Marmot coughs up another 25% of the take to cover the extra risks that will be required of him. Being as Marmot has sunk his savings into the project and would be shit out of luck without an experienced diver in his crew he reluctantly agrees, muttering under his breath that he hopes Jeff can live long enough to collect it.

Just as the gang is heading out Jan walks in and Jeff immediately rushes over to make sure she's okay. She says she is but she's clearly annoyed to discover that Jeff is still participating in the salvage expedition. By now it's glaringly obvious that there's gonna be a little romance thing between them, but to the film's credit it plays out in a measured, organic way that integrates with the plot rather than feeling pasted onto it.

Later on the boat we see Jeff suiting up for his first dive, which they intend to be a relatively brief reconnaissance to identify the wreck and look for a way into the hold.

The suit he's using was something of an antique by this time, as modern wetsuits and aqualungs were readily available to divers beginning in the early 1950's.

Jeff heads down into the brine, finds the wreck of the Susan B and pokes around a bit searching for a point of egress.

These "underwater" scenes were all filmed on a dry soundstage. For close-ups they shot Jeff's stationary head straight on with a bubbling aquarium behind his helmet, and for long shots they rigged a soap bubble machine to blow out the top of the helmet, likely using a fan above the stage to create an updraft so the bubbles would always rise. It's not a successful illusion by any stretch but I've got to give them points for creativity.

Not a great screenshot, but the "tiny bubbles" give me an excuse to name drop Don Ho.

As Jeff pokes around the keel of the Susan B looking for a way into the hold we see one of the zombie sailors emerge from the darkness a couple of dozen yards away.

Meanwhile back on deck, Marmot has donned the second suit and prepares to head down, not wanting Jeff to get his hands on the diamonds unsupervised.

Anytime's a good time for a cigarette.

Just as Jeff locates the safe containing the diamonds the dead sailor attacks him from behind. He shouts through the radio in his helmet for the men on deck to start hoisting him up, but as he begins to rise with the zombie still latched onto him the air hose connector comes apart and his suit begins to fill with water.

With the radio contact suddenly lost and the air pressure reading zero Marmot opts to head into the water immediately to find out what's happened, but just as he's about to dive in Jeff surfaces and uses his last ounce of strength to break free of the zombie by punching him across the face. It's left unexplained why this zombie has a glass jaw while Beanie's jaw was apparently made of granite. Just a freak of genetics, I suppose.

The gang at the launch pulls a now-unconscious Jeff out of the water and decide they'd better take him back to the house immediately and see if they can call in a doctor.

"Who gets to kiss him first?"

Back at the house Granny explains that the nearest doctor is five hours away and that if there's any doctorin' to be done, she's the one who's gonna do it. When she brings in some medicine to help normalize Jeff's breathing, suspicious shrew Hotwife refuses to allow her to give it to him.

Granny shrugs her shoulders and sets the stuff on a table, telling them they can take or leave it...it's no skin off her nonagenarian nose. Jan's is concerned for her newfound love interest, however, so she boldly steps up and takes a swig of the stuff to demonstrate that it's safe. When Hotwife sees this and the way she tenderly administers the medicine to Jeff she just about glares a hole through the back of her head.

Later on, Marmot, Eggert and Hotwife are playing cards to pass the time. Hotwife is impatient, and despite having gotten a report that Jeff is still sleeping less than ten minutes before she decides she'd better go have a look for herself, you know, just to make sure there's no hanky-panky happening that she's not directly involved in. As she rushes off Marmot sharply orders her not to make any trouble. As luck would have it Jeff has just woken up. He and Jan are making goo-goo eyes at each other as Hotwife enters, and despite Marmot's warning she immediately starts stirring up some shit.

It's not that she doesn't do MFF stuff, it's just that she's used to getting paid for it.

Marmot hears the ruckus and shows up to teach Hotwife a lesson. He drags her out into the hallway, slaps her across the face then chases her down the hallway and out of the house.

Two hours later she still hasn't returned, and Marmot is getting worried. He's had his men make a bonfire by the water as a beacon for her to follow out of the jungle, but Granny says out loud what everyone else is thinking: that she wouldn't have gone far on her own and the zombies obviously have her.

Jeff insists they should go out to the graveyard and try to rescue her but Granny warns that if they've had her this long it's already too late. If they go to the tomb to confront them, she says the zombies will get them all.

Heedless of the danger, Jeff leads Marmot, Eggert and a couple of redshirt sailors out to the cemetery with some flares, automatic rifles and containers full of gasoline. We get a little throwaway line from Jeff about how Granny told him this cemetery was built for European diamond miners who had died there over a hundred years before, which is a nice bit of verisimillitude. I wish they'd paid that much attention to detail and continuity in the rest of this sequence, though because what's coming up next is a hot fucking mess.

The gang reach the crypt and force their way in, and there on the floor is Hotwife, either dead or unconscious. The zombies rise from their sarcophagi but before they can advance Jeff fires in one of his his well-behaved flares. Marmot reaches Hotwife and at first believes she's dead, but as soon as the flare dies down she sits up with a blank, expressionless face, as if in some sort of trance.

Her posable sex doll fetish service costs an extra hundred bucks but it's totally worth it.

Jeff brandishes his rifle to keep the zombies occupied as Marmot helps Hotwife to her feet and leads her out of the crypt. Once our heroes have backed out of the tomb we get a good, clear view of the zombies lined up in a perfect "L" formation. It's maybe too clear a view, actually...

I demand a recount!

It was hard to tell in the previous cemetery scene because of the blocking and the lighting but there are definitely eleven zombies up there--which is a bit of a problem because we've been repeatedly and explicitly told that there are only supposed to be ten. I'd have thought with a budget this tight they'd want to cut them down to five rather than go to eleven, but I digress.

So our heroes flee the tomb and before the zombies can make it all the way out Jeff fires another flare which ignites a bunch of gas the Redshirts poured around the entrance, forcing a zombie retreat back inside--which is another bit of a problem, because why would they just make a temporary barrier of flame when they could have just doused them with gasoline and burned them to cinders? I mean, I know we wouldn't have anymore movie if they were successful, but wouldn't you think they'd at least have thought of it? I hate to be the one to break it to them, but as soon as that fire burns out those zombies are gonna be back on the prowl, and once the crew is out on the bay trying to get at those diamonds the one and only weapon they've got is just a dive in the water away from being completely useless. It's just one of those things you see sometimes in a movie that's so stupid it's impossible to ignore.

Shoulda roasted 'em like marshmallows.

The gang pulls up at the house and Marmot leads Zombie Hotwife out of the car. Jan runs up to greet them and seems genuinely glad to see her allegedly alive, but when she touches her hands she withdraws in horror and confusion. When they get her inside the house Granny takes one look at her and blurts out "She's dead."

Marmot refuses to accept it, and when Granny tells them she can't stay in the house he pitches a fit. Jan intervenes and Granny reluctantly allows them to put her to bed, but she also has the pair of redshirt sailors put up in one of the other bedrooms rather than having them go back to the ship because, as she tells Eggert, "you might need them."

Marmot has a bittersweet moment now where he gently and lovingly urges his wife to close her eyes and get some rest. It shows that he cares for her deeply despite their frequent quarrels and unconventional lifestyle choices, but it also reveals the corrosive codependence at the center of their unhappy relationship. It's the moment where their characters become fully human, and it throws the tragedy of her transformation into sharp relief.

"Just lie there with your eyes open. That's the way I like it."

Marmot leaves Zombie Hotwife and heads over to chat with Jeff. He asks if he still wants to dive the following day in light of recent events. Jeff says that now they know where the safe is it should only take one more sojourn to get the diamonds. Marmot thinks that perhaps they should wait and try to get his wife to a doctor.

Speaking of Zombie Hotwife, now that she's alone she rises up from the bed and picks up a switchblade someone has carelessly and conveniently left on her side table and glides out of the room in search of someone to perforate with it.

The first door she comes to is the bedroom of the two Redshirt Sailors, and in the grand tradition of Redshirts the world over, one of them immediately takes a fatal jab to the heart. The other wakes up, leaps out of bed and shouts for help as Zombie Hotwife creeps around the corner of the bed with the knife raised, ready to log a second kill. He grabs a heavy candlestick and throws it square at her head, but it bounces right off with a clang like a hammer hitting an anvil.

Everybody knows she's got a strong head game.

Marmot and Jeff show up and try to hold her back. She turns and seems about to overpower them when suddenly Granny and Jan show up with a lit candelabra. Granny tells the Redshirt to light every candle in the room and uses them to force her back to the bed. Granny sends Jan to ask Sam to bring a shit-ton of candles and explains again how the zombies are afraid of fire because it's the only thing that can destroy them. I won't go into that shit again. That knowledge is wasted on fools, but still, this is a strong, tense sequence, and when we cut to Zombie Hotwife sitting up in bed, imprisoned by dozens of burning candles, we get the best shot in the entire movie.

That's some well-composed, authentically spooky shit right there.

Sadly the scene ends with a whimper. Jeff makes the seemingly nonsensical statement "If fire works here it'll work underwater, too!"

Yeah, I totally know what he means. He's talking about underwater arc torches. I've seen The Abyss (1989), hell, we've all seen The Abyss, but still...coming off the perfectly rendered, peak emotional terror of one of the best scenes in the picture, and with no immediate explanation as to what he's talking about it comes off at best as befuddling and at worst laughable. It would have had more impact if he'd just looked at the candles thoughtfully then had a silent "eureeka" moment in his head before cutting to the deck of the ship the following morning where he's explaining how they can use submersible torches to keep the zombies at bay while they work.

Instead we cut to Sam and a couple of Granny's servants building a bonfire in front of the tomb. Their plan is to keep the fire raging while Marmot and Jeff do their dive, theoretically trapping the zombies in their little stone house and allowing the salvage team to recover the diamonds without any further interference from them.

Marmot says he hopes there's no other way out of the tomb, which is maybe something they should have checked beforehand, and there's also no indication they've even looked to make sure the zombies are in there now. Who the fuck knows with these clowns.

This is a bad plan.

Now we finally get around to talking about welding equipment, specifically how Jeff will cut the safe open with one torch while Marmot stands guard with another, ready to brandish it in the face of any zombies that might show up to crash their party. I'm sure that will work out just fine.

Now we're back on the boat getting ready for the tandem dive, and with the tension ramping up Marmot and Jeff are getting a little tetchy with each other. Jeff makes the odd observation that it will soon be dark, meaning it took them the entire day to build one little fire and get back to the boat? Yeah, that's about par for the course for how the logic and continuity of this thing has devolved in the past twenty minutes.

Jeff heads into the water first and lands on the bottom right in front of the ship, followed shortly by Marmot...and now we have another little issue, in that the shielded metal arc weld torches divers use are represented here by plain old open-flame butane torches you might have used in metal shop class back in junior high school. I can maybe chalk this up to something audiences of the time would not have known enough about to question, but still that's not how diver's torches work, with just a regular old open flame blazing away under the water. Submersible torches make a blinding light and a shit-ton of gas bubbles, but neither of those things appear here.

As Jeff heads over to the safe to begin his work the zombies appear in the murky distance. So much for your dumb-ass bonfire, guys.

I told you it was a bad plan.

The zombies attack Marmot just as Jeff gets the safe open and grabs the casket of diamonds. After a brief struggle Marmot's leg has been wounded and he orders the crew to hoist him up. As his feet leave the sea-floor two grappling zombies latch on like plecos and ascend to the surface hanging from either side of him.

Jeff is meanwhile making his way out of the hold and is confronted by a trio of zombies who attempt to block his exit. He waves his little torch a few times and they back away. This didn't work for Marmot because he's a rodent, too small and fuzzy to be taken seriously whether he's weilding an open flame or not, but Jeff is a real live macho man.

Up above Marmot has surfaced with his zombies in tow and Eggert fires a flare to frighten them off, while down below Jeff is finally being overrun. The zombies know he has the diamonds now and they're all coming at him in force.

He tells the crew to send down the diver stage, hoping the additional hoisting capacity will provide a faster ascent. As he rises from the water a couple of the dead guys are grasping at him, frantically trying to pry the casket out of his hands.

Have I mentioned it's now pitch dark?

Another well-placed flare sends these two zombies into the water and Jeff pulls himself up onto the ship, but their ordeal is far from over.

All of the zombies begin climbing aboard now, over the railings and up the gangplank from the launch. Jeff sends Eggert into the cabin with Marmot and tells them to lock themselves in while the crew light torches to fight off the invaders. It's a well-staged, chaotic batttle and gives a real sense of the danger the zombies pose when gathered in force.


As the tide turns against them and the torches burn low most of the crew jump overboard and head for shore. In the end it's just Eggert, Jeff, Marmot and Crash Corrigan all locked up in the cabin together with the zombies banging on the door, walls and windows to get in.

"Excuse me, sir! Can we interest you in an extended car warranty?"

Jeff makes a torch out of a post, a cloth and some lighter fluid and says he'll bust out with the diamonds and make a break for it, hop in the launch and head for shore. He knows the zombies will follow the diamonds and with the deck cleared of them Marmot, Eggert and Corrigan can escape in the emergency dinghy then meet up with him later in Dakar. This places the action in Senegal, by the way, somewhere near the western-most point of the African coast.

Alas, a greedy man trusts no one. Marmot pulls out his gun and accuses Jeff of trying to take the diamonds so he can have them all for himself.

The zombies are breaking the windows now and Jeff has neither time nor tolerance for Marmot's paranoid bullshit. He knocks the gun out of his hand, punches him out, lights the torch and makes a mad dash for the boat. Sure enough the zombies follow him down the gangway and into the water as he speeds away towards shore.

Back out on deck Eggert tries to convince Marmot that Jeff isn't a thief, but a noble ally who just saved their lives, but Marmot cannot resist his own suspicious nature. He orders Corrigan--and one other sneaky mystery sailor we've never seen before who apparently didn't jump overboard with the others but also wasn't anywhere on deck or in the cabin during the attack--to lower the dinghy so they can head off after Jeff.

He must be very good at hide and seek.

Jeff arrives back at the dock to find Jan waiting for him. They run inside frantically, stopping just briefly to check on Hotwife. As soon as she sees the casket she becomes agitated and rises from her goose-down slab, but once standing she is unable to find a safe path through the many small but menacing flames.

She's well-known in BDSM circles for her "stern dominatrix" routine. Leather gear is optional.

Jeff and Jan leave Hotwife to her personal zombie purgatory and run into Granny's study, and the old lady's eyes just about pop out of their sockets when she sees the casket with the diamonds.

Big dumb Jeff cant figure out how to get into the thing but Granny reaches over impatiently and in about half a second she's found a secret lever. The lid pops open and the diamonds spill out in a heap on her desk. Jeff grabs a mighty useful and serendipitous scarf Jan just happens to be wearing on her head and ties the diamonds up in it. As for the casket, he has a plan for that...

Meanwhile Marmot, Eggert, Crash Corrigan and the Mystery Sailor glide up in the dinghy, the latter three wielding freshly-lit torches. Marmot orders the sailors to start the launch and be ready for a quick exit, but as soon as he and Eggert head up to the house Corrigan tells his pal that if the zombies come at them, they're leaving, with or without the boss.

I find this terrifying, but only because I can't stand being in wet clothes.

Marmot bursts into Granny's study with his gun. It seems to me he really needs to get a room with that thing the way he's always pulling it out and fondling it. He orders Jeff to give him the casket, saying he's going to take Hotwife and all the diamonds and leave him and Eggert and Jan and Granny there to rot. Jeff tells Jan to go ahead and hand the box over to him and Marmot slithers out, warning that he'll shoot anyone who tries to follow him.

Back in Hotwife's room Marmot is blowing out candles to make an escape path for her, taking care to keep one lit candle in his hand to hold her at bay as he entices her out of the house with the casket.

"It's your bronze dildo, darling. I had it shipped all the way from Chicago."

He leads her out to the launch where Corrigan and Mystery Sailor are still waiting, orders her into the launch and steps over to grab something from the dinghy. He looks up and sees the zombies shuffling out of the jungle and in his hurry he sets down the casket on the shore. Hotwife glides over, picks it up, clubs him over the head with it and turns to join her new zombie pals for a little diamond recovery repast or maybe an unctuous undead gang bang.

Jeff and Eggert come out just in time to see Hotwife and the rest of the zombie gang heading back into the Jungle. They run over to find Corrigan and Mystery Sailor crouched over Marmot trying to revive him, but it's too late for the shifty old cuck. He's dead.

"He always did like it rough."

Jeff tells the sailors to take the body back to the house, and once inside he tries to convince Granny that now that the zombies have the casket they'll probably just leave them all alone. As usual Granny knows better. As soon as they realize the diamonds aren't in the casket, she warns, "They'll be back."

Jeff asks a very pertinent question now that's been on my mind since about ten minutes into the movie: how could he possibly destroy the diamonds even if he wanted to? Granny tells him hey, no problem, bro, you just need to scatter them into the sea "where no man can find them," and that will for sure break the curse and free her husband.

To be clear we have no provenance for this statement, and it flies in the face of everyhting we've been told before. The movie has painted itself into a corner by repeatedly insisting in no uncertain terms that the diamonds must be destroyed. Now it seems the screenwriters have realized that's an impossible position in terms of resolving the plot so they've suddenly moved the goalposts to give themselves an out.

Jeff very reasonably suggests that he should simply flee with the gems to New York where he can rapidly turn them over for cash. After that they'll be scattered, cut and sold all over the world and the zombies will never be able to find them. Granny, ever the fatalist, insists they will follow him wherever he goes, and he will spend his remaining days hunted and haunted until they ultimately discover him and take their revenge.

"Jesus, Granny! Could you just lighten up for like five fucking minutes?"

Illogic aside, there's a sharply written, beautifully acted exchange here where Jeff asks Jan to come with him to New York, marry him, share the money and build a life together, but no matter how desperately she wants to say yes, she just can't leave Granny without bringing this horrible curse full circle. Jeff is really struggling, his desire for wealth locked in a tense tug-of-war with a blossoming love for Jan that seems to surprise him with its purity and intensity.

Granny insists that the zombies will disappear once the stones are cast away, that the poor, tormented souls of the crew and captain will finally find their rest. "You can't rob them of this!" she pleads. Jan exclaims that Granny has spent her entire life longing for this opportunity to free her husband from torment, exclaiming "You can't rob her of this!"

Jeff is truly torn, but he shamefully concludes that he simply doesn't have it in him to throw the diamonds away. "Maybe I wish I could," he says sadly, "but I'm taking them with me." Then he gets all butch and forceful, informing the two women that like it or not they're going with him, too, because it's far too dangerous for them to stay there in the house with all those zombies on the prowl.

This assumption doesn't pass the smell test, being as the zombies tend to follow the diamonds and know he's the one who took them, but we're so close to the end now I'm just gonna ignore that and carry on.

They all head out to the launch and climb in, and as they're getting ready to heave-to the zombies come marching out of the woods, Hotwife front and center with the empty casket.

Does no one involved in this production know how many makes ten?

Just to make things even more gut-wrenching for Granny, her husband comes toddling out on his own, away from the rest of the group, looking dead-eyed and sad, seemingly beseeching her to end his suffering...

...or maybe he just has gas. I might be reading too much into it.

When Jeff sees Granny's agonized tears he finally relents and hands her the diamonds, telling her "They're yours. Do what you want with them."

So...remember that huge plot sinkhole I told you about earlier? The one that opens up right under the final scene and sucks the entire movie into a vortex of stupid? Yeah, that's about to happen right now.

Granny, weeping with gratitude, opens up the scarf and throws the diamonds over the side of the boat, into maybe four feet of water and spread out in a radius of no more than a yard, and wonder of wonders! The voodoo curse is broken and all of the zombies vanish before their astonished, credulous eyes, leaving nothing but their crumpled clothing in little heaps scattered at the edge of the jungle.

The captain's duds look like they just came back from the dry cleaners.

Jeff shrugs and says "I'll probably never be rich again," but Jan doesn't care about living in poverty for the rest of her life with a burnt-out husk of a man who just barely missed the score of his life and has lost the will to succeed. She responds to his desperate declaration with a good old-fashioned, 1950's-style, face mashing kiss.

Much like a Dyson vaccuum cleaner, these two never lose suction.

The End.

Alright, that ending was shit and probably the dumbest voodoo curse-breaker ever put on celluloid. Rather than having been "destroyed" as we were originally told they must be, or even "scattered where no man can reach them" as the revised version would have us believe, they're now literally the most vulnerable they've ever been, resting just a few feet below the surface of chest-high water and ripe for the picking. With the zombies gone for good all Jeff would have to do now is grab a flashlight, jump in and pick them up out of the muck with his bare hands. He wouldn't even need a goddamned snorkel.

I liked this film a lot, I really did. It started out super-strong and had such a "little-engine-that-could" attitude that I found myself rooting for it even as it crumbled into chaos before my ever-loving eyes. In fact I still have such warm feelings for it that I'm just gonna go ahead and fix it for you now.

Remember back when I said the massive, inexcusable plot hole could easily be avoided if only Baldie Zombie had led Jeff back to the temple from which the diamonds were originally stolen instead of to some stupid crypt in a random writer's crutch of a cemetery? Well, picture this:

The stone temple is overgrown with vegetation, nearly inaccessible except for a single portal nearly choked shut with thick vines. Jeff creeps inside to find a cobwebbed chamber, dimly lit by moonlight shining through hundreds of cracks in the ceiling above. Scattered debris litters the floor, and through the dust and grime he sees an empty altar towards the back of the chamber, in front of which is a big slab with a channel leading to circular pit or well at the center of the room. Even after decades of decay the channel is still stained with the blood of the sacrificial victims, perhaps captured enemies, who were ritually slaughtered by the tribe who once worshipped here. In the curved wall behind the altar are ten alcoves, and in all but one there stands one of the zombie sailors.

To his horror, Jeff sees that Jan is laid out on the slab, and that Baldie is standing over her about to deliver a death blow. Thinking fast, he fires his flare. It glances off Baldie's head, careening to the space behind the altar and illuminating the room with its welcome and protective light.

The concussion of the flare has caused some of the rickety stonework to shift, and a few bricks fall from the ceiling, dropping perilously past his head as he swoops in to rescue Jan.

Now you can see where I'm going with this, right? Instead of having to destroy or scatter the diamonds they would have to be returned to the altar, something which the zombies would have done for themselves if the casket hadn't been stuck inside a safe at the bottom of the bay for six and a half decades. We'd need to shift a few things around in the middle act, lose the dumb-ass bonfire, maybe add a few scenes where one or two of the zombies are actually set ablaze, but all of the best parts could easily and seamlessly be worked into this new paradigm.

The climax would involve the zombies going apeshit and attacking the house because they know the diamonds are inside, and the remaining protagonists giving up on their dreams of fabulous wealth in an effort to save their hides. A desperate gambit to return the gems would ensue, and the final chase would lead to Jeff, Eggert and Crash Corrigan being inside the temple, the latter two firing guns and flares to hold the zombies at bay as Jeff tries to get the gems back to the altar. He'd finally get the casket in place, and the zombies would turn to dust before a grateful Granny's eyes.

I know what you're thinking, though...couldn't Jeff just grab the diamonds again now that the zombies are gone, cash 'em out, marry Jan and fill a palatial mansion with little Janlets and Jefflets for Granny to traumatize with her terrifying tales of African voodoo? Sure he could...but I'm not gonna let 'em off that easy because I'm a dick.

It seems the recent stresses of flares and gunfire have caused the temple to suffer a catastrophic structural failure, as the smaller tremors and falling rocks in previous scenes will have amply foreshadowed. A big stone falls from the ceiling and tips the altar forward, sending the casket into the bottomless well, and Jeff & company just barely make it out, empty-handed but alive, before the entire place collapses into utter, inaccessible ruin.

Maybe Crash Corrigan dies in the temple from a brick to the head, though because fuck Crash Corrigan and his stupid ape suit, but Eggert definitely survives because somebody has to write the book the movie is based on.

I suppose Jeff and Jan can still go off and make some babies if they want to. I think they've probably earned it.

Final Observations:

--Zombies of Mora Tau was the first of five films Edward L. Cahn directed in 1957. The others are Voodoo Woman, Dragstrip Girl, Invasion of the Saucermen and Motorcycle Gang.

--Hotwife (whose proper name in the film is Mona Harrison) is played by Allison Hayes, best remembered today as the titular giant in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).

--This film is considered significant for its transitional depiction of zombies on-screen. The semi-autonomous, shambling hulks of Zombies of Mora Tau form a conceptual bridge between the drug-and-voodoo-induced slaves of early films like White Zombie (1932) and Revolt of the Zombies (1936), and the mindless but fully autonomous flesh-eating hordes of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968).

--Despite taking place in Africa there is only one non-white person in the entire film...possibly. One of the zombies appears to be played by an uncredited actor of Hispanic descent.

--Zombies of Mora Tau was Edward L. Cahn's 89th directorial project out of a total of 128.

The Italian release poster is pretty bangin', no?

As always, cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in May, 2021.

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