Saturday, August 12, 1978: Mothra (1961) / Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)

Synopsis: A typhoon rages off the coast of Japan, and a maritime monitoring station notes that one ship, the Genjin Maru, is caught near the center of the storm. When the crew finds the nearest island on the charts, they realize it is Biru Island, which had previously been used as a test site for nuclear weapons by the powerful nation of Rolisica and is considered deadly. However, with the vessel foundering, the captain has no choice but to tell the crew to abandon ship.

After the storm has passed helicopters scour the area, looking for survivors. Four men are picked up on a beach at Biru Island.

After the men are retrieved, they are kept in an isolation ward in the hospital complex. The four men appear to be in perfect health, though they should all be dead. Newspaper reporter Fukada (Furanki Sakai) — known as “Snapping Turtle” ( or “Bulldog” in the English dub) because of his tenacity — asks the men why they aren’t feeling any ill effects, and one of them says it must have been the juice they drank, given to them by the natives on the island.

This causes enormous consternation, because the island is not only supposed to be completely uninhabited, but uninhabitable as well. An expedition to the island is organized. Camera-shy scientist Dr. Chujo Nazako (Hiroshi Koizumi) is set to accompany the expedition, and Fukada and photographer Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagana) visit him in his home, and despite his icy demeanor, Fukada manages to befriend him by rescuing a pet mouse lost by one of his kids.

No reporters are allowed on the expedition, but Fukada stows away on the ship and by the time he’s discovered it’s too late to send him back ashore. The trip is financed by the oily Rolisican emissary Nelson (Jerry Ito), who would just as soon throw Fukada overboard, but the scientists on board — even though they have little sway over Nelson — lobby for Fukada to be allowed to join the shore party and chronicle the events that unfold.

mothra2

The island proves to be very dangerous place, with perils up to and including carnivorous plants, but the most astonishing discovery is two very tiny women who speak in unison. Seeing the potential of exploiting them, Nelson returns to Japan with the two girls and places them in (what else) a popular nightclub act. The girls are lowered to the stage in a tiny golden carriage, where they sing sad songs that repeatedly use the word “Mosura”

Fukada, Michi, Chujo and his mouse-owning son get in to see the girls, who are being held captive by Nelson in his nightclub. The girls are not worried about themselves, but they do express some concern for their friends. Their protector is a giant caterpillar called Mothra, with whom they are telepathically linked; and it’s only a matter of time before it will arrive in Tokyo and tear it apart until the girls are returned….

Comments: Mothra represented  a new twist on the giant monster genre when it premiered in 1961: unlike Gojira (1954) and Rodan (1956), it wasn’t an extinct creature thrust into the 20th century, eager to mete out destruction. Rather, Mothra’s only aim is retrieving the twin fairies who have been stolen from Biru Island and thus restoring the balance to a world that had been thrown out of order by human machinations — not the least of which is the nuclear tests which have poisoned the environment. Thus all the destruction that occurs in the film is the fault of the greedy Nelson, who embodies all the worst traits of “Rolisica” — a country that, while fictional, was clearly modeled on the United States.

Japan is depicted as under the thumb of the powerful but immoral Rolisica, but always manages to retain the high ground. Throughout the film the Japanese are presented as unfailingly wise and reasonable, free of the ruinous devotion to profit that has tainted Nelson and his fellow gangsters (in the end they are revealed as no more than gangsters) who destroyed Biru island with atomic tests and who now seek to exploit the fairies. This is the first overtly political entry of Toho’s kaiju movies (and the last until 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: All-Out Giant Monster Attack, in which giant monsters are depicted as a curse brought on by Japan by war crimes against her neighbors in the 1930s and 40s). It’s also the first kaiju film to depict the monster as a hero, defending the good guys instead of just destroying cities.

mothra6

Speaking of good guys, we have a pretty winning cast at work in Mothra, with the beefy Furanki Masai standing out as the “Snapping Turtle” reporter who won’t let go of a story. Chujo is played by Hiroshi Koizumi, who would appear in a number of kaijus and who gets some funny moments as the scientist afraid of having his picture taken (“the sound of the shutter clicking is to me like the sound of the guillotine”, he says uncomfortably).

Kyoko Kagana’s Michi is one of a long line of female sidekicks to the hero that inhabit this sort of film — not quite a romantic interest, more like a kid sister tagging along with the hero. She doesn’t get many good lines here, but she makes them count, particularly her rejoinder to Chujo’s guillotine line. She holds up her cigarette lighter / camera and tells him, “Unlike the guillotine, you can’t always tell when you’re picture’s been taken.”

Yumi and Emi Ito were popular twin singers of the time who were billed as “The Peanuts” and who were splendidly cast here as the twin fairies. They weren’t really called upon to do much in the way of acting, but they were able to say their lines precisely in unison, which isn’t as easy as it looks. The two would return for Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964) and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964).

Zombies of Mora Tau

Zombies_of_Mora_Tau_poster

Synopsis: Young Jan Peters (Autumn Russell) has just arrived in Africa, on her way to visit her grandmother’s estate. Less than a mile from the house, a man wanders out into the road and tries to stop the car she’s riding in. Driver Sam (Gene Roth)  does not stop and runs him over. Jan is appalled, and when they arrive she tells grandmother Peters (Marjorie Eaton) what happened. Sam says pointedly that it was someone “with seaweed on him”. On hearing Sam’s account, Grandmother Peters tells Jan that there was no one in the road, and she should forget that the incident occurred.

Meanwhile, a team of treasure hunters has just arrived by ship off the coast. They are led by Harrison (Joel Ashley), his wife Mona (Alison Hayes), diver Jeff Clark (Gregg Palmer) and Dr. Jonathan Eggert (Morris Ankrum). They are specialists in salvaging shipwrecks, and they hope to locate the wreck of the Susan B, lost off the coast of Senegal some 60 years ago and which they believe contains a box containing a fortune in diamonds. Drinking heavily, Harrison promises to shower Mona in diamonds when their work is done, but Mona seems only interested in Jeff — and doesn’t seem to care if Harrison knows it.

Suddenly, one of the crew is pulled overboard by a man who has climbed up to the ship from the water. George shoots at the intruder, to no seeming effect. The intruder escapes and the crewman is found floating in the water, dead from a broken neck.

Back at the Peters estate, Jan sees her grandmother standing outside staring out at the water. In the darkness Jan thinks she sees a man slipping back under the waves. But grandmother says she has been watching to ship anchored offshore. “After what happened to you on the road,” Grandmother Peters says, “I knew they would be here tonight.”

A launch from the boat arrives. Harrison and company are greeted by Grandmother Peters, and it becomes clear that she has been anticipating their arrival. “I wrote to you and warned you not to come,” she says, but Harrison’s group rejects this as so much superstition. They want the police to investigate the death of their crewman, but Grandmother Peters tells them the police are far away, and could do nothing in any case. Harrison decides to bury the body in the cemetery on the Peters estate.

zombiesgravehayes

At the cemetery, grandmother leads them on a tour of the graveyard. There were six expeditions to recover the diamonds over the years, she says, and all those who took part in those expeditions are buried here. So sure is she of the current group’s fate that she has had graves already dug for Harrison’s team. “She’s just trying to scare us,” Harrison says.

Later, Grandmother Peters tells Dr. Egger that the captain of the Susan B was her own husband, and that she still sees him, even though he has been dead for sixty years….

Comments: Edward L. Cahn was a prolific B-movie director who is probably best known for the genre efforts It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) and Invisible Invaders (1959). Like the latter film, Zombies of Mora Tau features the walking dead shambling around killing people. But while Invisible Invaders falls into the mainstream of 1950s sci fi (the zombies were corpses reanimated by aliens who sought to use them as an invading army, as in Plan 9 From Outer Space from the same year) Zombies of Mora Tau is much more old-fashioned, a throwback to the horror films of the 1930s and 40s.  We have treasure hunters, an unspecified region of Africa (though local place names suggest Senegal), a canny old woman nursing a secret, and a zombie crew guarding their cargo long after they themselves have stopped collecting paychecks.

zombiesmoratau3

Like many zombie movies this one requires a cast large enough to get whittled down steadily over its running time. And like many zombie movies, the result is characters who are only ciphers. The only member of the cast who commands your attention is Alison Hayes, who would star in Nathan Juran’s Attack of the 50-Foot Woman the following year. Autumn Russell and Gregg Palmer are far too dull to matter and their budding romance seems perfunctory. Morris Ankrum — more than welcome in any movie – is unfortunately wasted in the part of the ineffectual Dr. Eggert, whose main function is to dispense expository information.

The movie sees the zombies basically as an obstacle to be overcome in recovering the diamonds, and to be honest, they are overcome a little too easily. But in the main this is a solid little programmer, one that fits right in the Horror Incorporated wheelhouse, though viewers would not be blamed for thinking it’s a much older movie than it first appears.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.