Oct 2, 2010

Death Curse of Tartu (1967)

Over the years I've retained a certain fondness for this horror flick after my single viewing, and some of that appeal is retained in slightly more mature eyes. In this tale, four archeology students on assignment in the Everglades unwittingly disturb the resting place of the medicine man Tartu. First he summons sharks, snakes and crocodiles to dispatch of these insensitive kids who awakened him with their rock and roll music, before doing the job himself.

This $27,000 wonder, written in a 24-hour fever and shot in 10 days, well, has the earmarks of a $27,000 movie written in 24 hours and shot in 10 days. The acting, particularly of the students, is atrociously overplayed. The movie is relentlessly padded for feature length, featuring two early scenes, each featuring a hunter who likewise disturbs Tartu's holy rest and suffer the consequences. One wonders if they had some previously shot nature footage and decided to wrap a narrative around it. Witness the hilarious scene where a croc "attacks" one of the students. Stock footage of a crocodile is ineptly edited with cut-ins of an obviously rubber croc chomping on a limb.

But still, this movie has an odd charm. Among the first of writer-director Willam Grefe's several horror films depicting the misfortunes of people who battle nature (Stanley; Jaws of Death), Death Curse of Tartu is fun to watch, in spite of how woefully padded the movie is. Despite the ultra-low budget and the choppy editing, the movie is well-shot, and the scenes of Tartu quivering in his grave are amazingly creepy.

This picture was rushed into production to serve as a co-feature with Sting of Death, featuring a human-sized jellyfish monster attacking boaters. Perhaps Tartu is the more satisfying film, if because it doesn't rely on a ridiculous looking monster to deliver the thrills. While William Grefe would do better films in his native Florida, (once seen, the Bill Shatner epic Impulse is never forgotten), this remains an amiable piece of drive-in filler.

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