I was going to title this piece “Death Curse of Tartu OR I Didn’t Feel Like Watching the One About the Jellyfish Man” but that’s quite a mouthful, and let’s be honest: I’m not very funny. I was pretty unenthused about popping this one in, but in the best interests of our readership I toughed it out – and I liked it. Death Curse of Tartu turned out to be a surprisingly amusing waste of 90 minutes or so despite my shitty attitude and lack of vigor for the endeavor. Besides, the poster proclaims “This is horror!” – why would they lie?
The story goes: an archaeologist discovers an ancient Indian burial mound of a “witch-doctor” named Tartu, who has left a curse for anyone disturbing his resting place. The curse warns that Tartu will come back from the dead in the form of various animals and dispatch the interlopers with a vengeance. Fair enough. Said archaeologist is quickly shuffled off of this mortal coil via a humongous snake. Soon after, a professor of archaeology (and colleague of archaeologist #1) with students and wife in tow embark to meet the late explorer at his encampment for some super fun learning about rocks and old dead shit. Finding the camp in disarray the group is naturally concerned, but not so much as to keep them from fucking off to the “lake” and roast marshmallows (this entails the teen students making out and dancing to the radio). Needless to say, Tartu is not pleased and sends his animal spirits or whatever they are to take them out one by one. That giant fucking snake aside (an admittedly impressive scene), expect to see teens getting eaten by a shark (yes, in the everglades…) and another one bitten a multitude of times by a regular-sized poisonous snake (the face bite was my favorite), another assaulted by an alligator – you get the picture. The message is clear: don’t piss off Tartu!
Death Curse of Tartu is as inane as it is entertaining. Director William Grefe is no stranger to cheapie B-movie trash and has contributed more than his fair share of ridiculous oddities to the oeuvre of cult cinema. Judging from titles like Sting of Death and Mako: the Jaws of Death (I sense a theme!) they’re just as fun as this one. Girls dance around in their bikinis and dry-hump preppie college boys, the kills are sometimes unequivocally nasty looking and the effects are a lot better than one would expect. Throw in a reasonably short runtime and decent pacing and there’s not really a ton to complain about – unless you have a problem with misogyny and the deprecation of women (this was 1966 after all). In fact every single woman in this film is shown to be beyond useless; screaming and fainting at the slightest provocation, offering advice only to be laughed at or shot down by the manly men in their midst. They look really nice in bikinis though.
Cleverly using well-placed stock footage for the majority of the animal attacks coupled with some props that range from ludicrous (the floppy shark fin) or quite good (that poisonous snake was pretty deadly looking), it is inevitable that the real thing comes into play. These were namely the scenes involving the giant python and the alligator. Fortunately, neither of these creatures are killed/mauled/dismembered in any way in the film (I was SURE they were gonna kill that fucking python), so there’s no need to avoid this one for fear of any apparent animal bullshit.
The acting as can be expected is beyond appalling, and proves to be an added amusement – in particular the professor as he constantly fumbles his lines and looks completely bewildered as to what to do next; the rest of the cast aren’t much better. Despite the lack of acting talent involved, the film still has a certain 60s charm to it which certainly doesn’t hurt.
Death Curse of Tartu is a fun diversion, provided one doesn’t have any misgivings that this is anything but a schlocky z-grade crapfest. Just sit back and enjoy the idiocy.
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