Sun 15 Jan 2017
DEATH CURSE OF TARTU. Thunderbird International Pictures, 1966. Fred Piñero, Babbette Sherrill, Bill Marcus, Mayra Gómez. Screenwriter-director: William Grefe.
To say that Death Curse of Tartu was made outside the Hollywood system is an understatement. Not only was this low budget horror film made outside of Hollywood, it was made way outside the State of California. This isn’t a West Coast production or even an independent New York film. This is a Florida production through and through.
The product of cult film writer-director William Grefe, Death Curse of Tartu is the type of movie specifically tailored for the drive-in impresario attempting to bring in a swath of teenage spectators.
Filmed in the Florida Everglades, this cheap production features a cast of relative unknowns, some of whom are far better actors than the others. It’s the type of movie that is valuable for the independent spirit behind it rather than for the admittedly low-rent finished product.
The plot? It’s easily summed up in one sentence. A group of archaeology students and their teacher travel deep in the Everglades, disturb the sacred burial ground of a witch doctor (that would be Tartu), and suffer the consequences for their sacrilegious foolishness.
If you turned on the movie in the middle, though, you wouldn’t have the faintest idea that these teenagers were being attacked by an Indian witch doctor. That’s because Tartu is able to take the form of wild animals. Pretty creative. Also, it was a great way to save money on special effects and make up.
But I shouldn’t be so hard on Death Curse of Tartu. There’s spunk in it and some genuine heart behind it, and you do finally get to see Tartu in action. It’s just that there’s a lot of dead time (pun intended) where not much at all happens. And the soundtrack — if it could be called that — is about the most mind-numbing, repetitive thing I’ve encountered lately.