Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

There really wasn’t a whole lot to this movie – a few people running from animals in the swamps for almost an hour and a half, but the one thing I was really struck by was that this was one of those rare cases where the acting actually got worse as the movie went along.

Early on, when these people weren’t required to do more than exchange pleasantries with their cowardly, I mean superstitious, Indian guide, they were stiff, but barely passable.

By the time they were being chased up trees by alligators and getting heaved into quick sand by Indian ghosts, their terrified screams were about as convincing as when the guy in charge of the expedition (composed of three couples more concerned with making out, go go dancing and swimming than anything else) announces that translating the ancient Indian scrawls on this dumb rock won’t be as easy as translating Latin, but he’ll get to work on it that night and should have it deciphered by the morning.

After a few guys try to raid Tartu’s tomb with disastrous results, we meet Sam and his wussy Indian buddy Billy. Billy is one of those guys who still lets the old ways dictate how he lives. While Sam is all about desecrating the ancient burial site of some 400 year old witch doctor, Billy is all about whining about war drums and ghosts and stuff.

To really show how out of touch with reality Billy is, he manages to wear the ugliest shirt not of Hawaiian origin that you’ll ever see. It really conveyed that whole “I’ll provide my own wardrobe” vibe you get in such low-rent do-it-yourself affairs.

Billy drops off Sam and slinks back to civilization while Sam goes about setting up camp. The rest of the party will arrive in the morning.

Sam starts to hear some war drums and thinks it’s probably just the wind or indigestion or something. He digs up the rock with the legend of Tartu on it and the next thing we know, he’s being stalked by a really big snake. What follows is lots of scenes of Sam wandering around the woods with his rifle interspersed with shots of this snake slithering around doing evil stuff like tipping over his coffee pot before the snake finally attacks him from the snake’s hideout in a tree.

In the morning, the rest of the crew arrive. Ed and Julie are the leaders of the group and you’ll be able to recognize them because Ed is decked out in his Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom brand safari outfit, while Julie is wearing a skirt and go-go boots which is the recommended attire for young ladies tromping around the mushy Everglades. The other four are pretty much interchangeable and are clearly there just to keep Tartu occupied while Ed and Julie figure out how to destroy him.

They set up camp where Sam left his crap and periodically wonder whatever became of Sam, but it isn’t long before everyone but Ed and Julie are down by the lake roasting marshmallows, necking and doing some really inept dancing to some really inept music.

Tartu is one of those monsters that doesn’t like being ignored (If you’re going to disturb my eternal slumber, get on with it!) and turns himself into a shark (all that occurs off screen of course) and eats some of the group.

Tartu’s power as a witch doctor apparently involves manifesting himself as animals that have no business in the Everglades and arguably animals that Tartu probably never knew existed when he lived a billion years ago. (There was also some talk that he once turned into a tiger, but that must have been beyond the budget so we just heard about it.)

The four survivors decide that they should leave the Everglades but as luck would have it, someone has destroyed their getaway boats, so they decide that the guy who isn’t Ed should go the twenty-five miles for help.

He says he’s the perfect candidate because of track practice. Yeah, I liked all those track practices where you stumbled around a swamp and tripped a lot. I also liked the track practices where this snake puppet attacked you.

Tartu likes to show us something different each go round, so it was a smaller, more lethal snake that was biting this kid, but whenever they had to have the snake actually strike at this dude, you just knew someone was standing off camera jabbing this snake on a stick at him. Funny stuff.

Tartu also gets off a funny moment when we hear the drums playing and we flash to Tartu’s tomb and he’s laying in his coffin rocking back and forth in rhythm. (It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it – I’d give those war drums an eight, Dick.)

Tartu was sort of neat looking, all rotted and wearing a head band, but when he and Ed have it out in the tomb, they turn him into a young Indian warrior. That was pretty lame since I was looking forward to an Indian mummy doing a war dance all over these nitwits.

Tartu promptly forgets all about his various super powers once he throws down with Ed and Julie, resorting to a klutzy fist fight with Ed and actually getting backhanded by him a couple of times.

Outside the tomb he chases Julie down and shakes a log she’s standing on so that she falls into some quicksand. Whatever happened to that whole gimmick where you turned into savage beasts? Why are you pushing people off of logs?

The movie sounds a lot more fun than it really was. Truth be told, it was fairly innocuous and you do get another movie on the DVD (Sting Of Death), but it was really just rudimentary stalk and chase stuff. You don’t really get much of Tartu, except for reaction shots. Save your wampum.

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