Welcome to the weird world of low-budget Florida-based filmmaker William Grefe, whose Everglades-lensed movies are always interesting. Not necessarily good mind you, but interesting. Still, the man did the best he could with what little resources he had. One of his most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) films is the 1966 shocker DEATH CURSE OF TARTU.
DEATH CURSE OF TARTU concerns a husband-and-wife team of archeologists and their students searching for a missing colleague. The teens want to “go down to the lake and roast marshmallows” (and engage in some energetic frugging and heavy necking!), when they stumble on the crypt of Tartu, an ancient Indian “witch doctor”, and his curse. Soon, teens begin to drop like swamp flies as shape-shifting Tartu turns into a snake, shark and alligator, until the lead archeologist translates the ancient tablet, and discovers the only way to break the curse is by destroying Tartu’s remains…
I can see how DEATH CURSE OF TARTU has had an influence on all those slasher flicks to come, with the teens getting picked off one by one in some fairly gruesome (for the time) ways. My favorite is the swamp-shark attack, and even though, as one teen puts it, “Sharks don’t live in fresh water”, it’s a neat little set-piece. The 400-year-old “witch doctor” himself isn’t very scary in the flesh, but when he turns into a swamp creature, look out! The film was initially released as a double feature with another Grefe epic, STING OF DEATH, involving a mutated jellyfish and allegedly cowritten by another maverick filmmaker, Herschell Gordon Lewis!
Grefe’s filmography includes the biker flick THE WILD REBELS, the druggie drama THE HOOKED GENERATION (with biker/western vet Jeremy Slate), the sleazy THE NAKED ZOO (starring of all people Rita Hayworth alongside the rock band Canned Heat!), the WILLARD-with snakes shocker STANLEY, the psycho-killer classic IMPULSE (with William Shatner as a leisure-suited murderer!), and the aptly-titled JAWS rip-off MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH. He also did the underwater shark scenes for the James Bond adventure LIVE AND LET DIE, which is probably his greatest contribution to cinema.
DEATH CURSE OF TARTU isn’t all that coherent, and I was annoyed by a few things in the film, like the constant drumbeats-and-chanting coming from nowhere, and the constant screaming of annoying teen Cindy (though I did love it when Annoying Cindy was mercifully chomped to death by that gator!). But as a proto-slasher movie, it deserves a small amount of credit, as does William Grefe himself, a man with a dream to make his movies his way, without the benefit of a large budget (or any budget, for that matter!). In that respect, Mr. Grefe was a success.
5 Replies to “Halloween Havoc!: DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (Thunderbird International 1966)”
Reblogged this on Through the Shattered Lens.
Hehe I’ve never heard of this guy before but man oh man I’m so glad you shone a light on him . Not only does all his movies sound completely insane I can’t believe he worked on Live and Let Die. One of my favourite Bonds.
PS Hope you are OK Gary? Not seen you in these parts for a while? All the best dude… Mikey
Hi, Mikey. My name’s Lisa. Gary was a contributor to a film site for which I also write. I’m sad to say that Gary passed away on October 5th but I know he would have appreciated your comment. I know he really loved writing the reviews for this site and that his “regular” readers meant a lot to him. He was a great guy and I know the entire online film blogging community is going to miss him. All the best, Lisa.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh that is truly so very sad to hear. Thank you for letting me know Lisa. I had began to worry not seeing around recently. Yes you are so right, he will be much missed within the film blogging community. I’ve done a little tribute to him. All the best … Mikey
I was devastated to read this message yesterday, Lisa. But thank you for letting us know. He was a lovely man with a real passion for classic cinema. He was always supportive of me from the earliest days of my blog. I am going to miss him so much.