Death Curse of Tartu/Sting of Death (1966/1965)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 4, 2010  | 
Something Weird Video (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0 Mono. 164 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: William Grefe
Starring: Fred Pinero, Babette Sherrill, Bill Marcus, Mayra Gomez, Doug Hobart; Joe Morrison, Valerie Hawkins, John Vella, Jack Nagle, Doug Hobart
Screenplay: William Grefe; Al Dempsey
Country: USA
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Straight from the Florida Everglades to you comes this fantastically fun double bill from the evil geniuses at Something Weird Video. I honestly can't remember having this much of a good time watching low budget creature features in a long time – let me tell you why.

Death Curse of Tartu

Tartu is a 400 year old shape-shifting mummified Seminole Indian medicine man who hasn't quite worked out that being dead involves lying down and not moving – or killing people with tomahawks, or other more inventive means. Mind you, since his lonely last resting place in the middle of the Everglades seems to be perennially over-run with archaeologists, you can hardly blame him for getting up and demanding some peace and quiet.

I never fail to be amazed in horror films at the stupidity of the so-called rational characters. We've already seen, in the opening fifteen minutes of the film, two archaeologists scoff at local legends among the Native Americans concerning Tartu's ghost, and where are they? Dead. Now a third party turn up, and what are they doing? Mocking the beliefs of Billy, their Native guide. Idiots. It always pays to listen to native legend, and the legend is that Tartu cursed his burial mound – if anyone disturbs it, he'll come back from the dead as a wild animal and kill them. That curse seems pretty effective to me, having seen what it's capable of already.

Still, our foolhardy archaeologists proceed into the Everglades, even despite the fact they have no guide – Billy's no idiot after all, and pays attention to his peoples' stories about the area. Our archaeologists on the other hand… So they've managed to work out that their advance party is no longer about, but don't seem all that worried about Dr Gunther's fate, preferring to make out, go-go dance and roast marshmallows instead. Tartu obviously feels this indignity deeply – hey, you imagine teenyboppers dry-humping on your grave listening to their terminally shit music – I think you'd be annoyed, too. I know I would be. Mind you, I probably wouldn't turn myself into a shark and try to eat people.

Finally, after two more deaths, our dim-witted heroes decide it might actually be time to bug out for the dug out. Unfortunately, their air-boats are screwed and the sound of drums which has been ever-present since their arrival gets louder – that's not a good thing for our heroes, especially when one of their number has decided to trek the 25 miles back to civilization through the swamps of Florida. Tartu's not that likely to let him off so lightly.

Eventually it dawns on our dwindling amount of lame-brained archaeologists that it's time to bring the game back to Tartu, and they set off to find his burial chamber, which is when the fun and games really begin. I'll let you find out the rest of what's going on when you watch it.

Essential viewing? Not by any means. But a fun, somewhat overly-padded matinee-style romp through genre conventions via rubber monsters, heavy-handed use of stock footage, bad acting and cliché dialogue? You bet! And you'll be all the richer as a human being once you've experienced the Death Curse of Tartu.

Sting of Death

Oh right, so you're telling me that you don't want to watch a movie that features a villain who's half-man, half-jellyfish? Well, I don't believe you.

Somehow with Sting of Death, director William Grefe managed to shoehorn in all of the elements that made 50s and 60s drive-in sci-fi horror films the awesome contribution to western civilization that they so truly are. There's a mutant bad-guy who's after women to take back to his secret lair, hot chicks in swimming costumes, a square-jawed hero, an elderly scientist, clueless coppers, teens in trouble, bad fight scenes, expository dialogue, bad dancing and pop songs. While we might be missing Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, we do get the novelty pop song "Do The Jellyfish", sung by Neil Sedaka (I wonder how his agent convinced him to do this one).

The basic idea is pretty simple: down in Florida a trio of marine biologists are doing some miscellaneous experiments on a whole bunch of sea-borne critters, one of whom has a particular yen for trying to genetically alter the size of the Portuguese Man O' War, a decidedly venomous form of jellyfish. What I love about this is that there is no point to that experiment whatsoever.

But there's a problem, y'see – something horrible is lurking in the Everglades, something that can kill folks in a way that's similar to the sting of a jellyfish, but is much larger. I mean a jellyfish couldn't grow to the size of a man, surely? Like fuck! Of course it can, and you can see it in the opening five minutes of the film. It is a triumph of special effects with holes in the suit you can see the actor through, and a head that looks like the Jellyfish Dude is wearing a jumbo-sized see-through plastic garbage bag. Wisely, the director keeps most shots of jellyfish-man from the neck down.

Anyhoo, a bunch of pretty young co-eds turn up to the island the boffins are performing their experiments on, and it would appear that our Jellyfish Dude is rather smitten with the lovely Karen, and has some evil jellyfishy designs upon her. Karen, however, has designs upon the square-jawed hero. More people start turning up dead bearing the strange jellyfish-like markings. Not surprisingly, people get nervous. And when people get nervous, what do they do? They throw a wild drunken party, of course! A boat load of college students (read: victims) turn up like a limp-wristed version of Animal House, proceed to get drunk, dance, pick on the local disfigured man, be generally obnoxious and, thankfully, die. Y'see, Jellyfish Dude can actually control other jellyfish (not the most useful form of mind control out there), kind of like Aquaman, or more coolly, Black Manta. Except as a jellyfish. Ahem.

One by one our initial cast of landlubber lovelies are being picked off by Jellyfish Dude, as their search for him proves futile – what's great here is the fact that the gals and the scientists indulge in all the types of behaviour in a horror film destined to shorten your life-span: go off on your own, hang around in the dark, nude up, act in a way that goes against a squeaky clean image or traditional family values. Death can only be seconds away…

And Jellyfish Dude gets ever closer to taking lovely young Karen back to his secret underwater lair, the fishy bastard! Can the square-jawed hero save her? Will the Jellyfish Dude be able to settle down to spawn human/jellyfish hybrid kids? Will the rhetorical questions ever end? Honestly, this film was all kinds of fun. It's got a weird kind of innocent charm, amongst all the killings and some moments of nastiness, that movies today just simply cannot achieve. I do love a creature feature, and while this one has about all the intellectual pretentions of an episode of The Teletubbies, it entertained me in a way I haven't been entertained for quite some time – reminded me of what seeing films like this was like back when I was a kid. Sting Of Death is no-one's idea of a classic, but man, it's a fun, fun ride, kinda like watching an old episode of TV's Batman. If you can watch this and not have it put a big ol' smile on your face, there's something deeply and fundamentally wrong with you.

While I was watching Sting of Death, it reminded me a little of its aquatic cousin Octaman. But where that film simply wanted to make me pry my own eyes out, Sting of Death made me want to cheer. While both movies deal with some similar themes and content, and each in a breath-takingly low budget fashion, for some inexplicable reason Sting of Death works. It entertains (and how!) and manages to prove that it's not what you've got to work with, it's how you use it that counts.
The video quality of Death Curse of Tartu isn't the best – while it's generally glitch-free, it's a soft full-frame image. Sting of Death fares better, apparently re-mastered from an original 35mm negative. It's by no means perfect, but has greater clarity and definition than its partner.
Serviceable on both films is about the most complimentary I can be, but given their age and nature as low budget horror films, I was hardly likely to be getting 6.1 DTS now, was I?
Extra Features
Something Weird never disappoint on their Special Editions and this is no exception. First and foremost, you get audio commentaries on both films by director William Grefe. There's a mess of Grefe trailers, too: The Jaws of Death, Racing Fever, Sting of Death, Stanley, The Wild Rebels and Death Curse of Tartu. You lucky people also get the opportunity to sing-along-a-Neil with the lyrics to "Do The Jellyfish" being included on the insert, and there are two short features also included on the disc, Love Goddesses of Blood Island (thirty or so minutes of it anyway, with the involvement of Sting of Death's producer, Richard S Flink – and enjoyably silly and surprisingly gory it seemed to be, too) and Miami Or Bust!, a strange little travelogue kind of number mixed with some nudie dancing girl action – the kind of thing you'd only ever find on a Something Weird disc. Mind you, the dancing girl looks about as feminine as Divine.

Hmm, the cover of the DVD promised me a "Gallery of Horror Drive-In Exploitation Art" and some "Horrorama Radio Spot Rarities", but I couldn't find them anywhere on the disc.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I can't tell you where the line is drawn between "so bad it's good" and just simply "so bad". Sure, the films presented here might be rudimentary in many regards, and will certainly provoke howls of laughter, but such is their charm that you'll be laughing with the films, rather than at them. Like I was saying before, there's a certain innocence and optimism to them, a naivete if you like, that makes them a great amount of fun viewing to be had by the discerning fan of trashy horror films from years gone by. You should pick up this two-fer and revel in it.

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