Monday, September 14, 2015

Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

They say the past was a simpler time, free of all the modern hustle and bustle and stress. The 1960s, for example, was a much simpler time, as shown in the movie Death Curse of Tartu, which is an hour and a half long and only about 35 of those minutes actually have anything happening in it. Ahh the good old days. Actually, saying there's 35 minutes of something “happening” in this is pretty generous...

Director: William GrefĂ©
Starring: Fred Pinero, Babette Sherrill

Co-written with Clayton.

This is an insufferable film with as much charm as waiting in line at the DMV, only usually you get something done a lot faster at the DMV. It was made at the same time as Sting of Death, another bad old 60s movie I reviewed a few years back. But this one is actually worse, mostly because the dance scenes in this are way, way less good, which is the standard by which all 60s horror films were judged even back then.

This one starts off with something sure to sweep the audience off their feet – twenty fucking minutes of nothing but some dude just walking through the Everglades. There's barely any dialogue and we have no idea why we should care about him, but hey, the music is so super over the top and lavish pomp and fanfare that we don't need anything actually happening! The music alone is enough.

Row, row, row your boat...sorry, I got nothing. I should have just left this caption box blank. God dammit.

He gets killed off by a snake. The music is the same pompous soundtrack now as it was when he was just walking through the forest. I really don't think that's the greatest way to build tension. Indiana Jones wouldn't have been as good if they had high-flying soundtrack music blaring while he was talking to people in his office back at home. Not all food is better when you put a bunch of sprinkles and whipped cream on it. Am I getting through with these comparisons? Point is – lay off the music until something exciting is happening!

Unless that's a real snake, I just can't believe this performance.

Ha! There! I showed THIS 50-year-old film how much I can critique it! Now I will truly look really smart.

To the film's credit, they do lay off that music in favor of … something even more annoying. It's this bizarre sort of ritualistic drumming with some weird slow chanting every now and then. I guess they were trying to set a mood, but it's too repetitive and mostly I think it was intended to send viewers into a catatonic state so they wouldn't be bothered by how boring the rest of the movie is. Though I do like that they showed us how current Florida Governor Rick Scott was spawned... 

Behold, yes, the birth of evil.

At this point, the movie only has about an hour left of its runtime. I can just picture a group of lazy filmmakers high-fiving one another in the editing room. “Yeah! Economic storytelling!”

Then we're introduced to generic body count characters Nos. 2 through 6! They're all white and nerdy and have no real other personality traits, which is the perfect type of person to get lost and die in some foreign place. That's some good old fashioned xenophobia for you. Much better than the modern kind, at any rate.

So I guess the movie now becomes about these bungholes. One of the guys, the leader I suppose, is constantly talking just to hear his own lips flap. I can say that because they see a skull in the woods and get freaked out, and one of the girls says it's the legend of Tartu, who can turn into animals or something. The main dude says no, he doesn't believe in that, it's all just superstition!

We found a human skull on a stick in the woods where we're going to have our field trip! Let's just disregard this and act like nothing is wrong!

But then, a few scenes later, he says he's worried about it. Maybe in a movie with more character development, this could be considered a plot point. But I think it's because the writers were on drugs and forgot about the first scene due to the large amount of time spent walking around doing nothing between the two.

In the middle of all this, the other kids ask if they can go down to the river and party and he says they can, reluctantly, not really sure it's safe for them – but he lets them go. Then later, he tells his girlfriend he wanted them to go and told them to, so he could talk to her about the curse stuff. What? This guy changes his mind more than Two-Face from Batman. Get a grip. Think!

But it ain't like the other characters are any better. They're the kinds of people who like to have a dance party on top of some ancient burial ground in the middle of the Everglades. I don't know who taught these morons to dance. I know white people never had much rhythm, but this is ridiculous.

Oh yeah, block the fucking camera! That's great choreography!

Hmm... let's try to find some positives with this scene, as hard as that might be. Uh, at least they're keeping to the spirit of Sting of Death? But at least that one's dance scene was focusing on the girls' faces and asses. I don't know what the fuck the cameras were directed to do during this scene – focus on the girls' abdomens! That's sexy!

Then they get in the water and are immediately killed by a shark that shows up randomly, presumably being an incarnation of this Tartu they keep going on about. Leader guy shows up with his gun and starts shooting at the shark. I think it'd be funny if he accidentally shot the two friends in the water and missed the shark entirely. But that doesn't happen.

The greatest field trips are always the ones where you need to have a gun at the ready at all times...

After that, they decide things have gotten bad, and now they have to leave. But they can't all just go back the way they came, no – they have to send one dude out on his own to bring back help. Why? It's never really explained. That's just the way they want to do it, so they send off Johnny to go do it, saying he's perfect because he can take care of himself in the wild.

But before we can get to how he does, we have to sit through another loooooooong scene of him wandering around in the Everglades. Because, I guess the movie hadn't shown us enough of that yet.

Pretty sure this guy ate paint chips as a kid...

Then, Johnny – the guy who we were told was so good at surviving that he'd be totally fine out here – sits down against a tree and is killed instantly by a snake. He doesn't put up a fight and he isn't taken by surprise – he just sits down of his own volition and lets himself die. That's amazing, after the stuff we heard a few minutes earlier about how good he was at surviving. It's like hearing someone is really good at drawing, then you see that they can't stay inside the lines when coloring. The cognitive dissonance is complete.

This = good in the wild, can survive. Awesome.

The remaining characters all find this cave place with a tomb inside. But before they can get to that, one girl is scared by the cave and runs outside, where she is chased by an alligator for way, way longer than any alligator chase scene ever needed to go. I love how she runs like hell to get away from that dumb gator, only it's walking at a very slow pace. She really sucks at running.

Now we know where Michael and Jason learned this trick from - Tartu!

Seriously, how does she get up into a tree? What is going on?

Gotta love the end of the chase, too, where she succumbs to injuries from a bite on the arm and dies. Wow. The tragedy is just too much to bear.

Back in the cave, they get into a fight with this guy, who pops out of the tomb – I guess it's supposed to be Tartu himself, who has taken all film just to show his lazy ass on screen. Which I guess is pretty much the same way the movie treated its audience. I love how they just shoot first, ask questions later. Like, really, what if he was a benevolent spirit who could help them out? How the fuck do they know they need to fight him? And even so, they're fucking breaking into his tomb. What did they really expect him to do - invite them to watch TV and have pie?

"What are you douchebags doing in here? I'm trying to sleep. I have an important meeting in the morning."

So they just drown him in quicksand and that's the ending!

That look of mild irritation basically sums up the audience reaction to the film. Boom! Oh yeah. Nailed it again!

Overall this was an asinine film with pretty much no redeeming qualities. Everything about this story is bad. It's basically a story about some idiots who come into this place, disturb a grave, and then when the sleeping ghost is mad and starts killing them off, they kill it in return. And it's a happy ending. That's like if you broke into my house, I attacked you to try and keep you out, and you killed me, then you were the one who got praised as a hero. What a load.

Most of the film is made up of the characters wandering around doing nothing in the Everglades. Being filmed there on-site doesn't excuse how mind-numbingly boring this whole thing is. Propaganda videos from tree-hugging Everglades rights groups are more interesting. B-roll footage from National Geographic have more substance.

Sigh. So I guess this movie would never really make Florida a great place to make movies. Oh well. I'm sure something else would eventually put Florida on the map.


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