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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Death Curse of Tartu / Sting of Death: SE
Death Curse of Tartu / Sting of Death: SE
Image // Unrated // October 2, 2001
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by G. Noel Gross | posted January 3, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Floridian filmmaker William Grefé was something of a fixture during that state's exploitation boom in the '60s. Like other successful exploiteers, Grefé was never wed to one genre or another, but instead responded with whatever audiences thirsted for. Many will remember his bizarro Jaws coat-tailer Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976) about a guy who somehow befriends sharks who feast on anyone who rubs him the wrong way. Grefé had learned about working with sharks as the second unit director on Live and Let Die (1973). Actually, for Mako, he just ripped the story off a movie he'd made earlier, but instead of sharks, the guy had a pet rattlesnake named Stanley (1972). As a fella in the know, Grefé was even instrumental in helping soon-to-be gore kings David Friedman and Herschell Gordon Lewis get their footing upon their escape from Chicago's winter chill. And he even talked an out-of-work William Shatner into a role as a murderous playboy in Impulse (1974).

Perhaps his most popular films were Death Curse of Tartu (1967, 84 minutes) and Sting of Death (1966, 80 minutes) which together, for more than a decade, were the mainstays of drive-ins throughout the country. Yet, when Something Weird Video first located a viable print of Sting of Death, which had more-or-less been "lost" for a number of years, they were distressed to learn the negative was completely covered in MOLD! One lab after another flatly turned them away, before they were finally able to produce a successful transfer that would ensure future fans would be able to enjoy this wacky double-feature.


Death Curse of Tartu: An ancient Seminole witch doctor (Doug Hobart) lies entombed deep in the Everglades having left express notice that he NOT be disturbed. Sure enough, folks rudely come snooping around his damp cave, forcing Tartu to make very dead examples of them. First, he turns himself into an anaconda and squeezes the guts out of a guy. Then an archaeology professor (Fred Pinero) fanboats in a whole mess of college students for a field trip who start noising up the place with their wild dance music, so ever-cranky Tartu (who prefers tribal rhythms) takes to bumping them off in fiendish ways as random critters. Let's see, a pair of them get gobbled by a SHARK, another poor kid gets bit to death by a water moccasin and a gator plays Eenie, Meenie, Meinie, Moe with a gal's appendages. Nasty stuff. CineSchlockers should note that this was way before the days of "no animals were harmed during the making of this film." Alleged animal trainer and confirmed NUT Frank Weed not only rassles that 10-foot snake himself, he and his son also CAUGHT the alligator seen in the flick the night before shooting. Its snout was wired to protect the actress, of course.

Tartu notables: No breasts. Six corpses. Spelunking. Marshmallow roasting. Rubber spider. Phony shark fin. Canoeing. Multiple snake bites to the face. Human skull on spit. Gratuitous quicksand scene.

Tartu quotables: Baby-voiced Cindy squeaks, "This place is too creepy for me!" Later, she fends off her horndog Romeo, "If Mr. Tison sees us mushing it up, he'll send us home before we know it!"

Tartu time codes: At last, the flick's first words are spoken (5:00). A good look at mean ol' Tartu (13:30). Wildman Weed faces certain death (18:10). Boogie woogie dance party in a SWAMP!? (37:40). Grefé's precursors to Jaws of Death (42:11) and Stanley (55:15). "Arise, Tartu, Arise!" (1:14:35).


Sting of Death: Again, deep in the Everglades, scientists tinker in ways they shouldn't with ordinary jellyfish and pretty soon a loathsome half-man half-jellyfish creature is draggin' beach bunnies into the surf. Typically, word spreads slowly about these attacks, as Karen (Valerie Hawkins) and her college cutie friends arrive at her family's secluded estate for spring break with no inkling of their impending doom. It's here that Dr. Richardson (Jack Nagle) indulges in his scientific pursuits with the assistance of dashing Dr. Hoyt (Joe Morrison) and a repulsive handyman named Egon (John Vella). Soon more party-minded folks arrive and everyone breaks out in the latest dance craze known as The Jellyfish (vocals by Neil Sedaka), but there aren't any steps per se, as it's just an excuse for Mr. Grefé to film a bunch of gals shaking what the good Lord gave 'em. After five or 10 minutes of this, up pops the jellyfish monster who stings the fire out of a couple kids before limping away. The rest of the revelers agree they'd better get to the cops so the all points bulletin can go out for a guy wearing a slime-covered scuba suit and an inflated TRASH BAG on his head. Their escape is thwarted when a swarm of water-logged baggies, er, jellyfish sink the boat and ruthlessly sting its drowning passengers. CineSchlockers into self-torture can actually SEE Mr. Sedaka sing in Playgirl Killer where he's helplessly seduced by his fiance's sexpot sister, but only after TWO dance numbers.

Sting notables: No breasts. 16 corpses. Bathing beauty ogling. More fanboat footage. Scuba diving. Soldering. Gratuitous shower scene. Conga line. Group taunting. Pirate talk.

Sting quotables: Dr. Hoyt is a randy fella, "I don't know why you brought all this [luggage] when a couple of bikinis would have been enough." Karen ponders the ultimate question, "Is it possible? Is it possible to fall in love with all that's happened?!" And earlier, a possible reply, "Ah, come on. All you need is some beer!"

Sting time codes: Party barge arrives brimming with dancers (18:55). It's time to "Do The Jellyfish" (26:20). Even the swimming pool isn't safe (35:15). Best look at the creature (1:13:10).


Audio/Video: Both are presented in fullframe, but astonishingly, given the state of Sting of Death's original negative, its color is a heckuvalot more vibrant than Death Curse of Tartu! Both exhibit a fair amount of scratches and blemishes typical to these sorts of pictures. The same is true for the mono tracks with Tartu having consistent background static and Sting fairing much better.

Extras: A pair of must-hear audio commentaries with Mr. Grefé and Basket Case gorteur Frank Henenlotter. Frank, a lifetime student of exploitation cinema, acts as our superfan surrogate as the two re-explore these films in remarkable detail. Their discussion also includes Stanley and Mako: Jaws of Death during which Grefé tells a pair of fantastic stories of actors in peril -- one involving a pool stocked with water moccasins and the other regarding the miraculous resurrection of a tiger shark. However, Something Weird Video desperately needs to improve the audio quality of its commentaries, as with the Herschell Gordon Lewis tracks, the interviewer comes through clearly, but Grefé sounds like he's shouting his responses from within a sealed crypt. How about TWO microphones, fellas? If the absence of melon-heavy breasts during the double feature has you down, check out Miami or Bust (12 mins) for some nekkid sun worship. Rare scenes from Sting of Death producer Richard S. Flink's obscure gore epic Love Goddess of Blood Island (27 mins). Trailer vault featuring Death Curse of Tartu, Sting of Death, Mako: The Jaws of Death, Stanley, Racing Fever and The Wild Rebels. Printed insert with chapter list and complete lyrics to "Do The Jellyfish" for the karaoke crowd. However, there are no "Horrorama Radio-Spot Rarities" or "Gallery of Horror Drive-In Exploitation Art" as listed on the video sleave. Static menus without audio.

Final thought: Two of the best pictures ever shot in an actual swamp. Sting of Death's rescue from obscurity is worthy of celebration. Let us pray this isn't the last we'll see from Mr. Grefé's infamous catalog. Highly Recommended.

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for additional reviews and bonus features.

G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.
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