What's wackier than a living mummy? How about a jellyfish man!
Tartu is just your average workaday witch doctor. The fact that he is a shape-shifting member of the undead merely accentuates his multi-faceted nature. When a bunch of Everglades invaders disturb his everlasting beauty sleep, our miffed mutating madman turns into all manner of swamp beasties so he can quiet the rebel rousing and have a Sealy Posturepedic afterlife. But this won't faze bored archeology students on Spring break. They see Tartu's ancestral burial grounds and proceed to go-go dance all over them. So now, not only is he overtired (he gets cranky without his usual 400 years of rest), but he's been blasphemed as well. It isn't long before kids start croaking at the paws, teeth, and scales of mysteriously manifesting critters. Turns out that, when visiting the Sunshine state for a little post exams debauchery, fast talking con men with video cameras and beads are not the only thing to be avoided during binge drinking fueled fun. One should look out for the animalistic antics associated with a four-century-old coffin bound party pooper, a walking corpse who is more than happy to put the Death Curse of Tartu on your book learned smart ass.
Over at the Richardson residence, little Karen has just returned from college. And she's brought along still more hearty, partying matriculating compatriots to partake of the seemingly bottomless parental hooch. There she finds her father, a rather urbane ichthyologist and his hunky, hopefully hetero assistant Dr. Hoyt. Daddy's got a PhD in quantum jelly-fishery and he, along with Hoyt and a mangled manservant named Egon, are trying to determine why squishy Portuguese jam jockeys are so tasty in Kyoto style sushi. Karen's friends find Egon amusing, in a kind of sideshow attraction carnival worker sort of way. They celebrate their superior Aryan perfection (and Egon's dashed ego) by dancing poolside to a song about gelatinous marine blobs. Little do our sun and fun loving youngsters know that the object of their ridicule has an invertebrate plan all his own. Egon has been following in the fish doctor's finsteps and he's discovered a way of giving new meaning to the term man o'war. He fiddles with some knobs and becomes a half-human/half super elastic bubble plastic jellyfish creature. And he seeks revenge for the peer pressure rejection with his awesome Sting of Death.
Death Curse of Tartu is that weird anomaly in exploitation filmmaking. It has a great perverse premise—the reanimated corpse of an ancient Seminole Indian witch doctor wrecks havoc on naïve Florida tourists—and the trademark cheesy effects of a typical grade Z swamp terror fest. But in this case, all the Roquefort in Romania can't seem to enliven this stilted Stilton saga. Maybe it's the fact that, as a boogeyman, Tartu doesn't do a great deal. He opens his eyes, rolls over and around his grave, and turns into an angry crawdad to gumbo his victims to death. Tone may also be Tartu's unmaking. It's awfully supercilious when it should be just silly. It is kind of hard to get wacky enjoyment out of flesh feasting sharks, slithery snakes, and jaw chomping gators. Everything is handled in a matter of fact, no real suspense fashion that seems to suggest that zombie death murders via shape shifting happen seasonally in the Sunshine State. About the only thing that keeps you alert during this turgid Tartu is Grefe's apparent fascination with the wiggling derriere. Whenever the bopping rock and roll score comes on, the middle aged teens bump and grind like Shriners at a convention and big Bill's camera captures their hyper extending hinders in all of their rump shaking glory. If you imagined the Okefenokee Swamp as a slightly more humid Camp Crystal Lake and a dirty-bandaged ex-pool man/tennis pro as Jason Voorhees, you've got Death Curse of Tartu, except with a lot less blood and laugh letting.
Sting of Death, on the other hand, is everything that Tartu fails to be. Sure, the revenge premise is just as goofy as the angry Injun foolishness. And there is plenty of booty bumping business going on, what with the topic specific song by guest vocalist Neal Sedaka playing in the background. Along with "A Heart Dies Every Minute" from Doctor Gore and "You Can't Fart Around with Love" from Roseland, "Do the Jellyfish" is one flaky, fantastic song, a welcome addition to that ever-growing grand SWV canon. While it may not seem possible to forgive him for foisting the Captain and his mad cow matron wife Tenille on us from 1974 forward or that "Bad Blood" barf with Sir Elton John, Neal's "hip" factor raises several segments with his wacky ode to the floppy surf aspic. Anyone who can rhyme Cinderella with jellyfish (well, kinda) deserves some camp kudos. But Sedaka's backdoor braying is not the only freakishly funny thing here. Our main creature is something straight out of a homeless man's personal wardrobe, what with its soiled scuba suit, hose pipe tentacles, and an inflated Hefty bag head. Some crushed aluminum cans for proper accessorizing and we'd have the complete skid row ensemble. But Sting also manages to make us care about the characters, especially the incredibly put upon Egon. Just because he's facially scarred, with a lazy eye, doesn't me it's perfectly acceptable for the gang of groovy social snobs to disrespect him. And they are so mean spirited that you'll have Junior High School wallflower flashbacks. Unlike Tartu, we can't wait for Egon to mutate and whip a little college creep butt. And when he meets the great fishmonger in the sky, you just may weep a tiny tear…or maybe not. Sting of Death is Beauty and the Beast mixed with an order of Japanese Kurage Su to create a deliciously disturbed delight.
Continuing their fine treatment of color titles from the mid '60s, SWV provides both Death Curse of Tartu and Sting of Death with magnificent full screen images. There are some minor age defects and scratches, but these colorful pieces of classic crap practically jump off the screen in their vividness. Sting looks a little better than Tartu, if only because there is more natural light used in the latter's outdoor mummy's revenge saga. As for extras, Something Weird hits the jackpot again by offering full length alternate audio track discussions of both film's with director Grefe. Moderating our tour of these tacky treasures is decidedly demented cult director Frank Henenlotter. Both commentary tracks are incredibly fun and filled with stories, not just about the films being shown, but Grefe's overall career. The only downside is that, while Henenlotter is easy as eels to understand sonically, Grefe sounds like he's been recorded speaking from inside an aquarium. Aural issues aside, they still make for an enjoyable and informative experience. SWV has also uncovered a pirate's booty in Grefe related material. We are treated to several trailers spanning the director's entire career. We witness 30 minutes of outtakes from Sting, which shows the amount of work that went into making these seemingly trivial films. In typical Something Weird fashion, we are then treated to a nudist short about a poolside South Florida sun worshipper called Miami or Bust and some rather gory sequences from a glamour girl horror flick entitled The Love Goddess of Blood Island. The promised gallery and radio rarities are nowhere to be found on the disc. They would have rounded out the viewing pleasure nicely. Still, with more than 50% of this package a sunny delight, Death Curse of Tartu/Sting of Death is a wonderful addition to the Something Weird DVD catalog. To paraphrase Mr. Sedaka, "it's really swella, to watch this jalla Jellyfish."
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Producer Richard S. Flinkis' Glamour-Girl and Gore Exploitation Epic, "Love Goddesses of Blood Island"
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