Some hip kids party in the Everglades; near an Indian chief’s burial site. The burial curse deal is somewhat reminiscent of the plot in From Hell It Came, although this native chief at least has the pull to return as a mummy, instead of as a Tobanga (a walking tree). Actually Death Curse of Tartu has a solid premise; all it takes is to suspend disbelief in curses, and the door (tomb?) is open.
One noticeable issue is apparent right away: when nearly all the characters only have first names, we can pretty much figure that the treatment here will remain superficial. At least Ed and Julie Tison (Fred Pinero and Nanette Sherrill) are mature enough to have last names. But then there’s Billy (Bill Marcus), Johnny, Tommy, Joann, Cindy, and, oh yeah, Tartu himself (Doug Hobart).
Oh, good, starting off in a cave is just about right. And a cool coffin, a hand emerging…The explorer guy is trapped. Not by a mummy though, but a regular native, in full tribal garb. To the next explorer, Sam (Frank Weed), the guide Billy gives sufficient warning “I have seen my people bring back the bodies of dead men…” after walking around much too long Sam finds a nice skull on a stick. Time for coffee (doesn’t look like any morsels left on the skull).
Why does Sam need that Coleman lantern in the daylight? Some animal skulls lying about. Cut back to the Native Americans: man, it’s Tartu! Awful good semi-decayed mummy, with snakes slithering about. Back at camp, we got, what, a rock? A gigantic snake surrounds the bundled thing, studded with some kind of hieroglyphics, as Sam goes reconnoitering. A cunning snake whisks out of a tree and does him in. Man, I’m never going there.
Back in town, Ed talks to Billy. “The drums, the chanting…” Billy tells of the 400-year old legend of Tartu, keeper of the burial mound. The Tison’s are off for a trip to just that place–with a party of young folks. “Do you think anything…could be …wrong?” No, just two missing explorers recently. Ok, so the college kids are archeology students. Here again we see the camp, the skulls, the coffee pot. “I don’t want a bunch of panicky kids on my hand!” But you do. The kids go to ‘roast marshmallows’.
The marshmallows aren’t getting as hot and groovy as the make-out set. Meanwhile, Tartu is warming up as well. Back with marshmallow-set, swimming with, a shark? With just an ankle and foot left, Johnny has danced his last funky dance. Alligators have destroyed the airboats. “There’s somethings on this planet that scientists have no answer to” yes, Ed, that’s right. For example–why does it take Tartu so long to completely come back to life? Get that dude some espresso or something.
Anyway, Johnny agrees to hoof it back to civilization for help. Snakes are shadowing him. Well, hurry it up or… ok, a snake gets him. Cindy had a dream that it was a snake from Tartu’s cave. So they go off to check out the cave. “Let’s pay Mr. Tartu a visit!” The Tison’s find Sam’s corpse. They also find out that they’re trapped; Cindy escapes, pursued by an alligator.
They blow the cave door open with the powder from a few cartridges; which somehow has the explosive power of a hand grenade. Forget Tartu, they go looking for Cindy. For some reason, the gators ignore Ed and Julie, so scratch Cindy. Tartu is still sleeping off that 400-year deal. Ed and Julie go back to the cave, hoping to check out the stone casket. “Maybe Tartu didn’t exist” Shazam. Right behind you. Turning into his living incarnation, he attacks Ed.
Cindy runs off, but Tartu, having knocked out Ed, chases her. The denouement sees Tartu end up in quicksand–with a final throwback to his mummified state, the Tisons surviving. “Only nature could destroy him” Ed offers as an epilogue. And only this film can keep you away from bayous, jetboats, or anything connected with bodies of water.
I’m not being completely sarcastic there. By far the interest level is highest when the snakes and alligators are lunging about. The authentic setting gives an overall uncomfortable, lurking menace to the tone throughout. It’s just that nothing else works. Except for the very first scene, Tartu doesn’t figure in at all; as a regular human in the ending sequence, he’s just an ordinary antagonist.
That points to the central problem, for all the tribal references, there’s no observable connection between the natives and Tartu; the only other Native American we see is Billy. The cave is isolated, it might as well have a mummified alligator or snake. On the other hand, the promising beginning let’s us down as the mummy does absolutely nothing. What’s the point of saying he’s 400 years old if he quickly morphs into an ordinary guy?
In short, the premise was tossed quickly aside for what is essentially a survival-in-the-wilderness plot. There’s mention, here and there, that the truly menacing creatures are somehow controlled by Tartu. That would be cool; if the mummy were active, and had a bunch of snakes cooling around it or whatnot. But, as it is, the animals hardly need any prompting to be vicious.
Death Curse of Tartu, aside from good atmosphere and a couple of good scenes, is truly cursed. Farmermouse liked the jetboats, but was plenty ‘scairt of them snakes. Three skulls: 3/10.