Cult movies are not all cut from the same cloth. Sometimes you discover the early works of directors or actors destined for greater fame and bigger budgets. Other times you may discover hidden gems — movies that are not great artistic achievements in themselves, but ones that burrow deep into your psyche or perhaps connect to the current zeitgeist in a way no A-class picture can. And then there are those times you get The Death Curse of Tartu.
Shot in only 10 days from a script reportedly written in less than 24 hours, The Death Curse of Tartu was a product of Floridian schlock-impresario screenwriter and director William Grefe. Like many non-Hollywood low-budget directors of the 1960s and '70s, Grefe specialized in turning them out quick and cashing in on whatever prevailing trends were ruling the box office. A killer rat is a hit in the movie Willard? Grefe’s got a killer snake in Stanley! Jaws is a big hit? Grefe pulls Mako: The Jaws of Death out of the water!
For Tartu, Grefe wasn’t following a trend but rather resurrecting a moldy one — the ancient mummy death curse. But of course, he was able to throw in all sorts of gonzo twists as a troupe of archeology students violate a Seminole burial ground (and also have time for a little twistin’ in bikinis, of course). The mummified medicine man, Tartu, is apparently from Native American Squaresville, and digs not the Frug, nor the Mashed Potato. However the Twist does seem to have some appeal as he changes into a 12-foot anaconda to off one of the offenders, along with subsequent transformations into an alligator and the rare freshwater Florida stock footage swamp shark for more joyful co-ed killin’.
So, in other words, we ain’t talking classic here — or perhaps we are, depending on your definition. In either case, a rowdy audience will make all the difference. Join the fun this Friday and Saturday night at the Cult Fiction Underground below Logue’s Black Raven Emporium at 2915 Gallatin Road in East Nashville. Show times are 8 and 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday night. And be sure to step lightly over the Indian burial mound when you leave.