Tartu the Turd!
A Native guide brings a tough white man to a small island in the Florida everglades. He warns the man that he shouldn’t be treading this land, that it is the cursed final resting place of an ancient shaman named Tartu. The man ignores this warning, of course. He’s got to get a camp set up for a professor and a small group of his students, who are coming here to do some anthropological research. The guide wishes him well and leaves him alone. Of course, the old dude stumbles upon the cave tomb of Tartu and is instantly killed. The professor and his students arrive a day or so later, also freshly warned by the guide to stay away. Of course they ignore this advice and set up their camp. The students have a little go-go dance party and are generally enjoying themselves before Tartu once again rises from his grave and sends all sorts of snakes and spiders and even a shark out to kill them. They eventually find his cave tomb and must figure out a way to defeat him before Tartu destroys them all!
Well this one was a tough watch. Yeah, it’s amateurish and silly in all the right ways. You gotta love a group of young folks dancing like idiots, not knowing their deaths are just around the corner. The kills are pretty decent, if a bit underwhelming. Tartu uses the local wildlife, for the most part, to dispatch of the interlopers. So there’s a python scene and a shark attack (you read that right) that consists of a totally fake and aluminum-looking fin sticking up out of the water combined with a couple public domain inserts of a shark underwater thrashing around. The real problem is the inherent racism of the whole deal. An “Indian Curse?” A “Witch Doctor” returned from the dead to kill? Not to mention the Pow-Wow song that gets looped over the resurrection of Tartu, or the stilted, “Indian-talk” of the Native guide at the beginning (played, of course, by a white guy). This was pretty standard for the time period and hey, to be fair, it’s actually pretty standard for nowadays, too. Indigenous peoples seem to be relegated to having haunted burial sites and to being full of spiritual wisdom that only exists to help out white folks on their journey. This is true of the Death Curse of Tartu, as well. And while this isn’t a unique form of bigoted cinema, it still sucks. Although, I have to say, despite all of that, there was some great satisfaction in watching these idiots stumble into the death traps of a very angry Indigenous spirit. It was like he was getting revenge for all the times white people treated Indigenous culture with contempt. Be that as it may, this was mostly unpalatable, to say the least.
So yeah. I watched this one so you don’t really have to. It is amateurish in all the right ways that can make it entertaining for all the wrong reasons. The acting, the filming, the action, all products of their time. Unfortunately, the politics of it are just as relevant today as they were then. I look forward to more movies like Blood Quantum that moves the native narrative forward, rather than relegating them to perfunctory pieces of a bigoted puzzle. I don’t think the creators of this movie meant any intentional harm; they were just ignorant. But ignorance is still highly damaging, regardless. In any case, this was a decent watch if you can put aside the stereotyping. Some of the scenes of Tartu in his coffin are eerie and creepy in that old-fashioned horror movie kind of way, and the deaths are decent. Too bad you have to wade through the rest of the nonsense to get to them.