Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on December 21, 2001, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
On this duplication of a William Grefé double bill from the late '60s, it's curious that Image Entertainment would place Death Curse of Tartu first; it was filmed expressly to be the second feature to Sting of Death (pictured), which also boasts a better transfer here. Grefé even recorded his audio commentary for Sting before that for Tartu. No matter; this is a highly entertaining way to relive a drive-in double feature that has until now been impossible to replicate on video.
That's because Sting has been a lost film since its initial release, never shown on TV or released on VHS (which is probably, come to think of it, why the more-visible Tartu gets that top billing). Under those circumstances, the way Sting looks on the DVD is nothing short of remarkable. “People should not compare these to some $100-million Harrison Ford movie,” says Grefé on the commentary regarding his films’ technical quality, but this transfer, at least, could beg the comparison. The fullscreen image is crystal-clear and very stable, and the colors as bold as a movie shot in 2001. Frank Henenlotter, who joins Grefé for his talk, reveals that Sting was restored from the original negative, which actually had to be “de-molded,” and the work was worth it. Tartu was evidently struck from a print, and thus is grainier and darker with much higher contrast, but the mastering is quite good.
Grefé and Henenlotter’s commentaries are wide-ranging and thoroughly engaging, as the former evinces a keen memory of these 35-year-old productions and the latter proves an expert, knowledgeable interviewer. While Grefé acknowledges that the films seem pretty silly today and is unapologetic about their crassly commercial elements (like out-of-nowhere dance scenes in the middle of each), he looks back at them with a great deal of affection, sharing stories about his cast and behind-the-scenes collaborators, working in the Everglades and the perils of wrangling snakes for Tartu and plastic-bag “jellyfish” for Sting. He frequently digresses for tales about his other movies, but they’re all so much fun you don’t mind him changing the subject. One just has to wonder if he’ll have enough to talk about if and when those movies hit DVD. (Oh, and if anyone out there knows where to find another of his lost movies, Devil Sisters, he pleads on both commentaries to get in touch with him.)
A good chunk of Grefé’s filmography is represented in the DVD's trailer collection, and the disc further contains a pair of great exploitation ad galleries (backed by equally entertaining radio spots) that are guaranteed to have you freeze-framing, trying to figure out what a particular advertised feature is. Also included is a half-hour of highlights from Sting producer Richard Flinks’ schlocker Love Goddesses of Blood Island (also released, per the commentary, as Six Shes and a He), the short “Miami or Bust” and printed lyrics for Sting’s “The Jellyfish Song.” Given that that film’s monster is a guy in a scuba diving suit with a big plastic bag on his head, the scariest thing about this disc is either the woman who strips and boogies by the pool in “Miami” or the fact that Neil Sedaka, of all people, performed that song.