Starring Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts, Dawn Jeffory, Keith McDermott, Shailar Coby
Directed by David Schmoeller
Expectations: Pretty high, actually. This poster is pretty damn good.
On the general scale:
On the B-Movie scale:
Tourist Trap is an interesting movie in that it’s both boring and oddly enchanting, daring you to close your eyes and not be haunted by the creepy mannequins with the mouths that open too wide which populate the more tense moments of the film. It’s a hard film to rate because I genuinely enjoyed and got a lot of entertainment out of it, but it’s almost completely devoid of plot and what is there is pretty obvious right from the get go to anyone even remotely familiar with horror films.
The film opens with a guy rolling a tire down a dirt road. He’s hot, tired and obviously a long way from home. He finds a gas station/restaurant and goes inside seeking some help with his tire. No one is around, but he hears something that makes him check out the backroom. He approaches the figure laying in the bed and it quickly springs up to surprise him. It’s just a mannequin, but when the guy turns to leave the room, the door slams shut and everything starts to go completely apeshit. Windows shut without anyone near them, chairs rattle, mannequins burst forth from closet doors. He’s eventually killed by a hurtling lead pipe that pins him to the door he’s been desperately trying to claw his way out of the entire scene. And this is only the beginning of the nightmare for this guy and his friends…
Just like in countless other horror films, a group of fun-minded twenty-somethings find themselves broken down on the side of the road. The girls of the group happen to find a beautiful waterfall and decide to go skinny dipping because it’s the 70s. Bet you didn’t guess that there wasn’t any nudity though, did ya? Anyway, while they’re busy with that, an older man carrying a shotgun sidles up to the river bank and coyly announces himself. And that folks is pretty much all you need to guess what’s gonna happen in Tourist Trap. In later, similarly plotted films, you’d get a cop or someone tracking down the lost kids, but here it’s simply the kids vs. the crazed killer (who may or may not be this helpful, gun-toting man).
So in a film that refuses to tell a real story, the atmosphere and the gore better be pretty goddamned good to hold a jaded horror fan’s interest, especially now, thirty-three years after release. There isn’t a lot in the way of gore, but there are a few really inventive, delightfully demented moments of mannequins coming to life that are worth their weight in fake blood. The atmosphere is definitely there though, and it makes up for a good portion of the film’s shortfalls. Most of the film takes place in darkened hallways and the creepy roadside museum curated by none other than the Rifleman himself, Chuck Connors. His shop and his livelihood dried up and withered away due to the new highway that realigned all the traffic away from his backwoods corner of the world, and I’m glad they got a real actor to portray this character. Connors is the anchor of the movie, his performance nearly holding the film together single-handedly.
This is director David Schmoeller’s first feature and it’s impressive for a début film. There’s some great shots contained here, but at the same time, there’s nothing rather exciting about most of the filmmaking. This sort of lackluster shooting style really typifies the Full Moon visual aesthetic, so it’s no surprise that Schmoeller went on to make a number of films for Charles Band, most notably the original Puppet Master film which launched the entire company. Tourist Trap shares some similarities both in theme and style to Puppet Master, so it’s definitely an interesting film to watch for fans of that series.
Tourist Trap isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it is creepy and full of atmosphere. It’s too slow for my taste and the music bugged pretty badly, but both annoyances can be explained by my general rebellion against films of the 70s. That’s not to say there aren’t loads of great 70s movies, but there’s just something about many of them that make me instantly shudder and turn away (and not in sheer terror at the events on the screen). Tourist Trap feels at times like an Italian giallo film, at others like Hitchcock’s Psycho, and at others still, it looks like a Gothic Hammer film. It is realistically more akin to something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but without all the damaged family dynamics and unrelenting terror. Tourist Trap was pretty good though for a low-budget 70s horror movie and I’d recommend it to genre fans.
Next week I’m unsure if I’ll be able to come up with a review for this series, but if I can, it’ll probably be 1975’s Mansion of the Doomed!