Written for Varied Celluloid by Prof. Aglaophotis!

Tourist Trap (1979)
Director: David Schmoeller
Writers: David Schmoeller, J. Larry Carroll
Starring: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones and Jon Van Ness

The Plot: A group of five youths are driving out on the open road for a relaxing vacation in out-of-the-way towns, only for one of the kid’s cars to get a flat in the middle of nowhere. While one the drivers, Woody, searches the area for a spare tire, his girl friend Eileen gets a ride with the rest of the gang, Becky, Jerry and Molly. As the four drive further into nowhere, they eventually run across Mr. Slausen who lives in his tiny wax museum, isolated from his questionable brother who lives in an old house not far from the museum. However, as the kids stick around Mr. Slausen’s place, they start disappearing one by one, leading some to be either kidnapped or killed by someone in control of an evil force, attacking the unfortunate victims with living wax dolls and mannequins. As the youths start dying, the ugly truth will be revealed and few will forget the horror of the Tourist Trap!

The Review
Tourist Trap is the kind of Horror movie that carries its own kind of atmosphere. It plays out a little like a typical Slasher movie, but is so otherworldly and chilling in its subtlety and concepts that it stands out on its own. It’s defiantly a psychological horror movie and a surprisingly creepy and mildly violent one for being rated PG for its time.

The craft work done into making the scenery come alive is amazing from telekinetic flying/exploding objects to the eyes of the mannequins as they follow an exploring victim. The effects department is what really makes the movie creepy as well as the effect it has on some of the characters. The way some of these people react to what’s going on around them makes you feel for them and the idea of constantly being watched no matter where you go really adds up on the fright value.

Pino Donaggio composed the soundtrack and it gives the movie a lot of character. The soundtrack incorporates a lot of instruments and vocals, though mostly violins and piano with the occasional acoustic guitar. Mr. Slausen’s theme stands out pretty well throughout the movie as well the rather kooky opening credits theme which gives the movie its sense of lingering craziness. If anything, I felt the soundtrack never really establishes much terror; it does a great job on delivering tension for some of the kill scenes, but beyond that the soundtrack is just a few slow stringing cellos short of making an exploration or chase theme really frightening.

Chuck Connors is awesome in this movie. I know that’s blunt, but it’s the truth. The man shows great range in the flick in being friendly, dangerous and even a little sympathetic. Beyond him, most of the performances are okay. There’s nothing really bad about the actors save for maybe one stoic/quiet girl and one stoic guy, but the key elements to each personality as well as the fright they carry are pretty effective. If anything their motivations get a little muddled especially when the girls are looking for someone: one minute they’re looking for someone, the next they’re playing dress-up. It was a little hard to sympathize with the Final Girl in the movie though because… well, her entire character just screams ‘I’m gonna live at the end of this flick.’ It’s not that she was a poorly acted, in fact she’s on par with Chuck Connors. The Final Girl in question is played by Jocelyn Jones and she gives a great psychological performance especially when she starts showing signs of emotional breakdown. It’s just before her character starts cracking, she starts off as one big, enormous cliché.

She’s the only female character who overdresses (and almost out of time frame), she’s the most fickle of the females, she’s the only one without a date, objects to everything the other girls poke fun at, sexually suggest or even recommend, she sympathizes with strange-fellers… the only real sinful things she does include being peer pressured into skinny-dipping and sipping a beer! There was just too much about her character that was archetypal to the cliché. Hell, my first ex would’ve made a more effective Final Girl character and the only thing modest and virginal about her were blue jeans!!

Sadly, there is no T&A (the only true downfall of the 70’s PG rated horror film), which is even sadder seeing how it stars the budding and BUSTY Tanya Roberts of Charlie’s Angels fame (Yes, the first time Mr. Slausen introduced himself to the girls, I instantly said “Hello, Angels”). That also sucks about the lacking T&A factor because he first meets the girls when they’re skinny dipping!!* There’s even a scene where a pretty young woman is tied down to a table while the killer suffocates her and I kept expecting it to turn sleazy at any second, but it didn’t. Hell, I might’ve found Don’t Answer the Phone stupid, annoying and poorly acted, but at least it was dirty!

The death scenes are not particularly gory and never show much blood, yet most of them still manage to be crazy no matter how average they are in context. The first death scene kind of ruins the build-up to them though because it’s the best, most graphic death in the whole movie. It’s one thing putting a string of gruesome death scenes together in the middle with average ones being its bookends; to have the most gruesome deaths precede every average death scene for the rest of the flick just feels bland and poorly planned. Truthfully, the only one I felt could’ve changed was the narration to the third death scene… No, Davey, she’s not going to die from an exploding heart, she’s going to die from suffocation first… because she’s suffocating.

There are a few things I couldn’t get over in the movie like how little sense the near final death scene was. Yes, it’s a truly bizarre way to go and it was kind of cool to watch, but it’s right up there with an Extra’s death scene from Curse of the Overfiend because it makes no goddamn sense! Plus, as crazy as the movie is, there are times where the movie gets a little nutty like when the killer dresses up and plays with his mannequins. There’s even a scene where he’s sitting in his living room wearing a wig and playing with dolls while he’s kicking his knees up and down… The Hell?!

This may be the only Full Moon DVD release that I don’t feel embarrassed to admit owning… that and if I owned Puppet Master 1 & 2. And maybe Dollman. Regardless, the particular copy on review is of the 20th Anniversary Edition and it was given a very good transfer. The DVD to Tourist Trap offers quite a few goodies including a rather entertaining and informative DVD commentary from director David Schmoller. The DVD also features some Adult film releases including Petticoat Planet and Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity… another movie I wouldn’t feel embarrassed to admit owning.

The Conclusion
There’s a spot in my Cult film loving heart for this movie. The death scenes may be a little tame, but they still induce panic and tension. The sense of lingering insanity in the flick makes it all worth while and it also makes for one of the best Horror movie endings I’ve seen in awhile. All in all, this is a great attempt at a Psychological Slasher film. If you’re looking for American Horror at its most subtle yet most crazy, check out Tourist Trap.

* Then again, if you listen to the commentary, you’ll know why that is.

You might also be interested in: