Tourist Trap 1979 was one of many films made under Charles Band’s Empire Pictures (which later became Full Moon Productions) stable in the booming golden video age. Band himself was a director and producer responsible for many stand-alone films and franchises such as the very popular Doll Man series, Trancers and some classic titles such as Parasite made in 3D and The Alchemist which were popular B-Movie hits of the time. Tourist trap was one film not actually made by Band but directed by David Schmoeller who had studied theatre in Mexico under the tutelage of Alejandro Jodorowsky and film by Luis Buñuel. You can leave any notion that Tourist Trap is in any way parallel to works such as ‘Un Chien andalou’ or ‘El Topo’ right at the door though! Tourist Trap was his first full length feature and it is a slightly off the wall film blending popular sub-genres together such as stalk and slash, backwoods peril and telekinesis together in a somewhat baffling morass that never quite works.
It has a creepy and quirky score helping it along courtesy of Pino Donaggio who struck up a partnership with Schmoeller as he was apparently in the area scoring ‘Piranha’ for Joe Dante. We are quickly taken into a teens in peril plot which is helped by the fact that one of the female members of the group is popular starlet Tanya Roberts. Finding themselves in the back of beyond there is a very effective mannequin encounter with the horribly cackling dummies and furniture moving around by themselves. It’s certainly enough to put the shits up you and no doubt is a scene remembered by those of an impressionable age watching it back in the day. I can’t say I was one of them as despite thinking I had seen this one, watching it now I think it must have been one of the few at the time that escaped me. It is somewhat quickly evident that script wise Stephen King’s Carrie filmed a couple of years previously by Brian De Palma is quite an influence here.
Vehicle broken down, our intrepid female teens are discovered bathing in a creek (and no flesh is shown) by Mr Slausen played by the imposing Chuck Connors. He is happy they are using the place and says many more used to but the “damn highway” saw to that. He seems like a nice sort of hillbilly warning them about staying out after dark and offering to take them in and help fix up their broken down vehicle. The fact he lives in a strange type of museum of mannequins should have got the warning bells ringing. Naturally things move slowly into a picking off one by one of the teens and considering there are only a few of them, although tension is at times high (largely in part to the score) there’s some frustrating pauses that are padded out to deal with.
Connors is great and adds a splash of humour to the film and it has the feel that it is set in the deep ole South, a place where they like scaring Yankee tourists. In one part he is asked if his phone can be used to which he replies “sure you can, don’t work though, nobody to ring.” He also draws the girls in getting their pity telling them how his wife died in his arms. Still he’s a creepy old dude and a bit weird and what’s all the mystery of the other house round the back?
Is Mr Slausen going to make dummies out the rest of the cast and will any of them survive? As for the mannequins themselves they act better than some of the cast and are truly scary. Inspiration for them could have come from a couple of other classic movies of the time. Hopper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (via both Leatherface looking dummies and a classic jump through window escape scene) and Argento’s Deep Red both come to mind.
Tourist Trap is probably going to work best on a nostalgia level though, more than any other way. It’s going to be remembered for the few scares it provides and not for gore or nudity as basically there is none really of either; indeed the film got a PG US rating rather than an R on original release. It’s still worth a watch and looking around there are people out there who consider this an absolute classic Watch it with a fair few beers and you too could find yourself getting plastered (sorry).
Picture is sharp and vivid here and extras include a commentary track with director Schmoeller who went on to make films such as Crawlspace, Catacombs, Doll Master and Netherworld for Full Moon. Also there’s a featurette ‘Exit Through The Chop Shop where he and he and art director Robert A Burns talk about the making of the film. There are some very interesting anecdotes included such as the fact that the part of Slauson could have originally gone to Jack Palance or Gig Young. As for the most asked question about the film it’s ‘can you explain the ending’ but that is something you will have to watch it to see and try and fathom out for yourself!