Written by Robert O’ Doherty
Tourist Trap is an uncanny, but jocose horror flick from 1979 that was shot in 24 days. With such little time, it achieved not only some decent horror moments, but a good mystery and a nice pinch drama on top. I would love to know how much time was spent on pre-production, because director David Schmoeller sure went in with guns blazing. Unfortunately for Schmoeller, Tourist Trap had no success with it’s release, but as years passed, a cult following grew – even the multiple award winning author Stephen King praised the flick.
The main attraction to Tourist Trap is the plot that centers around mannequins; a pediophobia’s worst nightmare. The flick is certainly not tardy when it comes to showing the mannequins in action. The film opens with a dashing gent, Woody (Keith McDermott), rolling a tire to the nearest gas station. I feel bad for the guy; rolling a flat tire in the blazing sun, sweat pouring from his face, while his girlfriend hangs back with the car in total relaxation. When ol’ Woody arrives at what appears to be heaven (a gas station), he enters to seek help, but is only met with moaning sounds. The woodster investigates the sounds of pleasure, which leads to a back room where mannequins come to life. They mentally rape the young man until a pipe is plunged into his lower back.
Meanwhile, Woody’s girlfriend, Eileen (Robin Sherwood), meets up with the rest of the gang in their jeep who all appear eager for adventure, but with no sign of Woody, they decide to track their missing compadre. The search doesn’t last long as the last mode of transport breaks down, leading Jerry (Jon Van Ness), the only man left to investigate the damages as Becky (Tanya Roberts), Molly (Jocelyn Jones) and Eileen go snooping around in the woods. After they find an alluring place to go skinny dipping (sorry boys, no nude scenes in this picture), they come across a pleasant man name Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors), who decides to help the gang out.
(Let’s keep it PG-13)
They arrive at Slausen’s home (a former tourist trap that showcased some interesting mannequins). The old-timer explains that his brother Davey (Shailar Coby), made the mannequins a long time ago, before a highway was built, which resulted in sucking the business dry. This is where the horror kicks-in, as Davey begins to hunt down the group so he can transform them into mannequins. Davey can control the mannequins with his telekinetic powers. The process of turning people in mannequins, the telekinetic powers and super strength is all a bit convoluted, and this is where the film may have suffered from the short shoot – it felt like there was more to the story to unfold.
With acting experience on his side, Chuck Connors delivered every bit of dialog with conviction; every beat he had, he nail perfectly. His performance is one of the major highlight’s to Tourist Trap. The rest of the cast did an ok job. The female cast tried a bit too hard when they delivered some of their lines. It was if they were trying to preform at a younger age through their vocal work which irked me quite a bit. It sounded like a mother addressing a child in a juvenile manner.
Another silly thing I must bring up is Davey. This character wore masks that quite frankly looked stupid. Obviously Robert A. Burns used some influences from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on some of the masks – drag queen leather face, anyone? While the Davey felt undesired, Burns did a outstanding job with the mannequins. Each mannequin that was the main focus of a scene, had it’s own feature, so each mannequin felt and looked different. Burns wasn’t the only known name Schmoeller hired. He got lucky when he got Pino Donaggio – who was working on Pirahna at the time – to score Tourist Trap for him and later Crawlspace.
(Where’s my chainsaw?)
Unless your apprehensive when it comes to mannequins, Tourist Trap is without a doubt an entertaining viewing. It does haves it’s hiccups along the way, but it moves at a nice pace over them with a mystery that will keep you tuned. Connors acting is larger than the film itself, every scene he appears in, is engaging. The art direction and cinematography is a delightful marriage for the short shoot and I’m guessing, low budget. Tourist Trap…get trapped now!