Tourist Trap (1979) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Tourist Trap (1979) Review

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on October 12th, 2018 | Movie Review | Slasher, Cult Classic, Killer, Teen, Doll

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It’s about a carload of teenagers running afoul of a remote museum inhabited by mannequins.

Tourist Trap was directed by David Schmoeller (who also directed Netherworld and Puppet Master) and stars Chuck Connors (from Maniac Killer), Jocelyn Jones and Jon Van Ness (from Hospital Massacre).

Every year young people disappear...

Tourist Trap Review (1979)

Dude, where’s my subtext?

After all the intellectual, egg-headed reviews the Present Author has been doing lately, it’s refreshing to review a plain ol’ horror movie without a message. Tourist Trap is not just a straight formula slasher in structure, it’s also an under-appreciated and brilliantly original one in execution. Put up your feet and blaze a doobie, Mr. Brain, we’ll call you tomorrow!

The All-American Giallo

Let’s get the formula out of the way: Horror fans, pick up your hymnals and turn to Stock Plot #6 to sing along. A carload of teenagers breaks down in the sticks, wandering into a dilapidated roadside stop to ask for help. They meet a strange guy there with a weird place. The teenagers do all the dumb things you’re not supposed to do in a slasher flick, like go skinny dipping and split up to investigate strange noises in the dark. They all get picked off one by one down to a final girl, thus lo, the Old Ones are sated with their annul sacrifice. Amen.

Now for the original parts: The weird place is “Slausen’s Lost Oasis,” a mannequin museum straight out of a traveling vlogger’s YouTube channel. Curated by Mr. Slausen, it soon turns out to be the canonical creepy old museum festooned with secret passageways and spooky mechanical mannequins, some of whom are even armed. You will swear, as God is your witness, you saw Shaggy and Scooby running around. Indeed, at least the Scooby Doo gang managed to walk out of places like this with the same head count they had going in.

It all seems so familiar...

But then there’s the parts that appear unoriginal: The movie opens with the treasured early kill trope, a guy who stumbles upon a room full of gibbering animated mannequins in a scene you will swear was inspired by Evil Dead, except that Evil Dead came out two years later. You’ll be unable to ignore a definite Camp Crystal Lake vibe off the whole place, and then be stunned again to realize Friday the 13th came out a whole year later. Over and over again, Tourist Trap appears to be playing by the book but then you find out it wrote the book. Or helped write it.

Another reason this movie feels so familiar is that it shared several crew members, such as the writer and the effects director, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yes, the influence is dead-obvious there. In fact, there’s still plenty of horror inspirations this movie draws from; to even mention some of them would spoil it.

Slasher Flicks For Dummies

Stephen King’s Danse Macabre (our unofficial site bible) does Tourist Trap the favor of mentioning it as a hidden gem, but then King claims that Chuck Conners is miscast. “Blasphemy!” says the cult fanbase of this flick. Conners is actually brilliantly effective here. You’re familiar with Conners from horse operas like The Rifleman and The Big Country, so at first you can’t believe who you’re seeing. Then as his character develops, it dawns on you what a perfect set-up it was as Conners pulls this off with flying colors. If you dig into his resume, you find out he struggled hard against being typecast with a cowboy hat on his head, through such daring career moves as appearing in the tragically-forgotten Rod Serling series Night Gallery. Conners, it turns out, was familiar with horror.

This was director David Schmoeller’s first feature film. Schmoeller would go on to prove himself a master of making quirky cult horror classics with interesting, warped antagonists such as Klaus Kinski’s “Karl Guenther” in the blood-freezing Crawlspace. That thumbprint is indelible here. The closer to the end this movie gets, the more it’s filled with unforgettable scenes and moments. You will never shop at a department store again without thinking about it.

Tourist Trap is far from perfect. Even without other canonical horror movie cliches for reference, it doesn’t do a very good job of keeping its surprises before it’s time to spring them. It’s low budget and it shows, especially considering half the props must have come from a May Company auction. It also has aspects that don’t make a smidgen of sense. But since when did all that ever slow a good slasher down? Tourist Trap, the textbook definition of “guilty pleasure,” deserves to be remembered with the same love as Freddy, Jason, Michael, or Leatherface. At least unlike those franchises, this one didn’t get sequeled to bloody death.

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