When it comes to the horror genre, there’s always going to be the usual movies steeped in typical cliches, such as possessions, creepy children, zombies, etc. However, once in awhile, there are others that come out of nowhere and contain such originality, that they can get sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Tourist Trap (1979), directed by David Schmoeller, which is for better and/or worse, one of those films.
As with most slasher films, the film starts off with a group of fun-loving youths (including Jocelyn Jones and the late Tanya Roberts) making one of the biggest mistakes characters usually do: they stop off at a roadside attraction (a “tourist trap”), ignoring the sign that says “Closed”. Their car breaks down (of course), and they go strolling off, in areas where they shouldn’t. But they find a waterfall and decide to cool off by skinny dipping. They encounter Mr. Slausen (TV and film veteran Chuck Connors), the owner of the decrepit attraction. He is lonely, but seems nice, at first. He only has mannequins to keep him company, which he tells the group that his younger brother made. But there’s something really off about these figures, and why do they look so life-like?
Soon after, members of the group go off one-by-one, never to return, which leaves Molly (Jones) the lone survivor, who (spolier alert) discovers that the realistic-looking mannequins are in fact real people, those who have disappeared before while being lured to the attraction. They are killed and turned into them. Not only that, Slausen’s brother doesn’t exist, but is in fact Slausen himself, who can control the mannequins with his telekinesis. In this case, Molly has to fight for her life, which she does. When her survival skills kick in (along with her insanity), she kills Slausen and escapes. The final freeze-frame shot has her driving off with her friends (who have all been turned into mannequins).
There is one side where you can say that some parts are kind of mundane, and that the characters (with the exception of Slausen and Molly) don’t leave much of an impression, and delves within formulaic territory. But on the other hand, you have to admit that this is one of the more creative horror movies in the genre’s history. It’s very creepy and eerie, and it has a sense of atmosphere not usually shown in films like it. It’s also practically bloodless and contains no gore, which is rare, considering at the time where audiences were starting to crave really graphic and gory violence. And if you’re looking for nudity and titillation, look elsewhere. This is a horror outing that was trying something different, even if that meant sometimes relying on over-the-top quirkiness rather than subtlety. It was rated PG, after all.
The first brand new edition (released last year) comes in a retro collector’s VHS box, which includes a Slausen action figure and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. But if that’s not your thing, the standalone Blu-ray will be available next month. Both contain a remastered and fully uncut (with standard definition inserts of missing footage) picture, and the same special features, which are really light, but they include an audio commentary and interview by Schmoeller, as well as rare trailers (including one for Tourist Trap). Despite this, it could be a decent buy, especially if you’re a fan of the film.
Tourist Trap is no masterpiece of cinema mind you, but it is a solid, offbeat flick, with enough gumption, neat special effects, and actual spookiness to overshadow some of its rough edges. You have to admire it for thinking outside the horror box.