The Film: Tourist Trap
The Principles: Starring Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Tanya Roberts, Jon Van Ness and Robin Sherwood. Directed by David Schmoeller.
The Premise: Four young friends find themselves stranded at a remote roadside museum, where they are each stalked and attacked by a crazed masked maniac with supernatural powers.
Is it any good?: There are some films I’ve seen in my early childhood that have left quite a mark, but this one really takes the cake. I watched it for the first time on late night cable when I was about eleven-years-old and it wrapped itself tightly around my cerebral cortex, causing me years of bizarre nightmares. Paramount Pictures released it on home video during their streak in the early eighties of successful slashers like, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine and April Fool’s Day. This film uses the same set up that those movies did, except there is a bone-chilling weirdness that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, making it one of the more atmospheric gems from that era.
We are introduced to a group of attractive young people on a road trip, who end up stranded at a roadside “lost” oasis that includes a western museum. It is run by an odd, but friendly old coot named Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors), who lives by himself in a house filled with mannequins and life-size dolls that can move. Before long the kids start wandering off alone, only to be rubbed out by a terrifying masked weirdo who uses telekinetic powers to dispatch his victims. Now that’s original! The body count is relatively low for a slasher, but each death is a highly stylized set piece of chilling weirdness. The opening kill is one of the freakiest I’ve ever witnessed before or since. See for yourselves:
Chuck Connors (T.V.’s The Rifleman) does a really expert job of providing a character that comes off as a likeable old recluse who’s only trying to help. He’s a little like a redneck Norman Bates in overalls, cowboy hat and sporting a shotgun. Seventies sex goddess Tanya Roberts (the Megan Fox of her day) bounces around in cut-offs and a tight tube top and is featured in one of the more outrageous death scenes, involving mechanical dolls of General Custer, Davy Crockett and Geronimo.
Another thing this movie has going for it is that it’s dripping with atmosphere. Director David Schmoeller, who’s also responsible for the 1986 Klaus Kinski psychosexual creep fest Crawlspace, makes wonderful use out of his backwoods location. It’s beautifully shot for a low budget film and the interiors are richly dark and gorgeous as well. Overall, the tone, look and feel is like Psycho meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, except for the weird, unexplained addition of a killer with telekinetic powers, which puts it into a category all alone – the supernatural-slasher. Imagine Leatherface if he had Carrie’s abilities. I must add that Pino Donaggio’s score for this film is sublime. It sounds like creepy carnival music mixed with Bernard Herrmann.
This film was given a PG rating when it was released in 1979, but by today’s standards it would have received an R just for its disturbing subject matter. There’s only a little brief nudity, no sex or offensive language, but the murders are pretty freakish and violent. There’s one scene where the killer covers a victim’s face with plaster so he may turn her into one of his living dolls. He explains what’s happening to her while he’s doing it and it’s incredibly fucked-up to watch. You can understand how seeing this movie at an early age could definitely affect your subconscious. It lingers with you.
Is it worth a look?: If you love scary movies from this era, or any era for that matter, I strongly suggest you check it out. It’s a highly original take on a very repetitive genre, while still providing the comfort of looking and feeling like the others. Oh yeah, the ending is devastatingly insane and includes a still frame image that will remain forever burned into my mind’s eye. Watch it late at night in the dark like I did… if you dare.
Random anecdotes: Stephen King has stated that this is one of his favorite horror films ever.
Cinematic soul mates: Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Funhouse, Carrie, House of 1000 Corpses and House of Wax (2005).