When did you first develop a love of cinema and how did you take your first steps into filmmaking? What kind of movies were you inspired by and which directors had the greatest influence on your work?
“My interest in film started relatively late. In high school. I wanted to be a writer…a novelist, actually. I started my undergraduate studies at the Universidad de Las Americas in Mexico City and travelled all over Mexico pretending to be a writer – but never really writing anything. I was really clueless about film. My wife and I returned to Texas (where I was from) and we finished our studies at UT Austin. It was at UT that I first discovered film. A friend of mine was a film major, started telling me about what they did in film school – and it sounded more interesting than just writing. At UT, I quickly grew into a filmmaker – making one short after another. It was a great period in history and a very creative time for me. I made seven short films in undergraduate and graduate school. My Thesis film THE SPIDER WILL KILL YOU, was funded by the Director’s Guild of America. It was subsequently nominated for a student Oscar and came in second to Robert Zemeckis’ thesis film in 1975.
What do you remember about the making of your short THE SPIDER WILL KILL YOU in 1976? What kind of film was it and how did it prepare you for your subsequent features?
“I believe the SPIDER WILL KILL YOU was actually filmed in 1973-74. It was my thesis film at UT. It was a 30 minutes short, similar to a TWILIGHT ZONE episode – about a blind man living in a theatre attic – who falls in love with a female mannequin – who subsequent tries to kill him. SPIDER was the genesis for TOURIST TRAP. THE SPIDER WILL KILL YOU was nominated for a student Academy Award – at the 2’d annual student academy awards ceremony. It got me an agent – and it got me my first feature film directing job. It will be available for download at the THOR STORE – http://thoratthebusstop.com in a few weeks. It was my first major production (as a student filmmaker) and was critical to me becoming a feature film director.”
How did you make the acquaintance of Charles Band and were any other concepts discussed before the idea of TOURIST TRAP originated?
“TOURIST TRAP was inspired in most part by THE SPIDER WILL KILL YOU. It was a completed screenplay that we submitted to Charles Band. My producing partner, Larry Carroll, was working as an editor for Charles Band – and he submitted the script to him. Charlie read the script, liked it, wanted to know if I could direct. I showed him THE SPIDER WILL KILL YOU – which had all these effects about mannequins coming alive – so, he knew I could direct – and gave us a green light.”
How much of an influence did Charles have on the writing of TOURIST TRAP and how much creative freedom did he allow you?
“TOURIST TRAP was a complete screenplay when we gave it to Charlie. It was mostly a psychological thriller. The one thing that Charlie added – was the concept of telekinesis. He wanted the Chuck Connors character to have that power. It made it easier to explain and easier to visualize. The really great thing about Charlie Band is that he totally lets the directors alone…does not interfere in shooting…or even in editing. He gave us complete freedom in making our movie.”
TOURIST TRAP shares some similarities with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Had you seen that when you were writing the script and would you acknowledge it as an influence?
“There is an obvious connection – as related previously because of Larry’s involvement in CHAINSAW…but they are such different stories – except that they both deal with a group of friends who inadvertently end up in out-of-the-way places that completely destroy their lives…”
How were the various mannequins created and were you pleased with the results? Do you have a personal fear of dolls of any kind as they occasionally appear in your work (such as PUPPET MASTER)?
“Art Director Robert Burns was the master of mannequins coming alive in TOURIST TRAP. He had done TEXAS CHAINSAW, HILLS HAVE EYES, and many other great horror films of that period – and was just a marvel at doing a lot with very little money. He killed himself a few years ago. Very sad. He was a real talent. I have no fear whatsoever of dolls or mannequins. But, I do know how they can creep people out. I made two short films about mannequins coming alive before I made TOURIST TRAP – so, I was fairly skilled at the process. And then later, I wrote and directed PUPPETMASTER…and played around with bringing puppets alive…which is also creepy. And, I’m actually currently working on a screenplay about mannequins coming alive in a shopping mall – that I think might become a studio film…we’ll see.”
TOURIST TRAP is often considered a slasher film and referenced alongside other films of the era such as HALLOWEEN and THE BURNING. What place would you say your movie has in this genre and have there been any films in particular since that you feel has been inspired by your movie?
“I teach a class on THE HORROR FILM at UNLV where I am an Associate Professor – and I would quibble with you about TOURIST TRAP being a “slasher film.” HALLOWEEN is frequently cited as the beginning of the “Slasher Film” – and John Carpenter has, probably unsuccessfully tried to refute that label as well. But, since TOURIST TRAP came after HALLOWEEN (which is considered the birth of the slasher film), it is bundled into this genre. So be it. Stephen King, in his non-fiction book on the horror film (DANSE MACABRE) cites TOURIST TRAP as his favourite film. (I can send you these references, if you want – just let me know). I really don’t know if any films or filmmakers have been inspired by my movie.”
In what ways do you feel the movie succeeded and how do you feel it could have been improved?
“TOURIST TRAP was discovered years after its initial theatrical release. First of all, it was badly mis-rated. It was given a PG-13 rating – which is a death sentence for a horror film. We were shocked by that rating. I would not let my son see it – because it was way too violent. So, what happened, in subsequent years, because it was rated PG-13, it could play on TV in the afternoons – and all these young kids saw it – and were TERRIFIED – because, ultimately, it is a horrifying movie. To this day, I get people coming up to me saying: “I saw TOURIST TRAP on TV when I was seven and it scarred the shit out of me.” I knew so little about making movies…so, YEAH, I would make a much better movie if I made it today…”
How well do you feel TOURIST TRAP has aged over the years and have you ever expressed interest in returning to the story?
“TOURIST TRAP has become a cult movie over the years. Interest in it continues to grow…at least that is my experience. And as I said earlier, I am working on a new script about mannequins coming alive in a shopping mall – kind of an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS meets TOURIST TRAP…meets our current recession malaise…but done with a real, significant budget… Whatever…I’m excited…”