Small Screen Slashers – Trapped

The same year that he fought Yul Brynner to the death in the science fiction classic Westworld, thirty-two year old James Brolin was forced to flee for his life through a closed department store from vicious guard dogs. Produced by Universal TV and debuting on ABC in 1973, Trapped would be overshadowed by Brolin’s big screen success and would remain overlooked and underappreciated, a fate many made-for-television films would suffer. A simple premise with few locations and characters, Trapped would make full use of its claustrophobic environment, whilst also fuelling the same kind of fear of dogs that Cujo would conjure up a decade later.

As his ex-wife, Elaine, prepares to relocate to Mexico City with her new husband, David, Chuck Brenner takes his young daughter, Carrie, to Noonan’s Department Store, a luxurious shopping mall. When they discover that her favourite doll is out of stock, a kind-hearted clerk orders one from their warehouse but Elaine refuses to wait, forcing Chuck to remain behind at the store whilst Elaine and Carrie make their way to meet David at the airport. Mugged and beaten and left unconscious in a restroom cubicle, Chuck is overlooked as the staff lock up the store for the weekend, leaving a group of guard dogs patrolling the premises.

Chuck awakens to discover that his belongings have been stolen and that he is trapped inside the building, forcing him to try to find a way out to safety before he is eaten alive. Meanwhile, despite Elaine being eager to escape to her new life, David fears that Carrie will resent him for taking her away from her father and so convinces his wife to help him search for Chuck before they leave for good. With the police refusing to accept that he is missing in such a short time, David grows increasingly concerned that Chuck may be in danger, whilst Elaine tries to fight her true feelings about her ex-husband.

By the time Trapped rolled into production, Frank De Felitta had enjoyed a relatively successful career as both a writer and filmmaker. A former Second World War pilot, De Felitta eventually turned to screenwriting with a variety of television shows, before winning an Emmy for the 1963 documentary Emergency Ward. Trapped would become his first feature film, which he would both write and direct, whilst his daughter, Eileen (under her professional name Ivy Jones), would take the supporting role of clerk Connie Havemeyer. De Felitta would also enjoy major acclaim as an author of horror fiction; commencing in 1975 with the novel Audrey Rose and later followed by The Entity, adapted for the screen in 1982 by Sidney J. Furie. De Felitta would return to the Trapped formula once again in 1991 with the Sharon Stone thriller Scissors.

Brolin himself had already gained over a decade of acting experience in the industry, having started out on television before landing minor roles in several films. Canadian-born actress Susan Clark had also worked on the small screen, although her biggest success would come later in her career with the role of Katherine in the show Webster, as well as an appearance in the hit comedy Porky’s. In the sympathetic role of David was Earl Holliman, who first gained acclaim in the mid-1950s when he won a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for his performance in the movie The Rainmaker. Other roles that would follow included the classics Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Forbidden Planet.

Television veterans also worked behind the scenes, with the cinematography handled by Fred Mandl (The Fugitive, The Munsters) and the score – which would include both traditional orchestral and jazz – composed by Gil Melle (Columbo, The Six Million Dollar Man). Trapped would employ a tried-and-tested formula; a respectable man is forced to revert to his primal instincts in order to survive a deadly enemy, in this case a pack of Dobermans and Alsatians. It also featured the siege theme, which John Carpenter would put to more effective use with the thrillers Assault on Precinct 13 and Somebody’s Watching Me. Some critics have cited Trapped as an inspiration behind the cult 1986 flick Chopping Mall, although director Jim Wynorksi has repeatedly denied this.

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6 Responses to “ Small Screen Slashers – Trapped ”

  1. Earl Holliman 4ever! I adore him, and you’re right, he’s really sympathetic in the part. Always likable.

    I should revisit this, it’s been a few years!

  2. Yes he is definitely the heart of the movie. Susan Clark comes across as a bit of a bitch for the first half.

    It’s a simple-yet-effective TV thriller and definitely typical of the 1970s (and I mean that in a good way).

  3. Christian, this piece was amazing. I love this TVM – James Brollin is, of course, the man. I would have done away with the cutaways to the ex, but I suppose they needed some sort of pushing forward of the plot. It just took away from the claustrophobic setting of the department store, is all.

    I first learned about this when Jim Wynorski told me it was a partial inspiration for Chopping Mall!

  4. Funny, on here a couple of years ago he said he hadn’t seen this at the time he made Chopping Mall:

    “Chopping Mall was inspired by an old Ivan Tors flick from the 1950s entitled Gog. Vestron Video came to Julie Corman (Roger’s wife and a fine producer in her own right) looking for a film about ‘a killer in a mall.’ She said if I wrote a good one, I could direct it. I recalled the plot from Gog involved a couple of dangerous computer controlled robots patrolling an underground scientific lab in the Arizona desert. Co-writer Steve Mitchell and I transposed the idea to a mall and we were off and running. Some people have said we took our concept from a 1970s TV movie about guard dogs in a mall called Trapped, but in actuality neither Steve or I ever saw that flick.”

    Oh well, great film anyway.

  5. Ah, my “bad”. You’re right. I rechecked what he said and it pretty much matches what he told you. I guess just his mention of the concept got me pretty excited though, so I still have Wynorski to thank!

  6. That’s the good thing about interviews, you get to learn about movies you’ve never heard of before.

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