Tourist Trap (1979) Review

Producer Charles Band and director David Schmoeller may be more famous for their collaboration on the Puppetmaster series, but before Band’s company Full Moon had its finger on the pulse on the B movie industry, this duo created a surrealistic little number known as Tourist Trap.

A group of good looking young adults are on a vacation in the middle of nowhere when one of their cars blows a tire and Woody (Keith McDermott) goes in search of a repair shop. He comes across an abandoned station where he’s assaulted by an assortment of strange mannequins who move and cackle on their own. It seems their only motive is to see him dead. With his precarious situation still unknown to the rest of the group, the women go for a quick swim in the river. They are startled to find they are not alone. Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) convinces the group to hang out at his place while they wait for Woody’s return. Slausen’s pad doubles as a wax museum, a funhouse full of human figures if you will, including his dead wife. Slausen seems harmless enough, but he’s quite taken by the innocent looking Molly (Jocelyn Jones). He offers them a place to relax but warns against visiting the ominous house across the way, or they might regret it…

Upon first viewing, I admit I had a hard time with Tourist Trap’s whacked out sensibilities and couldn’t cotton to the illogical storyline. Upon a second glimpse, I began to understand the fever dream influenced story. It’s an atmospheric roller coaster ride with enough chills to hold your attention through the plot holes, which in retrospect are minor. Morose to the nth degree, once you decide to give yourself to the surrealistic world of gaping mannequin maws you’ll see what I mean.

The cast is appealing, especially Jocelyn Jones, who is well known to the B movie community as Claudia Jennings’s partner in crime in The Great Texas Dynamite Chase. She holds her own against the great Connors as she slips away into madness. She’s helped out by the rest of the winning cast including Tanya Roberts in one of her first films. Even the mannequins (some of which were played by mimes) take on their own persona and will stick in your mind’s eye hours after the film has ended. The colors and art direction are strong, proving that not all drive-in fare was made simply to fill seats.

A strange movie, heightened by Pino Dinaggio’s atmospheric score, Tourist Trap is the kind of slasher film that transcends its genre. This, my friends, is no Shrieker. A popcorn film filled with ambience, heart and tons of scary moments, even the most jaded film snobs will get something out of it.

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