Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tourist Trap (1979)

I think I'm having a bit of a "WTF did I just watch?" moment with this one.

The irresistible artwork of this lured me in, but I'm not sure I was completely won over by this quirky debut from from director David "Puppetmaster" Schmoeller.

The promises made by the poster (and that tagline!) sadly aren't kept by the actual reality of Tourist Trap.

The set-up: a group of nubile young things are on a trip when one of their cars breaks down, forcing the guy to take a walk to look for help. In the film's first horror sequence, we're treated to a bizarre scene of laughing mannequins and inanimate objects dancing around a locked room as he screams for help.

The fate of the poor motorist (Keith McDermott) is handled surprisingly well at the end of this chaos. After hammering on the door he suddenly stops dead from being speared through the back by a length of pipe. There's silence, and then a strange sound, revealed with a slow expansion of the shot to be his blood running through the pipe and hitting a metal container on the floor. This was one of my favourite death scenes in this film. Bit of a pity that it happens so soon after the opening credits.

The dead man's friends continue down the road, as yet unaware of what happened - and passing a vulture, always a great omen! - where their car also breaks down, so they seek help inside a nearby down-on-its-luck wax museum.

Everything is going to be FINE...

The place is weird, the owner Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) is weird, and the house they are expressly told NOT to enter is... extremely weird. Mannequins fill the rooms and line the walls, some of them frighteningly lifelike. If that wasn't creepy enough, their eyes follow intruders, and occasionally they can be heard to talk.

There's something funny about that man...

Connors goes full-tilt with his scenery chewing as Mr. Slausen, swinging between innocently eccentric and bug-eyed bonkers. Slausen claims to be a widower (and has a mannequin/waxwork of his wife to prove it) with a talented brother who made all of the dolls on display, and then left him for a job in the city. But, of course, this man is much more than he claims to be. 

So, one by one the friends wander off alone, sometimes meeting a House of Wax-type fate, revealing the true origin of some, if not all, of the dolls in the house.

The killer, "Davy". Happy nightmares!

Molly (Jocelyn Jones), who could not be more symbolically virginal, with her dainty features, blonde hair and modest white summer dress (compared to the other females who are sexy, fun brunettes) is a classic final girl. She's less daring than the others, and initially trusting of everything she's told. Her character arc follows a pretty standard pattern as she gains the courage and strength needed to escape this unreal place.

Tanya Roberts (❤) as Becky and Jocelyn Jones as Molly.

I feel like pacing is such a common gripe for me with horror movies, and this one does suffer from extended periods of pretty uninteresting action in between the creepy mannequin scenes.

There's also the fact that the killer randomly and inexplicably appears to have telekinesis. No idea how, or why, but to be fair it does make for some of the most bizarre and enjoyable set pieces in the entire movie!

Mannequins are inherently scary, and they are used to mostly great effect here. 

Apparently the executive producer hated the score for Tourist Trap, and wanted something more like the atmospheric synth of Halloween. I can see his point; coupled with the largely hokey acting, the music, reaching pure melodrama on more than one occasion, makes the whole film seem a lot more quirky/weird and a lot less weird/scary.

This is streaming on Shudder at time of writing. I'm not going to fall over myself recommending this, but it might be fun in a cool double bill with Puppet Master or Maniac!

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