TOURIST TRAP (1979)
“You’re so pretty it’s a shame you have to die, it will be quick, but it won’t be easy. You’ll die of fright.”
Tourist Trap (1979) A Charles Band Production. Written and directed by David Schmoeller, (Puppetmaster series) co-written by J. Larry Carroll, director of photography Nicholas von Sternberg, music by Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now 1973, Carrie 1976, Dressed to Kill 1980, The Howling 1981, Body Double 1984) Art direction by Robert A. Burns (who worked on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974, which like Tourist Trap also had minimal gore and no nudity), special effects by Richard O. Helmer and make-up by David Ayers, Robert A. Burns, Ken Horn, Ve Neill and and Karen Stern.
Stars Chuck Connors (The Rifleman, Soylent Green 1973, The Horror at 37, 000 ft. 1973, Nightmare in Badham County 1976 tv movie) as the creepy Mr. Slausen. Chuck Connors had actually sought out the part of Mr. Slausen stating that he wanted to be the Boris Karloff of the 1980s! It is a very good role for him indeed, as he is perfectly peculiarly menacing and off-beat.
Jocelyn Jones plays Molly-the virginal final girl who just happens to be the daughter of amazing character actor Henry Jones!
Jon Van Ness (The Hitcher 1986) as Jerry, Robins Sherwood (Death Wish II, Blow Out 1981) as Eileen, Tanya Roberts (Charlie’s Angels, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle 1984) as Becky, Dawn Jeffory as Tina, Keith McDermott as Woody, Shailar Coby as Davey and Albert Band and Linnea Quigley as Mannequins.
The reason I hold onto my VHS tapes (as sad and worn as they are), instead of buying the Blu-ray version with better quality and vivid colors, is unfortunately that the newer version is cut down making it a shorter version of the movie. I’ll wind up with the new release but I’ll never let go of my VHS unless it disintegrates into analog dust and goo in the Rubbermaid container!
Tourist Trap with its sublime moments of terror will forever stay burned into my memory for its original brand of creepiness, partly due to the animated mannequins, the sense of isolation and dread, and Pino Dinaggio’s enigmatic melodically robotic score incorporating ghost town saloon tinny piano sounds, and wind up toys, that drives the story perfectly! This to me is undoubtedly one of THE scariest films of the 1970s decade of horror. Not just the mannequins that play a factor in the level of freakiness, it’s the fact that the victims themselves get transformed somehow into mannequins themselves. Yes, they do, indeedy they do!
A group of young people driving in one of those jeeps called ‘the Thing’ of the late 70s go for a trip out in the desert but of course, as it is with all these pictures in order to set up the chilling storyline, they must become stranded! Fortunately, they break down by Slausen’s Lost Oasis, a tourist-trap museum run by the deranged Mr. Slausen, which is filled with a collection of remarkable automatons and life like-mannequins and some who are even gunslingers (you’ll find out)
These unusually menacing figures can not only move, they also possess the powers of telekinesis. Slausen (Connors who is effectively creepy in this macabre dark fairy tale about getting lost and winding up at the wrong house) might be the one who has the power to move objects at will, but either way, the film becomes a manic fun-house ride that is incredibly frightening as well as suffocating because they are trapped at the Lost Oasis. One by one, Slausen dispenses with the group except for Molly who has caught his eye and animated his you know what, if you catch my drift. Actually, we get a little back story as Slausen tells Molly “You remind me of my wife.” whose likeness or life itself has been dedicated to wax in the museum.
The beauty of Tourist Trap is in its restraint to use violence or gore, it is intense, lurid, tacky, and wonderfully 70s-style horror. It’s the moodiness of the surroundings and the idea that wax dummies are dangerous, not to mention the paraffin masks that Slausen & Davey wear that are wholly imaginative and inject something incredibly spine-tingling into the non-human atmosphere. With screaming mannequins, their grotesque mouths gaping open in a choir of falsetto!
Don’t expect to learn the deep dark secrets of the mannequin’s powers or whether Slausen and Davey are the same man as you’ll never see them together at the same time, and Shailar Cobey is credited as playing Davey. There just are no signposts in this film, no clear explanation for any of the goings on, it is as ephemeral as a twisted dream. It is as I said, a Fun-house ride through creepy-ville. And Connors is spectacular as a hyper-sexual, lonely man-child who has too many toys to play with or I should say not enough living dolls. There are hints of House of Wax (1953) starring Vincent Price, though the narrative is different, the essence of what makes the story terrifying is the mania of the antagonist’s medium of sculpting wax over living bodies. Tourist Trap is nightmarish, deliciously campy, disorienting, frightening, and wickedly fun to watch as the mannequins invade the space, where there is nowhere else to run.
Eileen: “Mr. Slausen, can I use your phone?”
Mr. Slausen: “Oh sure, help yourself… but it doesn’t work. I got nobody to call.”
Davey: [deep, raspy voice] “We’re going to have a party!”
Davey: “My brother always makes me wear this stupid mask. Do you know why? Because I’m prettier than him.”
The script originally called for nudity, but Schmoeller said he was too bashful and embarrassed to bring it up with Tanya Roberts and the other actresses during casting. When they got to the lake scene, he finally asked them if they’d be willing. The collective answer was no.
Stephen King praised the film in his book Danse Macabre, especially its frightful opening scene.
Director David Schmoeller was startled when the film received a PG rating despite its disturbing subject matter. Schmoeller stated in an interview with TerrorTrap.com that he felt the film would have been more commercially successful had it received an R rating.
The mannequin who gives the female lead something to drink is actually Schmoeller’s then-wife. The mannequin originally had 2 lines, but Schmoeller had them edited out during post-production. She then never forgave him for that.
Tanya Roberts insisted on running through the woods barefoot in one scene. She thought it would help her better project a sense of pain and fear. The result was also that her feet were bloodied.
Pino Donaggio’s fee for composing the score was one sixth of the movie’s budget.
The plaster used in the death scene was actually dough.
Though the masked killer was called Davey, the production crew have since dubbed him “Plasterface”.
Tourist Trap was actually based on David Schmoeller’s senior film project at film school. (According to Schmoeller’s commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD)
Jon Van Ness did his own stunt when he jumps through the window.
Jocelyn Jones was a classically-trained actress, whereas Chuck Connors was self-taught. During filming, Connors would often ask Schmoeller why Jones would have to go through various routines before filming scenes (such as breathing exercises.) (According to Schmoeller’s commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD.) Shot in twenty-four days.
Irwin Yablans reportedly hated Pino Donaggio’s score for the film, as Yablans wanted another synthesized score in the same tradition as John Carpenter’s Halloween.
3 thoughts on “Saturday Nite Sublime -Tourist Trap (1979) “You’re so pretty, it’s a shame you have to die!””
Saw this when it first came out, but reading this post makes me want to check it out again. Heh, I held onto my VHS collection into the early 2000s, but once discs with special features and/or extended versions of films started popping up, I slowly started replacing them. Still it’s totally fine to hold onto flicks that you love on any format.
You’ve got to see it again, You’ll love it! I can’t seem to get rid of the VHS. I love remastered work, but there’s something about the original analogue tape that is warm and fuzzy, literally ~~ It comes from being a musician who is nostalgic about Analogue sound vs digital. Hope you’re having a spooky Halloween!!!! I’ve got a 24hour playlist on the tele!
Oh, I keep a few of those terminally cheesy Mill Creek DVD box sets here just because the transfers are SO grainy and imperfect despite some of the titles getting later cleaned up reissues. Yeah, there’s something about seeing an old fave look and sometimes sound old, for sure, especially some of the exploitation flicks.