Going on a road trip with friends may seem like a lot of fun, with America’s open roads unfolding before you like an endless smorgasbord, but that is only until you take that one unfortunate detour and find yourself running from a chainsaw-wielding maniac or being hunted by a group of children through a cornfield, and this is why I generally fly to places like Disney World or Cancun, statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel. It was in 1979 that director writer-director David Schmoeller conceived of a truly horrifying pit stop in the form of Tourist Trap, a film sporting a telekinetic killer and some of the most bizarre roadside attractions ever collected.
What would Stephen King’s Carrie White be like if she had a sadistic sense of humour? David Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap does its best to answer that burning question in a rather fun if derivative horror film, one that pits a group of attractive people against a telekinetic madman who is obsessed with mannequins and wax sculptures, and these sculptures aren’t exactly what they appear to be. The film opens with a young man named Woody (Keith McDermott) rolling a tire down a desolate road, we later learn that he blew a tire, and his girlfriend Eileen (Robin Sherwood) is waiting for his return, but he does not return because he has a close encounter of the telekinetic kind in an abandoned gas station and is killed. Woody and Eileen’s other friends, Becky (Tanya Roberts), Jerry (Jon Van Ness), and Molly (Jocelyn Jones), who were travelling in a different vehicle, come across the stranded Eileen and as a group, they decide to search for good ole Woody. In their search, they come across a picturesque waterfall and the girls choose to take a dip, enter roadside museum proprietor Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors), who offers them a ride back to his place for help. You may now start the egg timer to mark the remaining moments of their lives.
Note: The character of Molly dresses like she is going to a 1930s Church Social while her friends Becky and Eileen are wearing cut-off denim shorts and tube tops, clearly, Molly knows the appropriate outfit to wear to become the Final Girl.
This film’s particular tourist trap is an old roadside stop that is filled with mechanical wax figures, a place called Slausen’s Lost Oasis, but it is more than a simple tourist destination, as the film title has a double meaning, this place is a literal trap. Our cast of young idiots are soon separated, after being warned not to go outside in the dark, and much of the film will consist of this gallant bunch of morons wandering around either the dark woods or the even darker hallways, calling out to each other incessantly. Mysterious elements are slowly introduced, such as a weird mannequin of Slausen’s late wife and the whereabouts of Slausen’s brother Davey, who may or may not actually exist, but all of this is just window dressing to the weirdness of Slausen’s world, one full of animated mannequins and grotesque figures in bizarre masks.
Stray Observations and Spoilers Below:
• Mr. Slausen states that “Once they moved the highway, I’m afraid we lost most of our business” which is a direct quote from Hitchcock’s film Psycho, and I assume was used here to illustrate how progress creates crazed murderers. At least that’s the impression I got.
• Horror icon Linnea Quigley has an uncredited role as one of the animated mannequins, that she did not get a bigger part in this film is a crime that I will not forgive
• This is one of the rare slasher films without any nudity at all, despite the three main girls going skinny dipping, and it’s even stranger when you consider that Tanya Roberts would later have nude bathing scenes in both The Beastmaster and Sheena.
• Jerry escapes the house, running in one direction while Molly runs in the other with Mr. Slausen hard on her heels, but during the film’s big finale Jerry shows up and is revealed to have been turned into one of Slausen’s mannequins, yet we are given no clue as to how Slausen had recaptured Jerry.
• That none of the characters tumble to the fact that Mr. Slausen and his masked murderous brother Davey are one and the same just proves that their deaths are nothing more than a simple cleaning out of the gene pool.
There is something innately creepy about mannequins, the Twilight Zone episode “After Hours” being an especially effective use of our collective fear of these rigid imposters of humanity, and director David Schmoeller really knows his stuff when it comes to orchestrating truly nightmare-inducing moments, and Slausen’s telekinetic ability to move the mannequins around heightens the horror of the situation, that said, the film does borrow heavily from other horror films, the setting has a very Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel to it and the telekinesis from Stephen King’s Carrie is on full display, the villains’ dissociative identity disorder is clearly lifted from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and Slausen turning his victims into mannequins themselves is a page right of the Vincent Price classic House of Wax.
Strangely enough, all those borrowed elements work surprisingly well together, as if ingredients in some bizarre stew, and at any point in the story when something seems to break with logic Schmoeller is able to fall back on the film’s intrinsic dreamlike quality, or nightmare landscape to be more accurate, as we the viewer can never be sure that what they are seeing is actually happening because it could be just a broken nightmare vision of one of the characters. That Slausen’s supernatural ability is never explained works to the film’s benefit, as does the simple backstory of his murdering his wife and brother for having a sexual tryst behind his back, and when the film finally wraps up, we are just as broken as the movie’s last “surviving” character.
This low-budget horror film from Full Moon Entertainment may have plundered many ingredients from other better films but the core story and cast of characters on display here are quite excellent, with a special shout out to Chuck Connors in a role that he took on with gusto, and it all goes towards making a visit to this particular tourist trap well worth the time. Note: That this thing was rated PG boggles the mind and that soft rating was certainly a detriment to its box office success as the hard “R” ruled this genre.
Tourist Trap (1979)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
David Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap is a wonderfully bizarre film that even though it doesn’t all quite work – you will break your brain trying to justify some of the events – it is still quite entertaining and Chuck Connors and the rest of the cast all bring their “A” game to this horror gem.