Blu-Ray Review: TOURIST TRAP (1979, US Blu-Ray)
(WARNING!! THERE ARE SPOILERS CONTAINED WITHIN! WARNING!!)
The only memory I retained of this movie was an early scene where this guy was trapped in a room while all this poltergeist-like phenomenon was happening all around him. He was trying to get out when this pipe flies across and impales him in the back. He then throws his head back in a silent scream as blood trickles out the end of the pipe.
Yeah, that freaked me out.
Having just seen Tourist Trap last night it’s plain to see that I never watched the movie all the way through. If I did, my ability to recall it has been stunted for it did not strike one familiar cord in me. Before I get deep into its review I just want to say I liked the movie. It was weird, creepy, grimy and descended into this dream logic vibe the longer it went on. Similar to Phantasm (1979) it felt like I was watching someone’s nightmare slowly and painfully unfold.
If you’ve never seen it and have a mannequin phobia I would not recommend watching it. I personally don’t have one but it nevertheless made me fear mannequins just a little bit. Parts of it fall into the ambiguous category but with this movie that was all right. Fear of the unknown is a deep-seeded phobia for most of the human race. We hate and fear those things that we cannot form a rational explanation or theory for and the origin of the psychic phenomena I mentioned prior is hazy at best and because of that I was additionally bothered. But I’ll get into that more in a bit.
From the description on the back cover you can get a feel what this movie is about, and you’d be half right: a group of young people, 6 to be exact, is menaced at this roadside tourist trap by this “crazy guy” who runs it. That’s basically true, but what throws you for a loop upon first viewing is the aforementioned fate of that guy who started out just looking for a place to get his tire fixed. His untimely end at thisabandoned gas station is what sets up the “weird” aspect of this plot.
After Woody (Keith McDermott) fails to return, Jerry (Jon Van Ness), Molly (Jocelyn Jones), Eileen (Robin Sherwood) and Becky (smoking hot Tanya Roberts) drive around looking for him and this is how they end up in the clutches of a Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) of Slausen’s Lost Oasis, the tourist trap of the title.
The girls first encounter him while skinny-dipping in a nearby watering hole. He seems benevolent enough, offers to house the girls and Jerry in his museum (Slausen’s tourist trap seems to specialize in mechanized mannequins of historical figures) as night comes, and even offers to help Jerry fix their jeep, which mysteriously died the moment he drive it onto his property.
Most of the menace in this movie is played out at night and begins after Slausen accompanies Jerry back to the jeep to fix it. The camera does not follow so we never know what transpires between the two. Eileen noticed a nearby house sitting in the back in the distance, but Slausen told them to stay away from it, to stay put in the museum, until they get back.
If his warning was heeded we might not have a movie. Actually, now that I think about it, I think, we still would have a movie, the “menace” would just come to them. In that house she hears voices, one of them sounds like Woody, she enters and finds a creepy abode full of junk and many, many mannequins…. and a homicidal individual wearing a blond wig and a creepy mask meant to look like missing Woody.
This individual kills the girl with his telekinetic powers, tightening the scarf around her neck until she suffocates. One by one the kids are stalked, menaced and captured by this person, who talks in a very unsettling tone and keeps them all bound in the basement of that house while he goes about making the kids “part of his collection.”
This person tells his captives he’s Slausen’s brother and the mask is supposed to stay on his face because Slausen thinks he’s better looking. This person does not remain a mystery throughout the whole movie. Eventually Molly discovers its Slausen himself either suffering from some kind of split personality or just using it to consciously terrorize them. Take your pick. Both theories are troubling.
As the movie progresses we learn telekinesis may just be the tip of the iceberg. No explanation given but just from what’s visually presented it seems Slausen can make people think the mannequins are real, that they can utter words and tones and make them sound like people they know thus baiting them into situations no other person might put themselves if it wasn’t anyone other than a friend in need.
He’s obviously turning his victims into mannequins for his display, but towards the end something unexplainably weird happens where we learn Jerry is a mannequin. When that happened we have no idea, since he was in view of others throughout the movie. The only time he’s out of sight of anyone, including the viewer, is towards the end when he and Becky finally escape the house and both flee in separate directions.
The ending is clearly downbeat.
This isn’t a gory movie at all. In fact it’s rated PG, yet feels very R-rated due to the intense nature of the story and the menacing atmosphere maintained through out from the moment Eileen visits the house in the beginning right to the maddening nightmarish conclusion. In that regard it reminded me of The Frighteners (1996) which was rated R but should have been rated PG-13. There’s no gore in that movie at all, but the intense nature of the story makes it feel very R-ish. Not that I’m a prude and am turned off by gore, sure I have my threshold namely that being anything Lucio Fulci has ever made sans The Beyond (1981), but I do admit I have a little more respect for a horror flick that can deliver the horror without making frequent to infrequent departures into gore. That probably goes back to my age-old love for H.P. Lovecraft who was able to deliver serious frights without spilling an ounce of blood or torturing it out of anyone.
One Dark Night (1983) is another horror movie that got a PG and is very unnerving, all done without spilling one once of blood.
But I digress.
The transfer is a little bit problematic. It’s got very good color, very crisp but in the last act it suffers from some infrequent frame jumping. Normally this would annoy me to no end, but given the nightmarish quality of the story the infrequent moments of frame jumping kind of made the movie a little weirder. This is probably the only flick where I can say a defect in the transfer acted as a kind of borderline advantage. Don’t get me wrong, if given the option to own it without the frame jumps I would be all over it, but for this particular one I wasn’t as put off by it as I normally should have been.
The two final scenes, however, exhibit some serious print damage, yet oddly the color is really good.
Not until recently did I learn Tourist Trap had been out once before on DVD from eOne (E1) Entertainment in 2005 with a commentary by Director David Schmoeller, then Full Moon themselves re-issued it on DVD last year without the commentary. The commentary that’s on this new blu-ray is in fact a new one. I had not gotten that previous eOne DVD so I can’t do a comparison but this new one hits all the right notes covering everything you ever wanted to know about the production, the director himself, the actors, the technical side of the filmmaking and most importantly the story itself.
Concerning the story it was interesting to learn Schmoeller initially wrote the story without the telekinesis angle but was persuaded by Charles Band to include it. This explains a lot of the “weirdness” within the movie for it can be interpreted in one of two ways according to Schmoeller. Way one is what I set forth previously in this review, but according to Schmoeller all the strange phenomena you see with the mannequins is really only happening in the mind of Slausen. This goes a long way in explaining the scene at the end where Jerry shows up out of the blue and is revealed to be a mannequin. This secondary interpretation does make the movie even more unnerving, for you’re really getting an inside view as to how insane Slausen really is.
He still has telekinetic powers Schmoeller says, but in his view his only display of it is when he slides the key away from Tanya Roberts.
It was also fun to learn that Jack Palance and Gig Young were approached before Connors was about being Slausen. And this was right before Young died in that murder/suicide of his.
General specs go like this, since there is no mention of the movie’s aspect ratio I hit up IMDB and they say it’s a 1.85:1 movie so I’m just going to assume that’s the size of the transfer I’m looking it.
It’s also anamorphic.
You have two choices for the audio, a stereo 2.0 track or a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround one. Both sounded fine to me.
There are no subtitles.
As for other extras you get a documentary titled, ‘Exit The Chop Shop: The Making Of Tourist Trap (24:35), which is David Schmoeller talking about the conception, the filming, and the release of the movie. Some of the topics he covered in the commentary but there is new stuff here that makes the doc worthwhile.
You also get a very nice Stills Gallery (3:35) set to the films music that showcases some documents Schmoeller wrote during production, lobby cards, behind-the-scenes stills, posters and VHS covers.
There’s a 2005 movie in existence called House Of Wax that I saw parts of at one time. Having now seen Tourist Trap I dare say this House Of Wax might be viewed as some kind of unofficial remake, just without Schmoeller/Band’s psychic powers and mannequin fetish.
Without out those two “gimmicks” I don’t think this movie would be as treasured, or as feared, as it is today. Without them you’d have just another “slasher” flick, albeit one with great atmosphere, but still just a movie about an ordinary madman with a very particular obsession, which ironically is what that House Of Wax movie is.