Oct 27, 2014

Tourist Trap (1979)

The last thing I need to see this Halloween season is another superlatively shitty and soulless slasher flick directed by some untalented for-hire horror hack, so naturally I was quite hesitant about watching the cult item Tourist Trap (1979) co-written and directed by David Schmoeller (Puppet Master, Catacombs), whose work Crawlspace (1986) starring Klaus Kinski I just recently watched and was so impressed with how oh so bad it was. After seeing that it was lauded in Stephen King’s nonfiction work Danse Macabre (1981) and praised by various reputable horror scholars, I figured I would take the plunge and give Schmoeller's directorial debut a chance, not least of all because I am a fan of creepy and grotesque mannequins, which I first encountered as a young child while visiting a resort town museum that featured a demented looking 1920s laughing female dummy that looked like a rabid crack-addled amazonian drag queen on display. Indeed, from the human-nequins of Steven Arnold's psychedelic surrealist short The Liberation of Mannique Mechanique (1967) to the phantom-like pseudo-human beauties of Umberto Lenzi’s brazenly bizarre giallo Spasmo (1974) to the oftentimes cheesy wig adorned dummies of William Lustig’s Maniac (1980) starring Joe Spinell to the rotten and corpse-like mannequins of French auteur Patrick Bokanowski’s experimental black-and-white avant-garde short The Woman Who Powders Herself (1972) aka La femme qui se poudre, I cannot get enough of morbid manikins. The genesis of Tourist Trap was director Schmoeller's vaguely experimental University of Texas thesis film The Spider Will Kill You (1976), which was funded by a grant from the Directors Guild of America and was an Academy Award Student Film finalist for the student Oscar that ultimately lost to future Hollywood heavyweight Robert Zemeckis’ satirical short A Field of Honor (1973). The morbid story of an old blind man that lives in an old theater and falls in love with a murderous mechanical mannequin, The Spider Will Kill You is, at best, a primitive but somewhat worthwhile misbegotten example of what the director’s first feature would eventually become. Featuring a score by Italian composer Pino Donaggio (Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, Carrie), sound effects culled from The Time Machine (1960) and Gone with the Wind (1939), and art direction by horror master Robert A. Burns (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Re-Animator), as well as notable acting performances from super Nordic Übermensch, MLB/NBA sports star turned actor Chuck Connors (Branded, Soylent Green), and McJewess Tanya Roberts (Charlie's Angels, The Beastmaster, That '70s Show) and cinematography by Josef von Sternberg’s son Nicholas, Tourist Trap is one of those horror flicks that is done a great disservice by being labeled a slasher movie, as it manages to transcend the totally tasteless tedium of the ghetto subgenre, which probably has largely to do with the fact that executive producer Charles Band gave the director relative creative license over the film. Basically, the film is a vaguely oneiric Chuck Connors dark comedy show featuring the ex-athlete in a somewhat campy leatherface-esque role and including some cool murderous mannequins and some ok looking future starlets that do not bare their unclad bodies nearly enough (as director Schmoeller confessed in an audio commentary track from the DVD release of the film, he was too much of a pansy to get the girls to disrobe, even though it was part of the script).  A PG slasher fever dream that actually manages to not suck, Tourist Trap is like the Luminous Procuress (1972) of its schlocky subgenre as a strangely atmospheric slasher flick that attempts to be serious horror art and fails wonderfully.  If you ever thought the premise of the fantasy rom-com Mannequin (1987) would work better as a horror flick, Tourist Trap is certainly the film for you.

 Somewhat bitchy broad Eileen (Robin Sherwood) and her boyfriend Woody (Keith McDermott) are driving in the desert when their car gets a flat tire, thus causing an annoying detour for them and their three friends, who are driving in a separate car. A true gentleman that does not waste time getting the job done, Woody immediately goes looking for a gas station, but when he finds one, it is completely abandoned. When Woody investigates the back of the vacant gas station/diner, he enters a backroom where a bunch of grotesque mannequins pop out and attack him in a vicious fashion. Needless to say, Woody is killed, albeit in a rather anticlimactic manner after he is impaled in the back with a metal pipe by some mysterious person or entity. Meanwhile, the couple’s friends, Becky (Tanya Roberts), Jerry (Jon Van Ness) and Molly (Jocelyn Jones), who drove in a separate car, spot Eileen waiting in the broken down car, so they pick her up and go looking for Woody. When they spot Woody’s flat tire lying near a sign for a dubious place called “Slausen’s Lost Oasis,” they begin heading in that direction with their jeep, not spotting the “Closed to the Public” sign on the way. Of course, as can be predicted, Jerry’s jeep soon breaks down, so the three girls go skinny-dipping in a lovely nearby lake with a breathtaking little waterfall that resembles some sort of otherworldly paradise, though the viewer unfortunately does not get to see any of their naughty bits. While frolicking around like philistine fairies in the water, the girls are approached by a large old blond Nordic man carrying a double-barreled shotgun and sporting a cowboy hat named Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors), who explains how his “Lost Oasis” is truly lost as a result of the government building a huge highway that made his tourist trap obsolete. After explaining how he used to charge $.75 cents a head for people to swim in the lake, Slausen warns the girls to get out of the water by sundown or else they might fall prey to water moccasins. 

 Since Jerry boy is “not much of a mechanic,” rugged man's man Slausen agrees to drive him and the girls back to his home to see if they can fix the jeep. As it turns out, Slausen’s home is also a wax museum where he has mechanical mannequins of General Custer and a Confederate Officer that fires blanks from a shotgun to “scare the shit out of kids and Yankee tourists” (apparently, mimes were hired to play the animated mannequins).  As Slausen explains, the various dummies were created by his mysterious brother, who apparently lives in the city and works for some prestigious wax museum. Nearby the wax museum is an old plantation-like home that Slausen describes as being the home of his brother Davey who apparently did not get along with the General Custer mannequin. Before Slausen goes to help Jerry with the jeep, he warns the girls not to leave the house due to “trouble with coyotes.” After complaining “something's funny about that man” and “something's funny about that house, too,” Eileen opts to not take heed of Slausen’s advice and ventures outside to look for a phone at Davey’s humble abode where she discovers a family of life-like mannequins. Eventually, a faggy looking weirdo in a mannequin mask confronts Eileen, who is soon strangled to death when a scarf that she stole from one of the dummies magically tightens around her throat. As it turns out, the deranged dude in the mannequin mask has telekinetic powers. Meanwhile, pouty blonde Molly and Becky take notice of a rather life-like female mannequin in the wax museum and subsequently discover after flipping through some old photo albums that it is modeled after Slausen’s belated wife. Slausen walks in on the girls while they are talking about this and remarks that he made the mannequin in tribute to his wife because, “I loved her very much. I wanted to keep her memory alive forever. This was the best way I knew how.”  Of course, little do the two dimwitted girls realize that Slausen has a much more sinister and sickening relationship with his belated spouse.

 With Woody and Eileen missing and Jerry apparently somewhere in town attempting to get his jeep fixed, Molly and Becky decide to venture outside the wax museum when Slausen leaves. Of course, Becky is soon attacked by the deranged drag-queen-like dude in the mannequin mask when she enters Davey’s home. The man in the mask brings Becky to a basement dungeon where Jerry and another girl named Tina (Dawn Jeffory), who is strapped to a table, are imprisoned. As the two explain, the man in the mask is Slausen’s crazy mannequin-making brother and he soon kills Tina via suffocation while covering her face with plaster while attempting to turn her into a mannequin. After killing Tina, Slausen’s bat-shit crazy brother goes on about how his big bro makes him wear masks because he is jealous about handsome he is. When Jerry manages to get free from his bondage, Slausen soon stops him via his telekinetic powers. Meanwhile, Molly continues to walk around outside looking for her friends and is soon attacked by the mad mensch in the mask, but luckily Slausen soon picks her up in his redneck-style pickup truck. As Slausen explains to Molly, the costumed killer is his brother and he wears doll masks because, rather absurdly, “he always wanted to look like me” (why someone would wear a girl’s doll mask to resemble a large old Nordic man is anyone’s guess). When Slausen stops inside the wax museum, he gives Molly a shotgun and tells her to guard outside. Of course, Slausen’s unhinged brother eventually arrives and Molly does not waste any time trying to blow him away with the shotgun, but the weapon only fires blanks. After Slausen’s brother mocks Molly, she becomes considerably enraged and hits him over the head with the shotgun, thus cracking his mask and revealing that the man is really Slausen and not his brother. Molly runs off and attempts to hide in a pond, but Slausen soon emerges from the water and knocks her unconscious by forcing her head under the water. 

 Eventually, Jerry and Becky escape from the basement, but soon get separated. Slausen eventually finds Becky and takes her to the museum where she is killed after the telekinesis-inclined cowboy killer animates his mannequins and an Indian chief dummy chucks a dagger into the back of her seemingly empty skull. Afterwards, Slausen brings Molly to his brother’s room at the Davey house, forces her to wear a mask grafted from his belated wife’s face, and says, “tell me you love me.”  Indeed, despite looking nothing like his belated brunette wife as a young blonde, Slausen thinks that Miss Molly will make an apt replacement for his dead wifey.  After Molly declares her ostensible love for Slausen, the crazed cowboy breaks down and explains that he killed both his wife and brother, stating, “they were whoring behind my back…whoring in my own house…he and she had to die…I had a legal right to that.” Slausen then goes on to explain how he created a mannequin in the likeness of his wife because he still loved her and missed her so much. After Slausen’s melodramatic breakdown, pansy boy Jerry shows up to save the day and Molly begs him to kill the mad mannequinphile. Unfortunately, on top of being a patent pansy who does not have the testicular fortitude to kill, Jerry does not realize that he has been ‘mannequinized’ by Slausen, who merely walks up to him and dismembers his body parts. After that, Slausen decides to animate all of his mannequins and does a sort of morbid yet merry ‘dance of death’ with his mannequin wife, who also comes alive. When Slausen is basking in the glory of his undead dummy wife and morbid mannequin family, Molly picks up an axe and drives it into the cowboy’s head, thus killing him almost instantly. In the end, final girl Molly goes completely insane and drives away from “Slausen’s Lost Oasis” with all of her mannequinized friends in the passenger seats. 

 As director David Schmoeller explained in a DVD audio commentary track for Tourist Trap, star Chuck Connors acted a lot like his character in the film in real-life by acting somewhat ‘aggressively friendly’, or as the filmmaker stated himself, “Chuck Connors tried to give me a hard time. Everybody knew it was my first film and so everybody just wanted to know if I could pull it off and he was always testing me. Not in a mean way, more of just having fun with me. He was 6’6’’…he was very tall and he would come up behind me and look straight down and tap me on the shoulder and I’d look up and he’d say, ‘you wanna fight?’ and I would say ‘no.’ And he would laugh and go off.” Of course, as anyone can tell that has ever heard Schmoeller speak, the director is a rather ‘queenish’ fellow with a goofy lisp, so big tough guy Connors probably could not resist playing around with him and intimidating him just a little bit. As Schmoeller also explains in the audio commentary, Connors apparently wanted to be a sort of “Boris Karloff of the 70s and 80s.” For someone that had literally nil acting experience and just decided to become an actor after his sports career had stagnated, Connors is shockingly charismatic and comically-inclined and certainly gives the most memorable performance in Tourist Trap. Indeed, one must certainly respect an alpha-male who had the gall to wear quasi-drag and run around like a merry maniac. Ultimately, Connor’s character is like a non-retarded cowboy leatherface meets a rampantly heterosexual Norman Bates on steroids. In its portrayal of a mad man as depicted by a veteran actor in an against-type role who kidnaps women and brings them to a weirdly whimsical world full of mannequins and props, Tourist Trap is probably best comparable to the rather bizarre little known quasi-avant-garde horror flick The Manipulator (1971) starring Mickey Rooney, who must have been rather desperate at the time to play such an unbecoming and unflattering role. 

 Aside from being probably the best PG-rated ‘slasher’ flick ever made, Schmoeller's film is also a curious piece of cinema history. Indeed, aside from the fact that the work was shot by Josef von Sternberg’s son Nicholas, filmmaker Ron Underwood (Tremors, City Slickers) acted as the first assistant director, Ben-Hur (1959) director William Wyler’s son David acted as the second assistant director (how many assistant directors does a low-budget slasher flick need?!), and horror auteur Ted Nicolaou (TerrorVision, Subspecies franchise) acted as the film editor. Certainly one of the most quirky, idiosyncratic, and underrated films of the dreaded schlock-ridden slasher subgenre, Tourist Trap is also unquestionably the greatest film of Schmoeller’s career as a work where his softcore pansy approach to horror filmmaking came in handy and enabled the more unconventional elements of the film (e.g. animated mannequins, retired MLB players) to shine.  If you ever wondered what Spanish genre hack Jaume Collet-Serra's 2005 remake of the classic Vincent Price vehicle House of Wax might be like if it did not feature cultural-cringe-inducing high dollar whore Paris Hilton and was not meant to appeal to the most fiercely philistinic of tacky teenybopper turds, Schmoeller's film is probably your best bet.  While Tourist Rap might not be up there with Messiah of Evil (1973) and Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973) in terms of criminally underrated American cult horror flicks, it is certainly superior to any of the other films routinely pumped out by softcore Semitic smut-peddler Charles Band/Full Moon features and, as far as slasher films are concerned, better than any of the Friday the 13th films, which probably does not say much, but it at least guarantees a more than tolerable way to waste 90 minutes during the upcoming Samhain season. 

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Another classic reveiw of a minor classic from the 70`s, such a shame it was directed by a fairy though, still at least Chuck Connors rampaging heterosexuality counter-balanced that nicely, just as Klaus Kinskis did in Crawlspace.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Tanya Roberts (as the bird was in 1973 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Jocelyn Jones (as the bird was in 1968 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Robin Sherwood (as the bird was in 1965 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Chuck Connors was one of the most rampagingly heterosexual geezers who ever lived and that fact alone makes him a truly great and legendary geezer and great all-American hero. It was just rather unnerving that in those last few years before he snuffed it he was starting to resemble that laughable and pathetic British faggot Wilfred Brambell.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Tanya Roberts would`ve been so perfect for "Ass Teen Mouth" and "First Anal Quest" in 1973 when she was 18 (had the internet and those sites existed then obviously). Just imagine Tanyas stunning 18 year-old arse-hole gaping wide open, what a glorious sight that would`ve been ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, you shouldn`t have put the letters MLB/NBA anywhere near Chuck Connors name, it might make a casual reader of this reveiw think that Chuck was a faggot because they might miss-read it as NAMBLA.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, just with regards to supposedly wasting 90 minutes watching this film over Halloween, those 90 minutes would only be wasted if you were unfortunate and idiotic enough to be inflicting a British made horror movie on yourself, American made horror movies are NEVER a waste of time, they`re ALWAYS worth watching.