By 1979, the slasher revolution prepared to launch into full swing. John Carpenter has just released Halloween. Friday the 13th loomed right around the corner. No matter what the holiday, everybody feared for their life. In between, David Schmoeller directed a little film called Tourist Trap pushed the limits of the slasher sub-genre. The result presents an unsettling little piece of horror history that proves worthy of its peers.
Tourist Trap – It Begins with a Clichè
The movie starts off quickly with a group of friends traveling in two cars. The first car blows a tire, so the driver gets out and rolls the tire to a nearby gas station. The station looks empty, so he begins exploring. Before he knows it, the door locks and the man is trapped in a back room full of animated mannequins.
After punching a hole in a the door, he tries to reach through to unlock the door from the other side. Something grabs his arm and holds him against the door. Then a cabinet opens by itself and start hurling objects at the man. To be honest, this was kind of a ‘what the heck’ moment as there was no explanation as to how these objects were moving by themselves.
Finally a lead pipe finds its mark, and the confirming the first kill.
The pacing leaves something to be desired. The scene takes much longer that required and it could have definitely been tightened up. On a high note, the scene firmly establishes creepy mannequins as part of the horror motif.
Along Comes Slauson
While waiting, the rest of the group runs into a local named Mr. Slauson, played by the late Chuck Conners. Mr. Slauson lives in a museum full of automatons and mannequins. He used to run this museum for profit, but after losing his wife, he lets the place turn to shambles. It turns out that there are many dangerous secrets hiding in the museum. This movie was one the first to feature the lovely Tanya Roberts of Beastmaster ‘fame’.
The movie tries to establish some mystery by introducing Slauson’s brother as a potential antagonist, but then regrettably give up the ruses too soon. This is rather unfortunate because the horror of the masks subsides once you know who is underneath.
An Innovative Slasher
There are a lot of things working for this film. For starters, mannequins are horrifying and they are everywhere. Second, the killer has a voice. He taunts his victims as he walks them through the steps of their demise. 30 years later, the character John Kramer would do the same for the SAW franchise. The masks employed by Slauson are chilling.
In a nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the killer changes personalities when he changes masks. The film leverages several mysterious settings including the museum and the the house that “nobody lives in”. Slauosn’s telepathic abilities were a welcome addition to the slasher formula. At times it felt like a bit of hack, but in the end scene where Slauson is dancing with the lifeless mannequin of his wife, and the room is a bustling “uncanny valley” (look it up), it adds to the sense of dread.
Tourist Trap – The Hot Take
Tourist Trap is an off the radar underground classic. So many slashers recycle the same old tropes, but it feels fresh even 40 years later. Typically this movie is missed on lists ‘top’ lists, but it is a gem that deserves to be judged among its peers. That is not to say that its perfect, but what horror movie is?
Tourist Trap (1979) - An Unconventional Slasher - Malevolent Dark
Director: David Schmoeller
Date Created: 1979-01-01 00:00