Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Tourist Trap Worth Falling Into

Tourist Trap (1979)
Starring: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Tanya Roberts, Jon Van Nyss, Robin Sherwood, Keith McDermott and Dawn Jeffory
Director: David Schmoeller
Producers: Leonard Baker, Charles Band and J. Larry Carroll
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Five friends on a road-trip have car trouble near a closed wax museum--Slausen's Lost Oasis--off an old highway. When they fail to heed the warnings of the owner, Mr. Slausen (Connors), they find themselves stalked by a masked madman and strangely animated wax figures and manniquins. Will any of them survive the night and learn the secret of Slausen's Lost Oasis?

"Tourist Trap" is a strange little horror movie that wears its low-budget status like a badge of honor. There isn't a frame that doesn't reek of cheapness, the script is halfbaked and full of painfully repetative dialogue (much of which I hope was ad-libbed, because if it wasn't, the writer was paid entirely too much for his work), and a number of potentially horrorific scenes start to dissolve into overwrought and foolish, because the director either didn't know when enough was enough, or was trying to pad the running time.

However, there is an aura of creepiness that pervades the entire film that makes it far more scary than it should be. From the mysterious happenings at an abandoned gas station during the film's opening scenes, to characters being overwhelmed by chattering manniquins, through a very disturbing suffucation scene, and to the very final image before the end credits role, this film will creep out the attentive viewer.

Some of the creepiness arises from the way film is made up of elements that co-exist uneasily; it has the look and feel of a grubby, low-budget slasherfilm, but it is evident early on that there's more to the dangers of Slausen's Lost Oasis than a run-of-the-mill madman. Other chills grow from Chuck Connors' purposefully erratic performance, and from an effective performance by Jocelyn Jones, who's Good Girl character emerges as the villain's favorite victim. (Although, frankly, I had much more fun watching Tanya Roberts jiggle around in her very short cut-offs and tubetop!)

Although "Tourist Trap" is a perfectly serviceable horror film, it is also a perfect entry for a Bad Movie Night. The animated wax figures, the dimwitted behavior of the characters who fall victim to the maniac, and some of the film's Big Reveals, are all perfect fodder for movie fans who like to mock films as they unfold.

(By the way, the 2005 remake of "House of Wax" had alot more in common with this film than it did with either of the two earlier chillers by that title. If you liked that film, you'll probably get a kick out of this one, too.)