Month of Horror: Tourist Trap

Tourist-Trap-1979-04

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Dir. David Schmoeller, 1979

I’m not sure a description of Tourist Trap really does justice to how strange it is. Plot-wise, this is your basic slasher film: a group of college students’ car gets a flat tire, they go to a strange roadside house to get help, and get killed one by one. But the thing is, they’re killed (or are they?) by a telekinetic who is able to control his very realistic mannequins. While made in ’79, closer to the tedious kill-cam slasher films of the 80s, Tourist Trap feels more kin to the films of the mid-70s , and one of the few films that feels somewhat similar to the spirit of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Mannequins are, in their uncanniness, already super creepy, but Tourist Trap doesn’t rest on its creepy visuals. Almost all of the classic horror films have memorable audio tracks, and it’s surprising that so many horror films, especially cheaper ones, neglect the auditory in favor of attempts at gore. But the “PG” rated Tourist Trap (don’t let that fool you; the lack of sex or gore doesn’t mean this is disturbing or has that dangerous feel of many exploitation films–seriously, I’m sure some well meaning parent traumatized their kid for life renting this) is able to build a creepy atmosphere with its use of sound effects (similar to some of Argento’s work), and its stellar soundtrack (reportedly, the score alone cost more than anything else in the movie) by Pino Donaggio.

Tourist Trap is weird in a way that many of the great horror films of the 70s were (its claustrophobic nightmare logic is quite similar to something like 1973’s Don’t Look in the Basement). This means that even when it lags (it’s oddly built in the reverse order of most horror films; most of its action occurs at the beginning– the opening scene is really masterful. Also the acting isn’t great), it still works on a camp level. It’s understandable why the film failed to be a hit and isn’t readily available, but it’s a curious, and at times absolutely terrifying even by today’s standards, gem. It’s one of the most overlooked horror films of the 70s and worth tracking down (right now you can find it on Youtube).

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