Tourist Trap (1979)

Tourist Trap (1979) USA / PG / 90 min / 6.1 IMDB / IMDB rank 15,108

By Roger Malcolm / Oct. 2012

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Tourist Trap is a bizarre low-budget horror film about a roadside museum with mannequins so realistic they come alive and kill, with humor that twists into a sick nightmarish world of madness. Directed by David Schmoeller, who also wrote and directed the screenplay to Puppetmaster (1989) (which went on to spawn 9 sequels) and co-written by Schmoeller and J. Larry Carroll. Carroll surely provided the sense of humor, proving his worth and going on to have a career in writing for animated children shows throughout the eighties and nineties on Ghostbusters, Dennis the Menace, Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, C.O.P.S. and one comical episode of my childhood favorite He-Man and the Masters of the Universe titled Orko’s Return.

The film opens with a guy rolling a tire down the road. Spare? Yes, but it was low on air. He arrives at a deserted filling station. We later learn its being shut down is the result of a new highway that runs through the area. He enters looking for someone to help him, when he hears what sounds like a woman moaning…in pleasure or agony? Perhaps both. He investigates the noise, which leads him into a backroom.

As he approaches the source of the moaning, we see a blanket draped over what looks to be a person, only it springs up off the wall at him, turning out to be a mannequin that laughs. Startled, he turns to leave but the door slams shut, locking. Suddenly the window across the room opens with a breeze blowing the curtains apart to show the sun-lit trees, but it too slams down, locking shut as soon as he approaches. He then tries the other window in the room, but suddenly a mannequin crashes through, shattering the window and forcing him back with fear. He tries another door but it turns out to be a closet where yet another mannequin springs out, taunting him with laughter, sending him into the wall screaming.

The head of the window mannequin, lying broken off on the floor, turns to look at him and opens its mouth wide with a low echoing laugh. Out of the madness of the laughter, he grabs a pipe on the floor and digs a hole through the door. Absentmindedly reaching through to unlock it he shouts! Of course something grabs him and he screams for it to let go and it never does.

A big cabinet across the room from him starts vibrating with the doors swinging open. Contents inside the cabinet start flying out one by one, slamming into the wall and smashing all around him, narrowly missing. Then he sees a knife in the cabinet shaking, pointed right at him. Off the knife zooms across the room, stabbing the wall right beside him instead, missing again. Only the pipe he was using starts vibrating around on the floor. With multiple cuts back and forth between him struggling and different mannequins laughing and shaking around, the pipe shoots up stabbing him in the back, silencing his screams. With his attempt to remove it, blood runs out the end of the pipe, and he slowly collapses to the floor.

The story is beyond bizarre with rooms full of mannequins, objects moving without visible assistance or perhaps by telekinesis. Rooms are decorated with mechanical-mannequins that function like fair attractions and an abundance of mannequin arms, legs, torsos and heads all over. You never know what is real, mannequin, or real only dressed as a mannequin and vice-versa. Chuck Connors stars as Mr. Slausen, a role which pays homage to his days on The Rifleman (1958-63). Connors demonstrates his diversity even more after having played against type as a slaveowner in Roots (1976).

Tanya Roberts runs around dressed in short seventies shorts with a real-tight fitting top, except when she is skinny dipping with her fellow female actresses.   This all before her sex symbol days  as Julie Rogers in the last season of Charlie’s Angels (1980-81), posing nude in Playboy to promote her new role Kiri in The Beastmaster (1982) and starring as Sheena in Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1984). Though she will probably be best remembered to most as Donna’s mom Midge Pinciotti in That ’70s Show (1998-2006).

With art direction handled by Robert A. Burns, the style is unsettling, feeling very similar to his art direction in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). He would also go on to handle art direction in The Howling (1981) and Re-Animator (1985).

The music is written by Italian composer Pino Donaggio, whose list of work consists of composing the classic horror film Don’t Look Now (1973), six Brian De Palma films including Carrie (1976) and the Dario Argento and George A. Romero co-directed Two Evil Eyes. In Tourist Trap, Donaggio arranges several strange comical pieces when appropriate, and nerve-rattling scores that support the suspense masterfully.

A film full of laughs, screams and a killer named Plasterface, Tourist Trap turns out to be a deathtrap full of wacky nightmarish madhouse fun.

Best Death – I first watched this as a very young child of perhaps six or seven while away from home on a bright, sunny summer’s day. I was with my best friend Chris, and his mom had taken us to this house that had really good air conditioning. Not a window unit either but central air. It was a different type of cool than what I was use to. I remember running around outside in the backyard that had no trees, it was very hot and no where to protect my pale white skin that seemed to burn instantly. So, in I went through the big sliding glass door for self-preservation. I sat on the floor to watch the movie. Not a cold wooden floor like I was use to but a nice fuzzy carpet floor. It was so warm and cozy.

In the movie, Plasterface dressed up as a mannequin butler comes down the stairs with a bottle and glasses into a basement. A man and woman are tied up underneath the staircase and another woman is on a table with her head strapped down. The butler starts to dance around singing “We are going to have a party!” He then pours a drink and tries to make the women drink, saying “This is for you.” They all refuse out of fear. He declares “It doesn’t matter” and drinks it himself instead, then throws the glass off-screen to shatter. He then says “It’s time. The party’s over…You are so pretty. It’s a shame you have to die.” He very suspensefully nails leather strips down, strapping her head still. He then coats her face very slowly with plaster, telling her the funny thing about plaster is, it burns as it dries. He then explains to her she is going to panic when he covers her mouth, as he covers her mouth with plaster. He then explains to her how she is going to die, as her body starts to jerk around. We hear her heartbeat increase in volume pounding until BOOM, her heart explodes!

I sat and watched this scene horrified as a child never knowing what I was watching. I never forgot the scene though and eventually discovered IMDB a near 12 years later. Using the keyword search, I was finally able to know the title to the Plasterface film.

Best Scene: Since the opening scene has been told and the rest are all so wild and crazy, this scene is picked for its brilliance in simplicity. Stuck in a house with the doors locked and a killer stalking him a guy silently sneaks around trying to open windows to no avail. Two doors slide open illuminating the room and silhouetting the killer. Caught and certain to be killed for trying to escape, the guy suddenly crashes through the window to the outside, safely landing on the porch, only to run off. Clearly this movie was before every character was written to not ever try to save their life by jumping through a window or when they did, it didn’t injure them. The killer follows him out, allowing another to slip out from behind as well, to run off to be…rescued?

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