Tourist Trap Review
Tourist Trap, directed in 1978 by David Schmoeller, tells the story of five friends out on a road trip holiday. One of the cars in the group gets a puncture, so the driver Woody sets out to find someone who can pump up the spare. Meanwhile, the other vehicle catches up with this first car and the remaining four friends decide to go and find Woody and give him a lift back. They head for the only property nearby – Slausen’s Lost Oasis, a wax museum dedicated to American history – and not long after, they also breakdown. While Jerry, the driver, fixes the jeep, Becky, Eileen and Molly do the obvious thing and go skinny-dipping, only to be confronted by Mr Slausen, who despite wearing a big hat and carrying a big gun, offers to take all three back to the museum, while they wait for Jerry to arrive back with help. Ignoring Slausen’s warning to not wander off and explore the nearby house, the girls can’t resist and one-by-one they discover the macabre collection of mannequins contained within.
Chuck Connors plays Mr Slausen with a nice balance of the crazy and the pitiful. In his director’s commentary, Schmoeller mentions that a few of the crew had previously worked on Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and there’s definitely a similar vibe to this film, in both the isolated situation the friends find themselves in and the portrayal of Slausen as a sad, lumbering maniac. In fact at times, the make-up applied to Slausen’s wax mask is very close in appearance to the way Leatherface applies it in the original TCM and both protagonists are driven to acts of barbarity by their devotion to family. Despite these similarities, Tourist Trap is a notch further down on the “dark secret kept behind closed doors” scale and is a creepy, if relatively bloodless affair. Performances, for the most part, are satisfactory, with only Jocelyn Jones as ‘final girl’ Molly and Connors really rising to the occasion and whilst the premise of the film is a scary spin on mannequin-fests such as House of Wax and Murders in the Wax Museum, the script has a tendency to not venture too far from the “wax dummies are weird” school of thought. The practical effects are also worth a mention, as aside from the obvious effort put in to producing all the masks, the scenes involving a suggestion of telepathic ability are handled in a simple but effective way. All in all, it’s an enjoyable 90 minute chiller, which stands out from more formulaic fare by taking a group of characters you don’t actually loathe, putting them through a far-fetched series of shocks that entertain and by the end of the film, has you still routing for the kids rather than the killer. It also gives the audience the chance to make their own mind up about some of the things they see and seems happy for certain scenes to be interpreted in a number of different ways, depending on how the viewer takes them and that, in itself, makes it worth a recommendation.
88 Films bring us Tourist Trap on Blu-ray in a decent 1.85:1 print, which for the most part is clean, damage-free and exhibits a pleasing hint of grain. The overall image is bright, although there is tendency for it to appear a little “soft focus” at times and towards the last 20 minutes or so, a few more speckles and scratches become noticeable. Audio is provided by a fairly low key DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and a far better Linear PCM stereo track, which is clear and nicely balanced throughout. An audio commentary from the director is also available. No subtitles are provided.
There has been a fair bit of consternation amongst long-standing fans of the film, regarding the running time of the Blu-ray release of Tourist Trap. This version runs 5 minutes shorter than previous DVD releases and also has a couple of scenes moved to different places within the film. No explanation is available at present and Full Moon’s Charles Band himself doesn’t seem to know why the footage is missing. Even director Schmoeller makes no reference to any changes in his commentary, which was newly recorded for this release, so for now, it’s a mystery. That said (and with this being my first viewing), the changes made no difference to my enjoyment of the film at all and if this is the only version of Tourist Trap we get on Blu-ray, there’s no need to worry about making the jump to HD.
Extras are limited to a 25 minute making-of, Exit Through The Chop Shop, which features director David Schmoeller talking us through the various stages of production on the film. Not surprisingly, this is also what he does (in slightly greater depth) on the audio commentary and depending on which one you get to first, renders the other fairly redundant. Despite the honest appraisal of his own shortcomings on this film (Tourist Trap was Schmoeller’s feature debut), particularly regarding what he could offer the actors in terms of direction, the audio commentary largely became an exercise in ticking off what I’d already learned from the making-of, so my advice would be to choose one or the other. A remastered trailer and a 4 minute gallery of production stills and promotional material round things off.
Tourist Trap is a peculiar little film, in that it initially seems to be a straightforward haunted house movie and then quickly moves into darker territory, never trying to pummel the viewer with gore, but happy to let the psychological aspects of the story play on the viewer’s mind. Its strength lies in the weirdness of the whole situation and the more you think about, and expand on, Mr Slausen’s behaviour, the darker it becomes. 88 Films have brought us a great looking version of the film, which fans old and new (running time issues aside) should enjoy and it’s a testament to this strength that 35 years after release, it’s still regarded well enough to find itself all polished up for the latest home release.
7 out of 10
7 out of 10
8 out of 10
6 out of 10