Tourist Trap

8/10 - Slow, deliberate pacing, gorgeous photography, brilliant score and frightening mannequins make this film hair-raising

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One of the best horror films of the 1970's has finally been given a long overdue home video makeover. TOURIST TRAP is the most frightening movie ever made about mannequins, and a classic example that a low budget can be a horror film's greatest asset. In today's predictable, estrogen-driven MTV style of filmmaking wherein gore and insipid throwaway lines have replaced mood, cinematic style and character development, TOURIST TRAP blows current horror films out of the water. The film possesses an air of originality thanks to Nicholas Von Sternberg's beautiful visual style and superb editing by Ted Nicolaou. The film's theme is familiar by now to die-hard horror film aficionados, however it's done with such panache that one might not initially realize it. Other watershed horror films that come to mind are PSYCHO and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

I first saw this movie one Saturday afternoon on TV in the mid-80's and it left a big impression on me. It begins with what is unquestionably one of the most bizarre and frightening openings ever done in a horror film. To say anymore would possibly ruin the effect of seeing this film for the first time.

Chuck Connors gives a wonderful and ultimately surprisingly sympathetic performance as Mr. Slausen, a congenial and charming gentleman who owns a now-defunct roadside souvenir shop/wax museum. As the story progresses, the natural inclination on the part of the viewer is to refute the plausibility of the off-the-wall set pieces that slowly mount. I find that if you watch it from the standpoint of falling asleep and having a nightmare about mannequins, this film is much more frightening, believable, and ultimately enjoyable.

When I was seven, I used to play in my grandmother's basement that was populated by some truly horrific dolls. One of them had outstretched hands with no hair that walked when you wound it up and it was very frightening. This film has that kind of effect.

TOURIST TRAP inexplicably received a PG rating during its 1979 theatrical release which, the director implies, killed it at the box office. I would have demanded an R rating if I were him! While the film contains no overt bloodshed, one of the murders is particularly gruesome and cruel (that's not counting the opening scene!)

The NTSC DVD transfer of this film is a revelation. Colors that were originally muted on the old 16mm faded prints that made the rounds on late night cable are now rich and vibrant. Pino Donaggio's brilliant score, which is not only one of the best elements in the film but also one of the best in the whole genre (Varese Sarabande, we need this on CD!), comes through in full force. As a bonus, director David Schmoeller gives a running commentary throughout the film, though I wish he divulged more information than he actually does. Minutes of commentary are separated by minutes of silence, or of Mr. Schmoeller shifting in his chair. Although he mentions TOURIST TRAP's origins - a film school thesis project called THE SPIDER WILL KILL YOU - he fails to give the film's budget. Disappointingly, why wasn't this thesis film included on the DVD? I would have loved to have seen it. Also, why does the DVD state that it contains 40 trailers to other horror films when I can only access seven?

Despite my carpings, the DVD is well worth owning. The trailer for TOURIST TRAP is included.

Reviewed by Jonathan Stryker