Director: David Schmoeller
Year of release: 1979
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 86 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "Every year young people disappear".
Also known as: Horror Puppet and Nightmare of Terror
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Our story begins here with a young guy named Woody looking to find help at a roadside garage after puncturing a tyre. Leaving his partner behind at the vehicle the unlucky young man soon runs into trouble at the garage after stumbling across a bizarre crying mannequin. Meanwhile the guys girl friend is picked up at the roadside by some other friends who were following some distance behind in a separate vehicle. Soon enough they quickly run into trouble themselves as their car engine mysteriously dies once they reach the area of the garage which drew Woody’s attention earlier. Worried about Woody and needing to fix their own car now as well the group run in to an eccentric old guy who runs a nearby rundown wax work museum. Though helpful on the surface one or two of the group are suspicious of the gentleman especially after spotting a grand old house behind the museum of which he seems reluctant to speak. Sneaking off to explore this house the stranded kids soon meet with disastrous results.
Good points: *Tourist Trap has a great nightmarish quality to it with the films many mannequins and to a lesser extent the wax works being used to very spooky effect. Disconcerting and freaky these mannequins are put to great use right from the off in a particularly potent opening sequence involving the Woody character. The manner in which the mannequins and such are put to use and incorporated into the kills renders this a bit more unsettling than most. It leaves an impression and at the time of its release perhaps would have been seen as being very scary. Even now it still holds up rather well.
*Spoiler: Chuck Connors does a great job in the role of the eccentric old gentleman Mr Slauson. I found him to be very watchable from the moment we first meet him right through until the end. He is easily the star of the show and holds things together with his performance as a likeable old timer near the start to convincing crazy villain by the end. The kids are okay as well in that none of them are annoying and though none truly stood out for me they all carry out their jobs to solid effect. They really telegraph that the Molly character is being set up as final girl with her white wholesome attire and goody two shoes attitude but despite this heavy handed approach even she is more than adequate.
*Mild spoiler: The telekinesis angle which is used to animate the mannequins among other things is a welcome addition and is certainly something which sets this film apart. It is this ability that helps create some of the films more memorable scenes and coupled with the mannequins and wax works gives the film its own identity. Telekinesis remains relatively untapped to this day within the slasher genre with the only example that I can think of or at least high profile example being Friday the 13th part 7: The New Blood.
*The various masks that the killer uses are pretty good managing to look both creepy and comical at the same time. They reminded me a tiny bit of what Leatherface would wear on occasion so perhaps this film borrowed and built on what occurred in the original of that franchise with the Chainsaw sequels maybe in turn borrowing from the masks seen here.
Bad Points: *The film goes more for atmosphere and creep factor than it does for gore and special effects so due to this decision there is very little blood. The European DVD release only carries a fifteen certificate and in a bonus interview with the director on the disc I learnt that this was actually initially branded with a PG rating on release. I thought that seemed a bit odd given that it could be perceived as quite a disturbing film but in any case you can guess from the certificate/age rating alone going in that the gore is going to be on the minimal side. A bit more blood definitely would have added extra spice but the lack of it is to be expected really given that this is a common issue with most of the early slashers or proto slashers from the sixties and seventies period.
*A few spoilers in this point: In addition to the aforementioned telekinesis there also appear to be supernatural elements at play though I wasn’t such a fan of this aspect of things as it was not properly explained. Though much of the movement of the mannequins is revealed to be caused by one of the characters mind control powers this can’t be attributed to all of what we see with some of the dummies seemingly being properly alive. For example sometimes the mannequins eyes move but you wouldn’t think they would have moving parts in their eyes to be manipulated so it must be supernatural. Similarly the vehicle breaking down for no apparent reason early on and the part near the end with Jerry being turned into a mannequin of a sort which wouldn’t have been the work of telekinesis. Something else near the end involving the apparent return of Slauson’s wife was also very surreal and again mired in the supernatural. Perhaps some of these things could be written off as dream sequences but that wasn’t really the impression I got. Presumably all of these things are supposed to be down to the supernatural which isn’t a big problem and perhaps even a positive for some. As long time readers of this site will know I’m the kind of viewer who likes everything tied up neatly with no unanswered questions so for these supernatural aspects not to be explained at all I was left disappointed. I was left wondering such things as it there a ghost haunting the area and if so why is said ghost helping Slauson etc?
*Very mild spoiler: Towards the end I felt that there was a slightly unrealistic part where after making it outside both Becky and Jerry momentarily escape the killer to run off in opposite directions. Despite going off in separate directions however both are recaptured pretty quickly, too quickly I thought for them both to be reeled back in as fast and as seemingly easily as they were. Becky hurting her ankle at around this time also looked decidedly dodgy.
Verdict: A nice little early entry into the genre which seems to have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance with some rekindled interest from horror fans in the last few years. Worthy of the attention this has a unique feel to it with the mannequins and telekinesis working well to make this stand out from the pack while also providing some creepy and disconcerting moments. It could have done with more in the way of gruesome special effects and maybe more effort put in to explain the supernatural side of things. Overall though still a very fine relatively early horror film that would only enhance a collection.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Woody: Impaled through the back with a lead pipe.
2)Eileen: Strangled with scarf.
3)Tina: Suffocated with plaster being smeared over her face.
4)Becky: Struck in the back of the head with a thrown knife.
5)Jerry: Somehow turned into a living mannequin off camera and then broken apart by Slauson.
6)Mr Slauson: Killed by an axe blow to the neck courtesy of Molly.