Director – David Schmoeller, Screenplay – David Schmoeller & J. Larry Carroll, Producer – J. Larry Carroll, Photography – Nicholas Von Sternberg, Music – Pino Donaggio, Special Effects – Richard O. Helmer, Makeup Effects – David Ayres, Robert A. Burns, Ken Horn, Ve Neill & Karen Stern, Art Direction – Burns. Production Company – Charles Band Productions.
Chuck Connors (Slausen), Jocelyn Jones (Molly), Jon Van Ness (Jerry), Tanya Roberts (Becky), Robin Sherwood (Eileen)
Four friends are travelling along a backroad when their vehicle breaks down. They are caught skinny-dipping at a nearby waterfall by the genial Slausen who owns the land. He introduces them to his pride and joy – a museum full of very lifelike mannequins built by his brother Davey as a tourist exhibit, which now languishes unvisited after the new highway took the traffic away. As they wander into the house, the mannequins come to life, along with Davey who has seemingly returned from the dead to stalk and kill them.
Tourist Trap is a genuinely strange film. Nobody knew how to pigeonhole it when it came out. There was an attempt to sell it as part of the slasher cycle created by Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), although it did not belong there. Certainly, it has a typical slasher entourage – one can spot the good girl who is going to survive because she is dressed as a ridiculous Little Bo Peep figure all in white, while the other girls wear as little as possible without actually taking their clothes off. There is the house with the dark, twisted past taken right from Psycho (1960), while the situations the victims wander into are predictable slasher fare.
However, Tourist Trap also has a genuinely strange atmosphere to it. There are some spooky scenes with phones ringing only to find the cord is not connected. Chuck Connors has some extremely strange moments – there is one scene where he sits down to have dinner with a mannequin that comes to life and starts conversing with him before its head falls off. Or the genuinely creepy scene where Jon Van Ness comes to rescue Jocelyn Jones only to have Connors remove Van Ness’s arm and then his head, revealing that he has been an animated mannequin without realising it.
Connors has clear fun, giving a great demented performance – although it is of no great surprise when he turns out to be the killer all along. Connors has one great scene with victim Dawn Jeffory tied to a table as he plasters over her face, all the while telling her how she is going to die from fright, how her skin is going to burn, how he will cover her eyes and then her lips and then her heart will explode from fright, which it promptly does. The only failing of the scene is the laughable lack of consistency to the plaster, which nobody thought to water down and ends up being applied in solid, caked lumps.
The film is also lumbered by having to make essentially inanimate mannequins appear sinister. To his credit, director David Schmoeller does a fine job, having their eyes and limbs move out of the corner of the eye. Unfortunately, the mannequins are only standard storefront mannequins and are far from the convincingly lifelike, near human figures they are held out to be throughout the film.
Tourist Trap was one of the earliest efforts of producer Charles Band, before the formation of the Empire chain and Full Moon Productions where Band and father Albert made numerous B genre movies. David Schmoeller returned to make several other films for the Bands’ subsequently, some of which uncannily echo elements of Tourist Trap – notably Crawlspace (1986), which features Klaus Kinski as another demented psycho pursuing women through an old decaying house, and Puppetmaster (1989), which features more magically animated figures, in this case puppets, stalking people through an abandoned hotel. Schmoeller’s other genre films are The Seduction (1982), Catacombs (1988), the alien vampire film The Arrival (1991), the strange Netherworld (1992) and the children’s films The Secret Kingdom (1997), Search for the Jewel of Polaris: Mysterious Museum (1999) and Little Monsters (2012). The film was also one of the earliest acting parts of later Charlie’s Angel and B movie actresses Tanya Roberts.