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Tourist Trap
1979 - PG - 90 Mins.
Director: David Schmoeller
Producer: Charles Band
Written By: J. Larry Carroll, David Schmoeller
Starring: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts, Dawn Jeffory-Nelson, Keith McDermott
Review by: Jake Cremins

Yes, this really is the best thing about the movie.
They are a handful of carefree teenagers, driving down a country road that looks an awful lot like the one in 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' We see that two of the girls are wearing tight jeans and tube tops, not entirely unlike the outfits the girls wore in 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.' Later they get car trouble, go down the road for help, find a creepy house and are terrorized by a madman who wears disturbing-looking masks and puts on makeup, kinda like what happens in--you guessed it--'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.'

And yet even this isn't really a problem. I thought that 'Massacre' was such a brilliantly terrifying film that I was willing to entertain a good old-fashioned ripoff of it; surely some of what made the original movie scary would make its way to this one, even accidentally. Alas, 'Tourist Trap' is not very scary. It's silly when it should be frightening, slow when it should be fast, and jumbled when it should be simple and clean. It could have worked anyway, if it had been made with more zeal; either it would have had the sheer weirdness of an illogical dream, or it would have been energetically hammy enough to be funny. But it's too plodding to involve us in either way; we sit and stare, and the movie sits and stares back.

The movie has one neat idea, which is to scare us with mannequins. I've always found mannequins kind of creepy, especially those headless ones that seem to be in vogue in all of the stores. (I will not soon forget the sight of the display window at Baby Gap on 5th Avenue in Midtown, with little decapitated children playing together in sweater vests and dresses.) The mannequins in this movie have mouths that fly open mechanically, and they either laugh, scream in agony or sing one blank idiot note into the air. Creepy stuff.

But the killer in this movie isn't creepy at all. He's got scary masks up the wazoo, but he also has an annoying habit of talking to all of his victims endlessly, in a gravelly voice so patently phony that we keep giggling when we're supposed to be cowering in fear. A killer this demented, I submit, would either babble insanity at his victims or say nothing at all; this one tries to scare the kids chained in his basement with pronouncements of the tortures they will suffer, in dialogue so corny that William Castle would roll his eyes. There's one scene where a girl is sadistically suffocated by Plaster of Paris smeared slowly over her face; the scene would be terrifying, except that the killer can't leave well enough alone and keeps telling her ominously about how her heart is going to burst from sheer terror long before she runs out of oxygen, mwa ha ha. Give me a break.

Other problems. The killer is graced with the power of telekinesis, but the boundaries of his powers change from scene to scene: one minute he's strangling someone from across the room, the next he's chasing someone around as though he needs to catch up with them first, and then there are moments we'll see something supernatural happen without his doing it. Sometimes the editing is so slipshod that (for example) in the big scene where the girl knocks off the killer's mask, she gasps in astonishment *before* she sees his face. The musical score is by Pino Donaggio, whose dreamy, overwrought compositions are great for slick Brian De Palma thrillers but play at right angles to a low-budget horror flick like this. (My guess is that the filmmakers somehow got Donaggio to agree to compose the score, and were happy to have him whether his style fit the movie's or not.)

And then there's the way that, after each kid is murdered, they're turned into a mannequin that occasionally speaks (or screams) in their voice. How is this done? Is it simply plastic and tape recorders, or are their souls trapped inside the dummies, or what? The final shot suggests an answer, but then again it suggest a lot of things, including the possibility that it was to be followed by many more shots explaining it.
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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