Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tourist Trap (1979)

Directed by:
David Schmoeller

I'll start by saying that I really wanted to like this one more than I actually did; it's pretty offbeat and has developed a strong cult following over the years. Unfortunately, it's a mixed bag of horror scenes/ideas that grow tiresome and monotonous well before the end. Despite some clever ideas, effective production design, some creepy bits and a few striking set pieces, it's way too muddled, loud, hectic, mundane and uncertain of tone. On a sweltering summer day, five young vacationers have car problems and end up stranded somewhere off the beaten path. And what a strange place it turns out to be! Woody (Keith McDermott) hikes down to a gas station looking for help. When he enters the place, a door slams shut by itself and locks. Suddenly, laughing, distorted looking mannequins pop up all over the place and bottles, a knife and finally a steel pipe start flying from a cabinet all on their own. It's a great kick start to the movie, but unfortunately it's downhill from here as the other four travelers encounter a similar fate. Amongst them is Molly (Jocelyn Jones), a predictably pure survivor type who's tagging along with two couples and is conservatively dressed, uptight and way too apprehensive about just about everything from the start. The others have no character and might as well be carrying their death certificates in their back pocket.

As they wait for Woody, the girls decide to go swimming and encounter an older, friendly widower named Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). He invites the four back to his run-down tourist trap, "Slausen's Lost Oasis," which has taken a financial hit since a new highway was built to bypass the place. One part of the establishment is a museum full of mannequins with, a-hem, lifelike qualities. Another part is a house downhill that Slausen claims belongs to his crazy brother Davey. When he and Jerry (Jon Van Ness) go to fix the car, the three girls are warned to stay put. Naturally, one of the girls; Eileen (Robin Sherwood), goes snooping around and encounters Davey, who talks in a creepy monotone voice and wears an expressionless wax mask and wig that makes him look more more or less identical to Leatherface. Davey uses his telekinetic powers to make the mannequins come to life and strangles Eileen to death with her own scarf. Becky (Tanya Roberts, looking incredibly gorgeous here) also decides to take a look inside, is pummeled by mannequins and disappears. Slausen comes back without Jerry (who he's keeping chained up in the cellar, along with Becky and another girl who's apparently been tied up down there for quite some time), so just poor Molly is left to fend off the nut(s) all by herself.

There are four things about this movie, which was co-produced by Charles Band, worth commending. The first is Connor's performance. He's a bit over-the-top during the horror scenes, enjoyably so, but also has some nice subtle moments, such as a well played dramatic scene reminiscing about his late wife. A pretty good performance overall. Second is the production design by Robert A. Burns, who was one of the best in the business and could accomplish much atmosphere and mood working with very little money. Third are the mannequin effects, which are effective and eerie, thanks in part to unusual designs and eerie sound effects. And finally, the best thing of all is the wonderfully eerie music score by Pino Donaggio. If only the writing and direction were as strong, this might have been a classic. As is, it's a mildly disappointing score of...


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...