REVIEW: TOURIST TRAP / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID SCHMOELLER / SCREENPLAY: DAVID SCHMOELLE, J. LARRY CARROLL / STARRING: CHUCK CONNORS, TANYA ROBERTS, JOCELYN JONES / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 21st
Since its release in 1979, this film has garnered a small but devoted cult following, with none other than Stephen King himself as number one fan, and it's easy to see why. For starters, there's the glorious unlikelihood of the casting, which sees granite-jawed Western legend Chuck Connors (The Big Country) and Bond girl Tanya Roberts gathered together under one rickety roof.
Then there's the story. Admittedly, this might, at first glance, seem a little humdrum. When a group of kids on a road trip suffer a mysterious mechanical failure, kindly old Mr Slausen (Connors) is on hand to invite them back to his dusty roadside museum in a right neighbourly fashion. But before he can break out the Dr Pepper, their numbers are being thinned by a mysterious villain who wants to turn them into waxworks. Well, now that you mention it, Mr Slausen does happen to have a crazy brother – maybe he's got something to do with it…
So far, so ordinary. But this is to reckon without the aforementioned villain, who has to rank as one of the most bizarre in what was a very good decade for cinematic monsters. Massive, masked, but also nattily suited and elaborately coiffed, with a sideline in crossdressing, he's like a camp, Liberace-ish version of Leatherface. Like Leatherface, he's superhumanly strong, but he also has telekinetic powers which he uses to control (and have long, whimsical tea parties with) the waxworks he creates.
Although delivering a relatively restrained movie by the standards of co-producer Charles Band, director David Schmoeller makes the most of this weird baddie's constantly jarring presence to create a sense of mounting insanity. The mannequins, some with glowing eyes, some with clacking jaws, are very creepy too. Chuck Connors – always a very endearing character throughout his long career – gets plenty of screen time and gives a tour de force performance. As for Tanya Roberts, she trots around gracefully in a tube top and cut off jeans which look spray-painted on, and that's about all there is to be said about her.
True, Tourist Trap is rather rough around the edges, and the storyline has a bad habit of tying itself – or rather its young cast – in near-inextricable knots. But it's engaging, unexpected and memorable. This is risky, seat-of-the-pants filmmaking the way they used to do it back in the '70s, and you'd be a dummy to miss it. The HD transfer is a little soft and grainy, but shows some improvement in vividness and clarity over the DVD release. Extras include a glossy new 25-minute interview with the director packed full of interesting trivia about the movie.
Extras: Audio commentary / The Making of Tourist Trap / Stills trailer