DVD Review: Tourist Trap / Cert: 15 / Director: David Schmoeller / Screenplay: David Schmoeller, J. Larry Carrol / Starring: Chuck Conners, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness / Release Date: Out Now
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 storyline. Admittedly, this might, at first glance, seem a little humdrum. When a group of kids on a road trip suffer a puzzling 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 cross-dressing, 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 (no nudity, little explicit gore), 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. Kudos to the filmmakers, also, for casting Jocelyn Jones, a very good actress but not conventionally pretty, in a key role as one of the longer-lived of the hapless road trippers. Chuck Connors – always a very endearing character throughout his long career – gets plenty of screentime 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 plot 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 Seventies, and you'd be a dummy to miss it.