Tourist Trap (1979)
By: Julian on May 27, 2010  | 
Big Sky Video | All Regions, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 90 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: David Schmoeller
Starring: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts
Screenplay: David Schmoeller, J Larry Carroll
Country: USA
External Links
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It took me a whole three attempts to get through Tourist Trap's 90 minutes.

This won't be a stellar review, then, by any means. In this reviewer's opinion, the premise was so fundamentally ridiculous and unworkable that Tourist Trap is an absolutely ineffective horror film. Nothing about this is scary or thrilling in the slightest. The antagonist is an impotent pastiche of better horror movie villains, and when screenwriters David Schmoeller and J Larry Carroll make attempts at originality when characterising their villain (characterisations of the one-dimensional protagonists be damned), the product resembles a laughable invention of some incompetent fantasy fan-fiction.

Credit should be meted out where it's due, though. There are a few really neat scenes in David Schmoeller's film and, given this is his debut, he does quite an effective job as a director. The performances aren't half-bad either, particularly Chuck Connors' as the creepy Mr Slausen. It's hard, though, for Schmoeller's performance as director and Connors' performance in front of the camera to vindicate the elementary problem with the film: a movie about a telekinetic psycho who builds mannequins that may or may not be doing his devil's work is just not scary. However this hasn't prevented Tourist Trap from being acclaimed in some quarters: Stephen King cited it as a favourite in his paean to the horror genre Danse Macabre, and it has won some cult appreciation.

Tourist Trap begins by embracing the slasher premise with open arms: five young people (a double date plus spare wheel) go out bush for a camping holiday – "more than just a tourist trap!", one of the characters gleefully proclaims. While exploring, the quintet discover Slausen's Lost Oasis, operated by the eponymous gentlemen who looks like he fits the bill of backwoods freak murderer perfectly. But it's the mannequins in Slausen's Lost Oasis that are most intriguing to the travellers, and one by one they head into Slausen's house, not to return.

Tourist Trap shares the look of many backwoods horror films, particularly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, on which Carroll worked as co-editor. Slausen's house resembles Leatherface's, and his Lost Oasis might evoke comparisons to the Old Man's servo in TCM (the IMDb even calls one of Tourist Trap's antagonists 'Plasterface'; I can't confirm whether this was scripted or otherwise intended by the filmmakers). Carroll might be responsible for these visual similarities, but the credit might just as well go to DP Nicholas von Sternberg, who worked on a handful of exploitation movies in the seventies and eighties including blaxploitation pictures Dolemite and Petey Wheatstraw. On influences though: in a 2009 interview, Schmoeller suggested reprising a Tourist Trapesque scenario in a shopping mall in the context of the worldwide recession. Does that remind anyone of anything?

In the same interview, Schmoeller laments Tourist Trap's PG-13 rating, saying that such a certificate is "a death sentence for a horror film". That's an interesting assertion, particularly given PG-13 is the rating du jour of horror flicks trying to make a buck. I'm very sceptical of that part of Schmoeller's quote, but he goes on to elaborate an interesting point, and one that might have influenced favourable feeling towards Tourist Trap: by being awarded a PG-13 (after being classified PG on initial release), the film was able to be screened on television in the afternoon, maximising Tourist Trap's exposure to children. While I don't agree that this is a violent film, it certainly isn't well-suited to a PG-rating, and nostalgic memories of this being an effective movie may have lent it more notoriety and acclaim than it deserves.

Tourist Trap isn't totally devoid of good scenes, but you'll have to look hard to find them. For this reviewer, the basic premise was fatal in terms of it being an adequate, effective entry to the horror genre. Schmoeller and Carroll fail to elaborate some good ideas and botch the film further by doing so. I'd sooner watch the House of Wax remake again than re-play this tepid, poorly-aged effort.
The transfer isn't that crash-hot, but I'm not sure how it stacks up against international releases. BSV have presented the film in anamorphic 1.85:1.
One English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. It's fine. Pino Donaggio's eclectic, uneasily placed score also warrants a mention.
Extra Features
Trailers, along with a seven minute interview and feature commentary by Schmoeller.
The Verdict
Tourist Trap is a tremendously unimpressive movie that doesn't deserve most of the praise many horror fans seem to heap upon it. Nevertheless, it is admirable these sorts of movies are getting Region 4 releases.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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