I’ve long been a fan of David Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap not so much because it’s a great movie (although it is a pretty good one) but because it features a ‘70s-era Tanya Roberts clad in tube top and cut-offs, and sometimes that’s all I need. Fortunately, Tourist Trap is also an entertaining little horror movie, sort of an oddball mix of Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Carrie (without being as good as any of those). The flick features some genuinely creepy stuff and carries a solid pedigree in the form of Art Director Robert Burns (who performed that same function on Texas Chainsaw) and Composer Pino Donaggio, who also scored a number of Brian DePalma’s movies (including Carrie), as well as Joe Dante’s The Howling and many more.
As the movie opens, we find a young lad rolling a tire down a deserted country road. We cut to a car on the side of the road where the fetching Eileen (Robin Sherwood) lazes around in a tank top. A VW Thing (remember those?) rolls up carrying Becky (Tanya Roberts in the aforementioned tube top and cut-offs), along with Molly (Jocelyn Jones) and Jerry (Jon Van Ness). It turns out they’re pals of Eileen and her boyfriend Woody (Keith McDermott), the young lad we saw rolling the tire.
Meanwhile, Woody spots a place up ahead called Oscar’s Eats, which looks pretty abandoned to me but Woody enters and hollers for service at the counter. He hears some freaky whimpering and wanders into a back room, where he discovers a creepy yelping mannequin thing. Finding himself locked in the room, Woody is taunted by more mannequins and then shit gets real as a cabinet jumps around and launches its contents at the hapless fellow.
Woody’s pals decide they should go look for the guy, but the VW dies just as they roll up near “Slausen’s Lost Oasis Western Museum,” which could potentially be the titular tourist trap, for those of you paying attention. Molly, Becky and Eileen go exploring and find a swell swimmin’ hole. Molly – who is dressed so primly that it’s almost laughable – is concerned about their lack of proper bathing attire, but winds up naked and in the pond with the other girls. I’m sad to report that Tourist Trap is entirely lacking in nudity, however.
The girls are startled when TV’s Rifleman, Chuck Connors, arrives toting a shotgun. Connors is, of course, Mr. Slausen, owner of the Lost Oasis, and he pauses for a moment to wax philosophical about the placement of highways and whatnot while gawking at the girls. Eventually, he moves on, but tells the ladies they should leave before dark.
As everyone regroups, Slausen offers to drive them all to his place so they can pick up some tools to work on the VW. The Western Museum (which doubles as Slausen’s house) is full of mannequins and motorized dummies. Slausen tells them about his brother Davey, who built all the dummies and is off somewhere making stuff for a wax museum now. Eileen is intrigued by the mysterious house out back but Slausen warns her to stay away – it’s Davey’s house, and besides, they have trouble with coyotes.
When Slausen and Jerry leave to go work on the VW, Eileen can’t stand it and heads off to investigate Davey’s house. She hears what sounds like a howling Chihuahua lurking in the woods, but even something as terrifying as that doesn’t put her off. Sneaking into the house, Eileen hears voices and finds more creepy mannequins. She steals what looks remarkably like a classic Swedish Erotica scarf off one of the mannequins. Then a big dude in a freakish mask and a Gilligan hat enters, apparently wielding some sort of telekinetic ability (although this is never addressed that I can recall, more shit flies around in this flick than in Jean Grey’s house during a particularly bad stretch of mutant PMS). Suffice it to say, Eileen pays for her scarf-thievery.
Back in the Western Museum, Molly digs the scene and feels sorry for old man Slausen. She and Becky get a little weirded out when they poke the face of a particularly fleshy-feeling mannequin, but before they can nose around further, Slausen returns without Jerry. He explains that Jerry took the truck to town for parts, then gets all maudlin about his dead wife. When he notices Eileen is missing, Slausen heads to Davey’s house to look for her. He finds Eileen all mannequin-fied and still wearing that scarf.
Slausen tells Becky and Molly he couldn’t find Eileen and that she probably walked to the VW. He leaves again, saying he’ll look for her.
Of course, Becky feels compelled to go check out Davey’s house for herself, and Molly reluctantly follows. Along the way, Becky gestures inexplicably. When they reach Davey’s house, they hear girlish giggling and think it’s Eileen and Woody fooling around inside. Becky climbs up on the roof (?) and slips inside through a window. Molly heads back to the museum.
In the house, Becky finds what looks like a half-assed Leatherface. Suddenly a bunch of mannequins come trundling out from every shadowy corner, dog-piling Becky while half-assed Leatherface sort of snores. I tell ya, if you’re creeped out by mannequins, this is probably not the flick for you.
Half-assed Leatherface carries Becky to the basement and ties her up. Jerry is also chained up down there, along with Tina (Dawn Jeffory), a girl we’ve never seen before. Half-assed Leatherface talks in a growly voice and smears flour paste on Tina’s face, telling her that her heart will burst from fright before she can suffocate. Yup, turns out he pretty much called it.
Soon after this, we’re handed the “surprise twist” which isn’t really either, but I can forgive that. Tourist Trap is a very low-key horror flick, managing to be spooky and fun without ever getting gory or over-the-top (although Chuck Connors gets a little close to the edge at times). It does suffer from a certain lack of groceries (no nudity, no real blood) but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Well, okay – the lack of nudity sucks but still, Tanya Roberts in a tube top and cut-offs isn’t a bad way to spend 90 minutes.
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