Movie Review: “Tourist Trap”

Tourist Trap is an interesting film. I have seen a lot from Empire International Pictures, like Re-Animator and From Beyond. I have seen a lot from Full Moon Features, like the Puppet Master series and Killjoy. This film falls in neither category, coming from Charles Band Productions, which acts as the predecessor to both of them. In spite of the semantics, Charles Band Productions is, in effect, Empire Pictures. This will either work to pique your interest or leave you running for the hills.

Directed by David Schmoeller, whose handiwork can be found in Full Moon Features’ flagship series Puppet Master, Tourist Trap’s cast consists of Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, and Tanya Roberts. Of them, I imagine Tanya Roberts’ performances in Charlie’s Angels and That 70s’ Show might ring a bell. The film was written by Schmoeller with J. Larry Caroll who produced the film alongside Band. I watched Tourist Trap on the Shudder streaming service, which I’ve used for many of the reviews written on the Nightmare Shift.

The 1979 slasher film is largely compared to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (with whom they shared a production designer – Robert A. Burns).

An interesting aside is that John Carpenter was originally meant to direct this film, but they were not able to come to terms on a financial arrangement. Considering production would’ve ended prior to Carpenter’s success with Halloween, raising his stock as a filmmaker and publicity for Tourist Trap, I wonder how Band and company feel about that decision.

The film begins with whimsical and playful music in the opening credits, a sound I’d sooner associate with a Tom & Jerry cartoon than a horror film. I do like this sound, and knew it was Richard Band, … only to find that Pino Donnagio scored this film. It’s a type of score synonymous with Full Moon Features and one of my favorite parts about the company, it’s easygoing, light heart, and generally, that’s a lot of what Full Moon Features puts out.

In some ways, Tourist Trap reminds me a little of another film I reviewed recently – 2005‘s House of Wax (in turn, you could also compare it to the original). The reason I make mention of it is because the key difference this film has in-comparison to that film. House of Wax meandered, spending about an hour of its runtime on concept development. This film, however, is faster and more concise with that, delivering the goods outright. This should not be the blueprint for every horror film, of course. However, when you have stock characters and little intent in developing them, it is the approach I would prefer. Tourist Trap uses old-school (although perhaps not in 1979) scares, with dark lighting and creepy mannequins.

The storyline is par for the course and nothing to write home about. This film abides by the traditional slasher film template through and through. The story sees our characters on a road trip when car trouble winds them up in the middle of nowhere. There, they befriend a creepy old man, and havoc ensues.

The film has clunky dialogue, like when Dr. Slausen (the creepy old man) beats us over the head about how a new highway was built (a line directly lifted from Psycho), bleeding the life out of his tourist attraction. It is filled with the same nudity you would come to expect. Actually, that’s incorrect. It would have had the same nudity you would expect, but, hilariously enough, they fudged it. Basically, director Schmoeller was too embarrassed to ask the actresses about it during castings. Instead, he waited until the lake scene (gratuitous scene that sees the girls skinny dip) and asked them, and they collectively declined.

The comparisons to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre are expected and unavoidable. Looking at the Featured Image of this review, you’d be forgiven to mistake our film’s antagonist as a raven-haired Leatherface. Aside from comparison to Leatherface (since I’m apparently leaning heavy into the trivia this review, I’ll mention they actively called him Plasterface on-set), the film feels like it sprinkles in enough new ideas and outside influences to feel downright derivative. You’ll find some Psycho sprinkled in, but you’ll also find elements of telekinesis that are rare for a slasher film.

One difference, you’ll find with Tourist Trap, compared to other slashers of the time-period, is that he speaks. If you know anything about me, you’ll know I love outspoken slasher villains. Unfortunately, I actually think it takes away from Tourist Trap more than it adds anything to it. One scene sees our antagonist (Davey’s his name, by the way) apply wax over a victim’s mouth. As the wax covers her mouth, they amplify her quickening heartrate to instill panic, then, it stops as she suffocates. It is a neat, simple idea, and I feel like his diabolical, super-villainy style voiceover only cheapens it. This is a character whose presence and approach call for a level of mystique that is hurt by the voicework.

I do feel the film has something to say, even if none of the story developments will surprise you. Sequences, like the opening scene, and the final act, are skillful, benefited by decent special effectives and a neat idea. I was genuinely caught off-guard by the end, and yet, I was absolutely for it once it happened. The film may not have a lot of depth in character or story. There are some lulls in-between the moments I enjoyed and scenes that could’ve been done better. All the same, Tourist Trap does have some effective scenes and interesting ideas, and I think that counts for something. It makes for a highlight within the Charles Band production catalog.

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