Synopsis: A group of young friends stranded at a secluded roadside museum are stalked by the owner of the place, who has the power to control his collection of mannequins.
Stars: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Tanya Roberts, Jon Van Ness
Director: David Schmoeller
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: In the mid 1970’s the anthology series became popular horror movie fodder with several well made entries like Asylum, The Vault of Horror, and Tales from the Crypt (with no crypt keeper in sight). All of these were compact films featuring brief tales of terror that went down easy and didn’t linger too long on the brain. If you got a stinker, you’d be able to buckle down and wait for it to end and the next one to begin.
Tourist Trap seems like it would have been perfect for one of these anthology films in that its central conceit is a pretty nifty one. (You can read the plot synopsis above to know what I mean.) The trouble is, Tourist Trap is full length feature rather than a 15-20 minute short…yet it still has about 15-20 minutes of decent material. The rest of the film is dopey filler that probably won’t keep your attention very long.
Operating on the lowest of budgets, director Schmoeller (who would go on to kickstart the Puppetmaster franchise) works from his own script to middling effects. The concept of mannequins that come to life is one that would keep a fair number of people up at night, but it’s the execution of it that it really is a letdown. With lots of clunky dialogue and a near total lack of competent pacing, the audience feels as lost as the group of teenagers (I use that term lightly as everyone in the film looks like they already had a healthy 401K).
The Rifleman himself, Connors, gnashes his teeth and cackles a lot but fails to conjure up any kind of terror as he slowly reveals his involvement with the rundown roadside attraction featuring life-like mannequins. When he happens upon a group of girls skinny dipping in a pond that looks like watered down Swiss Miss he shows his kindly nature by offering to help them with their broken down transportation.
Our two main heroines are played by James and Roberts so blandly that at times it’s hard to tell them apart even though one is a blonde and the other raven haired. They hardly speak above a whisper and when they do scream they just repeat the same phrase over and over again. It’s just the tip of the iceberg in the bad acting category with pretty much all involved putting forth embarrassingly clueless performances.
If the film succeeds at anything, it’s when it gets down to business with a few effectively creepy moments as the teens explore the mannequin museum and adjacent house that is nearly wall to wall with mannequins. There’s a lot of dark corners for things to hide in and don’t be amazed if you jump a little in the midst of what otherwise is a rote affair. Even a supposed big twist should be evident to anyone that has had access to a television.
Bizarrely rated PG, where there a bit more gore it could have pushed some nice limits of the R rating to its benefit. As it stands, the film is too tentative (or lazy?) to go the extra mile so you have a few well filmed stalking scenes with little to no payoff when the teens get cornered.
I’m not going to lie and say this was an easy one to get through…it’s not. It’s a tedious affair with a marked lack of anything that makes the horror genre so fun. It’s not good enough to be an underrated classic and it’s not bad enough to throw in the dustbin. Aside from a few nicely creepy moments and a smattering of outright scares, there’s not much here to reward you for your time.
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