31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #7: Tourist Trap (1979)

Posted: October 7, 2015 in Movie Review
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Tourist Trap (1979)

Director: David Schmoeller

Starring: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts, Dawn Jeffory, Keith McDermott

Actor Chuck Connors is the answer to the trivia question of who was the first NBA player to shatter a backboard. This occurred during pregame warmups in 1946 while Connors was playing for the Boston Celtics (my personal favorite NBA team). Unlike most other instances of basketball goal obliteration, Connors was not performing a slam dunk, and the backboard technically broke due to improper maintenance. This would have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on Connors’ subsequent acting career, except that the story adds to his already intimidating presence. Personally, I like to think that the backboard shattered out of fear.

“Tourist Trap” begins with five friends traveling in two separate cars when one of them experiences a flat tire. Always a bad omen in a horror movie. Woody (Keith McDermott) goes wandering off to find a gas station, which he eventually finds, but the place looks deserted. Woody becomes locked in the back room, after which everything starts flying at him. One of the objects, a metal pipe, impales Woody as he’s trying frantically to open the door. Can it be that the place is haunted by ghosts/evil spirits? No, because that’d be silly… Meanwhile, the second car catches up to Eileen (Robin Sherwood), still waiting impatiently for Woody, and they all drive off together to look for him. They come across the tire which Woody was last seen pushing along the road, and assume that he must have ended up at the nearby tourist trap. It’s at about this time when their Jeep inconveniently breaks down, which would make it difficult to flee if the tourist trap turns out to be a shady place. Jerry (Jon Van Ness) tries to figure out what’s wrong with the Jeep and if he can fix it, while the girls all go swimming. Their skinny-dipping session is brought to an awkward halt by the appearance of the tourist trap’s owner, Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors).

Slausen comes across as a nice enough fellow, whose only real problem is that his establishment doesn’t get the traffic that it used to. He offers to help Jerrry with the Jeep, while the girls wait inside the tourist trap, which they notice is filled with amazingly life-like wax figures. Out the window, they notice a big house, which Slausen flatly denies living in, and adds that no one else does, either. Since the only phone in the tourist trap doesn’t work, Eileen wonders if perhaps there might be one inside the house so she goes up to investigate, leaving Becky (a dark-haired Tanya Roberts) and Molly (Jocelyn Jones) to fend for themselves. Eileen is met with a fate similar to Woody’s, as she is strangled to death by her own scarf. A masked individual, who will soon come to be known as “Davey,” is responsible. However, Davey never touches Eileen, and it is then that we realize that he has the power of telekinesis.

After some further miscommunication with Mr. Slausen leaves Becky and Molly frustrated, the remaining girls go looking for Eileen. Only Becky is dumb enough to go trespassing into the house, and she gets attacked by Davey, waking up tied up in the basement, along with Jerry and another girl, who is strapped to a table. The girl is suffocated when Davey covers her face with plaster. Jerry frees himself, but his and Becky’s escape attempt is put on hold when Davey once again displays his telekinetic talents. Outside, Molly is met by Slausen who hands her his gun and goes inside the house. Molly gets the chance to use her gun a few minutes later when Davey shows up, but it has no effect because the bullets are blanks. Molly uses the butt of the gun to strike Davey in the face, after which he removes his mask to reveal that Slausen has been “Davey” all along. Slausen had earlier told of a sad story about how his wife had died of cancer and he’d made a wax figure to keep her memory alive. That was only half-true. He’d made the wax figure after she’d died all right, but only after he’d caught her and his brother Davey having an affair and murdered the both of them. Slausen’s elaborate backstory and Chuck Connors being Chuck Connors make Slausen by far the movie’s most interesting character.

Sadly, the movie takes a few wrong turns that hurt its overall grade. The plot is a slow-burning one, so you’re left waiting for things to happen the same as the characters are. Becky and Jerry spend WAY too much of the film tied up in the basement. When they do finally get free and split up, Becky’s death at the hands of Slausen’s Western-themed wax figures is a bit anti-climactic. Speaking of climaxes, the film’s ending is just plain stupid. Molly gets captured by Slausen and appears well on her way to joining his cast of wax characters when Jerry shows out of nowhere with an axe to save the day. Only thing is he can’t save the day because, unbeknownst to him, he’s been made into a wax figure and is only doing as much as Slausen will allow him to do. In his arrogance, Slausen still allowed Not-Jerry to have the axe, which Molly is able to use to ultimately kill Slausen and escape.

Finally, lets talk about the whole telekinesis angle. I have a big problem with this because I thought having this movie be a hybrid of “Psycho” (1960), “House of Wax” (1953), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was enough. The link to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is especially fitting, since it shares in common the same art director, Robert A. Burns, with “Tourist Trap.” How Mr. Slausen developed his talents, or how it’s even possible for him to have these powers is never explained. It’s not even used very effectively, since the only reason we have it is to bump people off without the need for the killer to be in the same room. That’s cheating. Besides all that, when you’ve got Chuck Connors, you don’t need for his character to have mental powers for him to appear nigh invincible. As endearing to the public as he is for the TV series “The Rifleman,” Connors also had the ability to play creepy bastards, like the slave owner he played in the miniseries “Roots.” Just thinking about that guy gives me chills. Mr. Slausen isn’t nearly that creepy, but he remains an extremely effective villain. Fans of gore and of fast-moving plots will be disappointed by “Tourist Trap.” (I know I was the first time I ever saw it!) However, if you’re lucky enough to focus your attention on the right part of this movie, which is Chuck Connors’ performance, you might enjoy yourself.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I love your first paragraph, and that is really why I think I would watch this movie…for Chuck Conners…in spite of the dumb ending and the lame telekinesis. Well done review!!!

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