Tuesday, December 20, 2011

#491. Tourist Trap (1979)

Directed By: David Schmoeller

Starring: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness

Tag line: "Every year young people disappear"

Trivia:  Tourist Trap was actually based on David Schmoeller's senior film project at film school

I know some people get pretty creeped out around mannequins, unable to get past their staring eyes, or the fact they look so life-like. I've never been one of these people...until now. 

While driving through a secluded area, five friends experience car troubles, and end up stranded along the side of the road. One of the group, named Woody (Keith McDermott), sets out for help, and stumbles upon a gas station filled with mannequins, which, apart from being very much alive, are also extremely nasty. As this is happening, the remaining friends are being assisted by a strange, yet pleasant local named Mr. Slausen (Chuck Conners). Years ago, before the new highway took travelers in a different direction, Slausen operated a wax museum that drew a fair number of tourists.  Nowadays, the building lies in a state of disrepair, and, aside from the wax figurines, is completely abandoned. Slausen invites the four in and tells them to kick back and relax, but a mysterious masked stranger has other plans for the museum's newest visitors. 

The mannequins in Tourist Trap go well beyond your run-of-the-mill retail dummies. When Woody first arrives at the gas station, he sees no one, but hears a faint voice coming from the back room. He walks in, and approaches what appears to be a woman lying on a cot, fast asleep. Only it isn't a woman; it's a very animated mannequin, with a mouth like one you'd find on a ventriloquist's dummy (which, in my opinion, makes it all the more unsettling). After springing up and scaring the poor boy half to death, the mannequin starts to laugh, at which point the door slams shut, trapping Woody inside. Before long, two more mannequins, equally as animated and just as evil, join the fracas, and though none of the three are directly responsible for the eventual harm that befalls Woody, the sequence is still plenty unnerving, and they're the reason why. 

Chuck Connors does a fine job as Mr. Slausen, a character that reminded me of Rory Calhoun's Vincent from Motel Hell. Like Vincent, Connors' Slausen is a kindly, somewhat reserved older gentleman whose outward friendliness masks a sinister personality. Then there's the cryptic stalker lurking in the old house behind the museum. Every time this figure, which wore a doll's mask, appeared suddenly in the background, it sent a shiver up my spine. But for me, it's the mannequins that bring the real terror to Tourist Trap. Thanks to them. I'll be walking a bit more briskly past those department store displays the next time I visit the mall.

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