Tourist Trap (1979)

So here’s a movie that goes way back to my early education of horror.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m the youngest of four boys.  Not just am I the baby of the family, but I’m the youngest by a bunch.  My brothers are 15 and 12  years older than me.  I great up in the 80s, and they grew up in the 70s.  My brothers who are 12 years older than me are twins and grew up on some classic 70s slasher flicks.  By the time the 80s classics came along, they were seeing those movies as much as possible, but I was also heavily exposed to a couple decades of movies.  Better yet, like with this week’s movie, Tourist Trap, I was exposed to what my brothers were nostalgic about as well as the new stuff.

If you think that upbringing was strange and kinda sad, I’ll have you know that I have my very own blog where I write every week about horror and exploitation movies.  So…  Who’s a sad weirdo now?

This is one of those movies that is incredibly creepy, but also really insane.  It’s a movie about some young folks who get a flat tire and ultimately end up meeting what seems to be a kindly older man (Chuck Connors).  He seems like this lonely guy who has a peculiar mannequin representing his dead wife.  He also seemingly has an odd brother who is a rival of his.  All of a sudden, we have telekinesis, moving mannequins, multiple personalities, an absolutely terrifying scene with a girl being smothered to death with plaster to turn her into a mannequin, and a SUPER hot trio of girls of which one is Tanya Roberts.

This movie is a particular favorite of drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs.  In fact, in his big return to TVs all across the country back in July 2018, Tourist Trap started the 13 movie, 26 hour The Last Drive-In marathon.  To prove his giant appreciation of the movie, he fired off several facts about Connors in particular.  For me, there are specific moments in the movie that are burned into memory and it’s a movie that if anyone ever asks if I want to watch Tourist Trap, I immediately answer, “You bet your goddamn ass I want to watch Tourist Trap!”

And guess what?  We’re gonna watch Tourist Trap.

What I like about the start of this movie is that the music used is incredibly creepy.  It’s got a playful, almost clockwork sound to it.  There’s a wonder to it that also makes you realize that, oh yeah, mannequins, puppets, and ventriloquist dolls are super stupid scary!  In addition, it also lets you know it is not something that takes itself overly serious either.  It definitely knows how to play your fears while also telling you this shit is gonna be fun too.

Secondly…  Ted Nicolaou is the editor of this movie.  Of course, he’d later do the Subspecies series with producer Charles Band.  So… hey!  Welcome back, Ted!

The movie opens with Woody rolling a tire down a desert road while his girlfriend, Eileen (Robin Sherwood), waits with the car on the side of the road.  They are on a road trip and their friends in another car, Becky (Tanya Roberts), Jerry, and Molly (Jocelyn Jones), catch up and pick her up.  They plan to follow Woody to wherever he might be able to go up the road to get service to blow up the spare tire and get them back on the road.

Speaking of Woody…  He did find a gas station.  However, no one seems to be around and he goes into a room that has doors and windows that open and close on their own, and a bunch of scary ass mannequins that also seem to move on their own.  Sometimes they just make mouth-agape deep, spooky noises.  Sometimes they are laughing at him.  Sometimes they are decapitated but their heads still move on their own on the floor.  This is what you would call nightmare fuel.

He doesn’t have to live with the memories of this fucking horror show in this room for long because a self-guided, self-propelled pipe impales him.

After that spectacular way to open your little horror movie, things slow down for a bit for us to catch our breaths.  The four friends continue up the road.  They see a sign for “Slausen’s Western Museum” and what’s more, they also see Woody’s discarded tire on the side of the road next to the sign.  What they don’t see, though, is that the museum is CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC!  Well, at least according to a sign on the road adorned with a fake vulture.

When they pull up to the museum, suddenly Jerry’s car breaks down.  The girls find a little waterfall and pond they decide to take a swim in.  Molly ain’t so sure they should just swim in this pond on land they don’t know who owns.  Besides, they didn’t bring their bathing suits.  But what’s more important…

Holy shit, Tanya Roberts is so fucking hot in this movie.  This is before she became one of Charlie’s Angels, or a Bond Girl, or she got her part in The Beastmaster.  Boy, oh boy…  You can see how she got to be those things.  Generally, you see her as a blonde, but there’s something about her dark hair that just gets my motor going.  I mean, yeah, sure, her turkeys are apparently done too in this scene, but man…  She is the perfectly gorgeous 70s chick in this.

In fact, this movie has whatever flavor lady you want.  Jocelyn Jones, while not always playing this type in other 70s movies, is the good girl.  She’s all sweet and kind of naive and innocent with her white dress and bonnet and braids.  You’ve got curly headed, and slightly higher maintenance, Robin Sherwood.  Later, we’ll see Dawn Jeffory as Tina, who is a little more like Tanya Roberts seemingly easy-breezy chick, but perhaps a little younger.

Oh, and we mustn’t forget Chuck Connors in lady mannequin face.  Sexy back then…  Kind of seen as offensive in the 21st century.

Anyway, Eileen says they don’t need no bathing suits and the girls agree to go skinny dipping.  God bless the 70s.  Chuck Connors shows up.  He is Mr. Slausen.  Oh, hey!  He’s the guy who runs the Western Museum I saw signs for!  Naturally, he has a rifle with him.  I say naturally because it’s no so much that Mr. Slausen wanted to shoot him some pretty girls, but that it’s Chuck Connors.  I suspect most of you know that he’s best known for being the title character on TV’s The Rifleman.  Every episode of that show started with him blasting off about 37 rounds from his custom, repeat firing rifle before beginning to reload while giving you a look as if to say, “Yeah, and if you don’t shut that fucking mouth of yours, you will be next, asshole.”

Yeah, that’s the look.

Slausen says something about not getting many visitors anymore.  He does seem kindly though.  He asks what brought them to his land.  They tell him that their friends Jerry and Woody both had cars break down.  He says maybe they should scram before night.  That’s because the pond they are swimming in fills up with water moccasins.  When they return to Jerry’s car, Slausen is waiting and offers them a ride up to his place on the precipice that he will help Jerry with his car.

When they get to his museum, he does say it is closed now because a new highway basically took people away from the road they were on during their road trip.  Eileen points out that Slausen’s mannequin dummies are really lifelike.  He says that his brother was pretty good at making them, and he got hired away by a company in the city.  He is now making wax dummies for storefronts.  There is a house outside the window that Eileen also asks about, but Slausen says that “Davey” lives there and basically plays it off as no one they should concern themselves with.

Slausen and Jerry go to fix the Jeep, and the girls are left to hang out.  Alone.  Sexily.  These girls are sexy.  I want to hang out with them.  I would like to do kinky 70s things with them.

Anyway, despite Slausen’s warnings about going out at night, Eileen really wants to use a phone and decides to go over to Davey’s house to see if he has something that works.  She hears a voice inside the house.  She goes inside the house to see if anyone is around to ask about their phone.  While she looks at some wax figures in the living room, she hears someone whispering her name.  Thinking it is Woody, she goes deeper into the house where a bunch of creepy mannequins literally watch her.  She comes face to gruesome face with Davey who forces things to move around with special telekinetic powers.  He uses his powers to tighten a scarf around her neck to choke her to death.

Meanwhile, back at Slausen’s pad, Molly and Becky find a display of a beautiful woman with a lovely little love song that plays like a music box.  When Molly realizes how strange and lifelike her features are, she touches the mannequin’s face and they both realize how soft it is… like flesh.  Just then, Slausen returns – alone.  He says Jerry’s taken his truck to town to get help for fixing the Jeep.  Slausen tells a sad story about how his wife died of cancer in his arms.  When he snaps out of his sadness, he asks where Eileen went.  He seems pretty frustrated about her being outside and possibly snooping around.  He goes to Davey’s place and sees that Eileen has been turned into a mannequin.

Becky looks through Slausen’s photo album, and realizes that the really lifelike mannequin was made in the image of his deceased wife.  He claims he didn’t find Eileen and she must have gone back to the Jeep.  He goes out to “look for her there” and tells the girls to stay put.  However, that shit doesn’t fly with Becky and the girls decide to go out and look for themselves.  When they near Davey’s house, Becky hears what she swears to be Eileen’s laugh.  Assuming she and Woody are fucking around in the house, Becky decides to prank them by sneaking up on them.  Molly decides to return to Slausen’s while Becky slips into the window.

When Becky believes she’s found Eileen, she instead finds Davey dressed like Eileen.  Just like with Eileen and Woody, that nightmare scenario of mannequins that move on their own, Davey, doors opening and closing on their own, and spooky music appears to be Becky’s undoing as she is trapped under a mountain of mannequins.

Becky is taken to a basement.  There, another girl named Tina is tied to a table.  Additionally, Jerry is down there tied to a post.  Becky asks Jerry who this guy is and he says Davey is Slausen’s “crazy brother.”  She then asks what he’s going to do to them.  Tina is quick to answer that he’s going to kill them.  Damn…  That is pretty astute and terrifying.  Normally, you don’t hear that much of a matter of fact response from someone in a horror movie.  Anyway, this Tina babe stopped for gas, didn’t even see Davey coming, and boom!  She’s now in the basement.  Not only that, but she also just says, “We’re all going to die.”

As chilling as that is, the most memorable scene in the movie happens next.  Davey comes downstairs dressed in a tuxedo with a tray of drinks and claiming they are going to have a party.  He tries giving the girls drinks but they ain’t budging on the niceties.  Davey straps Tina’s head down to the table and covers her face with plaster, suffocating her.  Mixed into the music while he covers her in plaster, we hear a heartbeat that first slows, then completely stops as she dies.

This is one of the most memorable things I remember seeing in any horror movie when I was kid.  The other thing happens later.  But this death scene is horrific.  Truth be known, I cannot swim.  I fear having the water line reach over my chin for fear of drowning.  And in a lot of ways, suffocation is about the same as drowning.  Being totally cut off from air and totally freaking out…  That is not a way I’d like to go.  No sir.

Jerry briefly frees himself, but is easily overpowered by Davey.  Davey monologues about how he hates his brother, Mr. Slausen.  He says Slausen makes him wear masks because he’s so handsome.  Jerry did take a key from Davey and tossed it over to Becky who tries to reach for it, but Davey sees her and uses his power to move it away from her.

Molly goes outside to try to find her friends, but is surprised by Davey and a screaming mannequin head.  I believe the head is meant to be Woody’s?  Either way, screaming and talking mannequin heads are scary business so I don’t blame her for not sticking around and asking it questions.  She runs away but finds Mr. Slausen.  Molly tells him what she saw and what she’s running away from, and Slausen says it is his brother and he was only trying to protect him and take care of him.

Molly says he’s killed her friends and they need to go to the police.  Slausen doesn’t seem too hip to that idea, but agrees that he can go get the police but he needs to go back to the house and lure him back there so he will be in that one location when the cops come.  He is going to go into the house and set the radio in the window to lure Davey home.  He gives her a gun to protect herself.  When she sees Davey she fires, but the gun is only loaded with blanks.  She hits him in the head with the rifle, breaking the mask, revealing that Mr. Slausen (surprise!) is Davey.

Becky runs away and tries to hide from Slausen in the pond, but he’s already there waiting for her.  So I guess he also has teleportation powers.  You know…  I’m sure people bitch about that in slasher movies, right?  You run away from Jason in the woods, and you turn around and – BAM! – there he is!  Yet, he doesn’t run or have any real powers like that (I mean other than strength and immortality).  Well, here, I kind of feel like you’ve left the door open for all sorts of crazy X-Men powers.  Telekinesis is there and we’ve seen that from the beginning.  So, you know what?  I’ll let him have teleportation powers too.  Why not?

While Molly is in a bedroom being looked after by a mysterious woman, and Slausen is having a soup party with a mannequin, Jerry and Becky are still in the basement.  And, no, I was not going to let this entire article pass without saying that I wish I had my very own Tanya Roberts that would like to play a rousing game of “tie me up in the basement” with yours truly.  That’s beside the point.  Jerry gets free and unties Becky.  They go upstairs and have a close call with Slausen.  When Jerry tries to find a way out and find Molly, Slausen finds him leading to Jerry running away into the night.

Becky is the next to escape, but Slausen sets his sights on her.  However, she is found by the “normal” Slausen, not realizing he is also Davey.  He takes her to the museum.  He reveals his powers to her and she sees Woody’s mannequin too.  While various mannequins shoot guns at her, she finds an opening to escape, but gets a hatchet to the back of the head from an Indian mannequin.

She may have a hatchet in her head, but goddamn, Tanya Roberts is still ridiculously hot in this movie.

At Davey’s house of wax horrors, Molly is all cleaned up.  When she thinks Slausen is asleep, she tries to escape, but he’s wise to it and starts using his super freaky powers to make things move around her.  Slausen takes her to his brother’s room.  He tells her that she reminds him of his wife.  He puts a mask of his wife on her face to get down to some sexy shenanigans, but she rejects him.  You know…  As you probably would in this completely fucked up scenario.

Slausen then reveals that he killed his wife and his brother when he caught them together.  He claims that he had the “legal right” to kill them when he caught them.  He later regretted the decision and made the wax mannequin of her to keep her alive.  When he finishes his sad story, Jerry comes in and looks to save Molly.  However, Jerry doesn’t even realize he has been turned into a mannequin… at some point.

Okay, so that’s weird, right?  I mean, I get he makes various mannequins and such that can move on his own with his powers and what have you, but they don’t ever look legit just like people.  At least not like this.  Yeah, this is a trick by Slausen, but this time he really went out of his way.  This may be the only time in which any super powers can’t really be taken for real.  Unless…

Well, I’ll get to that in just a moment.  After watching Jerry be literally deconstructed, Molly watches Slausen dance with a mannequin of his wife, that appears to come to life like an actual woman.  While Slausen is distracted with his Real Doll, she picks up the ax that “Jerry” had and kills Slausen.  She completely breaks down and loses it screaming like a complete madwoman.

Smash cut to one of the most memorable endings I’ve ever seen in a movie.  The freeze frame of Molly driving in Jerry’s Jeep with her mannequin friends was burned into me as a kid and it still remains as one of the earliest memories from a movie I have that feels like something I saw just yesterday.

This is a really underrated horror flick.  Chuck Connors puts in a pretty goddamn great performance in this movie.  Connors was always a kind hero and in this movie, he’s not entirely horrible.  Yes, he’s nuts.  Yes, he kills people.  Yes, he has crazy mutant powers.  But he’s a sad old man.  He’s still human and driven insane by his guilt of killing his wife and brother and the regret of doing it.  I like everyone in this movie, even the killer.  I feel bad about rooting against Connors, yet there is something that feels good about Molly killing him.

Speaking of Molly…  Jocelyn Jones is great in this movie too.  She is sweet and cute and she has a good scared face.  She’s easy to root for and you don’t blame her for being kind to Slausen.  But that does remind me of something I said I’d get around to.

Remember I said that it seems really weird that Jerry was a guy who was also a mannequin and it doesn’t look anything like any of the other mannequins?  I have a theory on it that helps me accept that much easier.  I don’t think he was ever actually “Jerry” Jerry in that scene.  I think Molly had gone completely nuts by that point.  She only thinks she is seeing Jerry.  Maybe Slausen is saying to her things in Jerry’s voice to confuse her.  I think he was already dead and turned into a full on mannequin the same way as the others.  That would also help explain her seeing Slausen’s mannequin wife turn into a real person.  It would also help explain the end of her being completely bonkers and driving off with her friends even though there is nothing really left of them to save.

I’m fairly sure she broke when she realized Slausen teleported to the pond behind her when she thought she ran away from him.

Such a great scared look…

I feel like this movie is maybe the closest relative to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  There is a look and feel that seems to match that mid-70s classic.  It’s a maddening situation that takes place seemingly in the south (based on Slausen calling many of the tourists he used to get “Yankees”), and ends with a blonde girl screaming herself insane at the end.  Sure they are different in some style or the horror and violence, but I always feel that these two movies are at least related to one another in the 70s horror family.

Mayhaps even kissin’ cousins.

That just about wraps things up for this week’s B-Movie Enema.  I have yet another childhood classic of mine coming next week.  So I’ll see you in one week as I talk about the 1980 zombie child classic The Children!

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