Tourist Trap (1979) — Pure scares in a PG

“And you thought this was a cheap tourist trap!”

Kyle’s rating: We will never see the likes of this again

Kyle’s review: Optimism aside, it’s pretty unlikely we will see a horror film like Tourist Trap ever again. Considering the movie’s dedication to pure scares, and the inventive approach it takes to the horror of its situation, I doubt the modern jump scare-happy horror genre is capable of capturing its ’70s-soaked essence anytime soon. Compare the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre to its recent remake and you’ll get what I mean.

No worries: At least we have wacky stuff like this or other horror classics like Halloween and Black Christmas to sate our desire for the freaky stuff. There’s just something about these old-time films (undeniable influences on the filmmakers of today) that manages to unnerve and induce squirming like very little since. It just might be the lack of irony, well-known sitcom stars, and a loud rock soundtrack. But who’s to say?

A group of kids traveling through the countryside (it’s generic enough to pass for Anybackwoods, U.S.A.) forego the brand new highway for the older roads, and when stranded by various car trouble are forced to find assistance. One finds instant death, the others find the eccentric Slausen, an old man who maintains his old home and abandoned gas station despite the death of his wife. He takes a shine to Molly (who wouldn’t?), and generally acts like your standard backwoods coot: genial and good-natured but with that unfamiliar menace just under the surface.

Once things start getting nuts, we find out Slausen’s secluded brother just might be more than a little crazy, and we wonder how a bunch of regular kids can fight somebody with mental powers. If Phenomenon had been a little freakier, maybe I would have bothered to try watching it.

The story is simple and clean, and provides just enough plot to hang the premise on. And the premise is just as simple, but it’s a fairly universal one anyone who’s ever walked through a department store knows: mannequins are really, really freaky. Not even Jonathan Switcher would feel at home in this movie.

There’s no one like Kim Cattrall anywhere in Tourist Trap. All the discarded mannequins littering the abandoned gas station and creepy house are of the passable yet unsettling variety. In rooms and hallways full of them, it’s impossible to guess where the threat is going to come from. That’s pretty cool stuff.

I strongly recommend Tourist Trap simply because it’s an excellent example of that do-it-yourself grindhouse 1970s “everything old, creepy, and off-the-beaten-path will kill you” energy. I mentioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre as another example, but TCM is a little more intense and potentially truthful (sure, why not?), and that can turn you off. Tourist Trap has got tons of creepiness but uses the element of bizarre telekinesis to keep everything just fantastical enough to not turn your stomach. Does that make any sense?

Ultimately, it’s hard to say if Tourist Trap came about because somebody was really scared of secluded places and mannequins, or if they had the twisted final frame in their head and decided to craft a movie out of it. Doesn’t really matter: what we get is one crazy movie that knows mannequins are scariest when they move on their own and have gaping, open mouths. Oh: snakes are scary, too.

It’s not as intense as TCM, it’s not as cheesy as your lesser slashers. It’s pretty much just right if you’re in the mood for thrills and chills. Have fun, and try not to get scared the next time you walk through a department store. *Brrr*

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