God help those who get caught in the “Tourist Trap,” now streaming on AMC’s Shudder

By on January 2, 2018

Night Flight was recently asked by Shudder — the AMC Network’s horror streaming channel — to curate a guest row of content, and so we turned to our resident expert on ’80s cult horror, our social media editor KJ, who selected four films from their cult horror library.

We had asked members of Night Flight’s community to select the fifth movie you’ll find in our row of five cult horror titles, and the winner is David Cronenberg’s 1977 cult fave Rabid, which we recently wrote about in this previous blog post.

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The poll is now closed, and thanks for voting! By the way, we’re still offering 25% OFF on an annual subscription (regularly just $29.99 for the whole year) to Night Flight Plus (promo code: SHUDDER), and a free month of Shudder (promo code: NIGHTFLIGHT)!

Read more about Tourist Trap below.

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In director David Schmoeller’s supernatural slasher Tourist Trap, five twenty-somethings are hunted down by a creepy killer after stopping to visit a shuttered old-timey house of wax-style museum called the “Lost Oasis.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “tourist trap,” they’re typically off-the-beaten-path roadside attractions that never actually fulfill the promise of their road sign advertisements.

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One of the movie’s first victims even says:

“These tourist traps are all alike. They give you a big build up, and when you get there it’s nothing but a roadside trap with a bunch of cheap trinkets.”

The basic plot here isn’t new, it goes all the way back to The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933 or 1952, take your pick), or, more recently, to Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (1981), or, heck, even funny episodes of Hanna-Barbera’s “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” cartoon (the original series aired on CBS from 1969-1975).

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Here we have two groups of friends, traveling in two vehicles (a jeep and a car), one of which gets a flat tire on a deserted back road in the middle of nowhere.

Woody (Keith McDermott) decides to head to a gas station to get the tire fixed. While he’s gone, the other dude, Jerry (Jon Van Ness), keeps company with the three foxy young babes: Woody’s girlfriend Eileen (Robin Sherwood), Molly (Jocelyn Jones, daughter of the great character actor Henry Jones) and the foxiest of them all, the tube-topped and jean shorts-wearing Becky (played by future Charlie’s Angel/Bond Girl/Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, Tanya Roberts).

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When they decide Woody must have got lost, they all head off in Jerry’s jeep, which suddenly develops mysterious engine trouble a little further down the road.

While he’s working on the jeep, the bored, restless girls head off to a secluded nearby pond, complete with waterfall, and they’re skinny-dipping and enjoying a good soak when an shotgun-carrying, overalls-wearin’ old man happens by.

He introduces himself as Mr. Slausen, but also looks suspiciously like the same square-jawed, blue-eyed dude who was TV’s “The Rifleman” (Chuck Connors).

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Slausen invites them back to his “Lost Oasis,” still filled with life-like mannequins, mostly Americana heroes and villains like Davy Crockett, Sitting Bull, and General George Armstrong Custer, not to mention a bunch of animated female waxworks.

We probably don’t need to tell you too much more, except to add that Slausen — who offers to help Jerry with the jeep — has telekinetic powers, which comes in handy when you’ve got a bunch of barely-dressed young women trapped in your house full of creepy mannequins.

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According to Schmoeller, Connors had spent the early part the ’70s trying to rejuvenate his career and become the “new Boris Karloff,” appearing in cult movies like The Mad Bomber and Soylent Green (both 1972) and as a rapist slave-owner in TV’s popular mini-series “Roots,” but he was never quite able to shake off the “Rifleman” persona of Lucas McCain.

Here’s what horror novelist icon and wannabe movie critic Stephen King wrote about Tourist Trap in Danse Macabre (1981):

“Connors himself isn’t very good in the film — he tries gamely, but he’s simply miscast. Yet the film wields an eerie, spooky power. Wax figures begin to move and come to life in a ruined, out-of-the-way tourist resort; there are a number of effective, atmospheric shots of the dummies’ blank eyes and reaching hands, and the special effects are effective.”

“As a film that deals with the queer power that inanimate dummies, mannequins, and human replicas can sometimes cast over us, it is a more effective film than the expensive and ill-advised film made from William Goldman’s bestseller, Magic.”

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First-time director Schmoeller started out as a playwright before heading down to Mexico City to study theatre and film at the the Universidad De Las Americas with directors Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Jodorowsky, which may be one reason why his films show so much surrealist influence.

After grad school at the University of Texas at Austin., he came to L.A. to try to break into directing Hollywood features, co-writing Tourist Trap with a fellow Austin school pal, producer J. Larry Carroll, one of the editors on Tobe Hooper’s 1974 cult classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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They developed the story from Schmoeller’s grad school thesis film, The Spider Will Kill You, about a blind man and mannequins.

The film truly benefits from art director Bob Burns’s great skills; he’d also worked on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

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Tourist Trap — filmed on a budget of just $350,000 — was co-produced by Carroll and Charles Band of Full Moon fame.

Band would end up producing several of Schmoeller’s features, including Puppet Master (1989), the first film in their successful franchise.

It was Band’s idea to give Slausen telekinetic powers (prior to that script change, the mannequins were physical “tourist traps,” more mechanical than mental).

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Tourist Trap also features a haunting soundtrack score by Italian composer Pino Donaggio, who is likely remembered best for his work on Brian DePalma’s Carrie and Dressed to Kill.

Watch Tourist Trap — curiously released with a PG-rating! — on AMC’s Shudder.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.