Five friends travelling in a convoy through the backroads of the California hills under the scorching sun, Woody and Eileen suffer a flat tyre when they hit a pothole and he walks ahead, seeking the nearest gas station for assistance while she waits by the car for their friends to catch up. Hitching a lift with them when they arrive, they fail to locate Woody but instead find Slausen’s Lost Oasis where Jerry’s jeep mysteriously stalls.
A former Western themed wax museum fallen to disrepair since the new highway pulled traffic away, the owner is welcoming, appreciative of the rare company and the chance to show off the renderings crafted by his brother, but equally he is reticent for his guests to wander the grounds at night, warning of the danger of coyotes, nor is he keen for them to enter the main house across from the dusty museum building.
Originally released in March 1979, six months after John Carpenter’s Hallowe’en and over a year before Sean S Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, David Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap has aspects of the slasher boom it preceded with attractive twenty-somethings on a carefree weekend break which spells their doom, but its antecedents are broader, perhaps too encompassing in its multitude of inspirations and inclusions.
A wax museum populated by suspiciously lifelike mannequins where people go missing with surprising rapidity is a familiar setting, but in addition to the obvious serial killer driven by sibling rivalry and betrayal there is the “ghost town” feeling of the deserted valley destination, largely unexplored and incidental other than to isolate the roster of victims, and also, inexplicably, telekinesis, frequently manifested yet serving little explicit purpose, all the killings achievable without resorting to strange phenomena.
The ensemble comprising Woody, Eileen, Becky, Jerry and Molly (Keith McDermott, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts, Jon Van Ness and Jocelyn Jones), later joined in the murder basement by Tina (Dawn Jeffory-Nelson), their personalities are as poorly developed as their instinct for self-preservation, the film instead belonging to Soylent Green’s Chuck Connors as Mister Slausen, surprisingly sympathetic as the widower in self-imposed exile even with his backstory swamped by Pino Donnagio’s maudlin score.
Opening with Woody’s exploration of what appears to be a booby-trapped funhouse where objects move by themselves with deadly consequence, the telekinetic aspect of Tourist Trap is neither properly addressed nor significant, a distraction from the masked assailant and the unhinged jaws of the screaming mannequins, an unnecessary flourish in a film where the atmosphere would have benefitted from a tighter focus in the wandering script.