Although films about colorful psychopaths have been around virtually since the beginning of cinema—Lon Chaney Sr. played madmen throughout the silent era—the “slasher” genre largely began with the success of Halloween (1978). Yet while Halloween imaginatively exploits primal fears, most of the film’s countless imitators simply borrow the device of a maniac with a distinctive signature menacing young people. Tourist Trap, released in 1979, is exemplary of where the slasher genre was headed, which is to say it’s ugly movie with a moronic script. Oddly, however, Tourist Trap avoids two elements prevalent in both Halloween and most of its knock-offs—gore and nudity. Yes, Tourist Trap is a PG-rated slasher flick, and yes, that’s as pointless an endeavor as it sounds. Produced by schlockmeister Charles Band, who never met a penny he’d rather not spend, the picture begins when a carload of teenagers encounters an old roadside waxworks run by kooky redneck Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). One by one, a killer stalking the waxworks murders the kids, eventually leading to a long sequence in a torture dungeon, during which the killer encases one of his victims in wax. Tourist Trap shamelessly cops from The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and House of Wax (1953), both of which are unvarnished pinnacles of cinematic achievement compared to this silliness. Although co-writer/director David Schmoeller tries to add a smidgen of psychology by giving the killer long speeches explaining why he does bad things, across-the-board terrible acting makes it impossible to care about anything that happens in the flick. Connors is so self-consciously “weird” that he’s never believable, and the attractive young actors playing the victims—including future Charlie’s Angels sexpot Tanya Roberts—whine and whimper their way through scenes of maddeningly stupid behavior. Adding insult to injury, the filmmakers hired composer Pino Donaggio, whose score for Carrie (1976) began a long series of collaborations with Brian De Palma. Donaggio bludgeons Tourist Trap with his usual overbearing sounds, giving this very small movie a hilariously grandiose sonic attack.
Tourist Trap: LAME