Color, 1979, 90 mins.

Directed by David Schmoeller

Starring Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts, Dawn Jeffory / Music by Pino Donaggio / Cinematography by Nicholas Josef von Sternberg

Format: DVD - Cult Video (MSRP $24.98)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 2.0

One of the great archetypal drive-in horror movies, Tourist Trap isn't really "good" in the traditional sense but has been haunting countless viewers over the past twenty years. As senseless as an experimental film and as graphic as a PG rating will allow, it really began to develop a fan base thanks to the enthusiastic gushing of Stephen King in his non-fiction horror study, Danse Macabre, and always used to traumatize unwitting preteens during its regular television screenings.

In the classic horror tradition, a quartet of hapless youths journeying through some backroads winds up at a desolate tourist trap run by the suspiciously hospitable Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). In between episodes of skinnydipping and exploring the creepy series of cheap resort attractions, the victims-to-be encounter Mr. Slausen's mannequins, which have a nasty habit of coming to life and killing people. Meanwhile another resident in a strange mask swipes the occasional innocent visitor for bizarre experiments in which humans are turned into mannequins. Pretty soon it's down to the standard sole survivor who must fight for her life against a host of bizarre, plasticized terrors.

Thanks to its bizarre, startling music score by Pino Donaggio and efficient direction by David Schmoeller (Crawlspace), this little oddity seemingly evokes many of the successful elements of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, including a chilling rural setting and a reliance on suggestion rather than explicit gore. Connors' truly crazed performance makes him one of the more memorable grassroots psychopaths, even if the exact nature of his villainy is never made clear. (Is he telekinetic? Is he under the control of the mannequins or vice versa? Is he a genuine split personality?) The final half hour in particular lifts Tourist Trap out of the mold, combining a weird lyrical romance with the obviously creepy images of jittering, animated mannequins on the prowl.

A long time in the making, the DVD release of Tourist Trap boasts a treatment far more respectful than anyone could have hoped. The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks terrific under the circumstances, far better than the dull, grainy full frame editions in the past from Media and Paramount/Full Moon. The darkly lit scenes feature rich, distortion-free shadadows and startling splashes of color (usually red or violet), though some signs of wear (mostly tiny singe-frame scratches) pop up around a few reel changes. Obviously this will never look as polished as a major studio effort, but this lovingly restored transfer is quite a treat, with the letterboxing adding great compositional flair to most of the interior scenes. Schmoeller also contribiutes a feature length commentary track and a six minute on-camera interview in which he affectionately discusses the film's shooting, his relationship with the various actors, his inspiration for the story (J.C. Penney!), and the techniques used to create terror without a budget. The disc also includes the fun '79 theatrical trailer (which gives away a lot) and a handful of Full Moon trailers (Parasite, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, etc.); lots of fun, but obviously much less than the 40(!) trailers promised on the back of the box. (Maybe they're tucked away as an Easter egg somewhere.) The box also indicates an R rating and a "DX Stereo" soundtrack, neither of which are accurate.

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