This week we are going to be exploring some of the movies that I find pretty darn terrifying. Most likely you’ve heard of these films, but I think they’re worth brining up again. Discussing why we think they’re scary. Sure, you’re not going to find them all as powerful as I have and in fact some of them have very laughable qualities, but try to find the horror in them. Please enjoy our first terrifying entry.
Chuck Connors was in Tourist Trap. Chuck Connors was also in Soylent Green alongside Charlton Heston. Chuck Connors was in many a Western. He also played the head of Camp South Pines in Summer Camp Nightmare. Chuck Connors is as versatile a B lister as you’d ever wanna meet in Hollywood. What we come to expect is a rough character. A man’s man. Friendly at times, but overall I think that the grit of his voice would make you believe that he smokes a pack a day and maybe takes a few nips of the bottle as well (which is speculation at best). You know what else Chuck does? Scares the every loving fuck out of me. As much as I try to put together warm fuzzy images of Connors in any other role I’ve seen him in… as much as I recognize him for being a fairly genius actor that would go unrecognized by the masses… as terrified as I am of him, Chuck Connors is no longer Chuck Connors.
Tourist Trap was released in 1979. Received a PG rating from the MPAA initially and was recut to prevent kids from seeing it. Director David Schmoeller never intended this to be something for children. The violence in this picture can easily make it on to television today. There’s no nudity to speak of. No cursing really. This movie relies on none of the horror window dressings that help keep the kiddies at bay. So it becomes perfect fodder for network TV afternoon showings. Maybe the 4 O’Clock movie. Well that’s where I saw it when I was a youngen. My old sister and I have a collective memory about this film and none of it good.
Years after we first watched it, we’d sit down and share the story, independently, of a horror film so shocking that we had to see it. We remember that there was a scene in a basement. We remembered that there was a man in a mask that sort of kind of looked like a hockey mask, but it definitely wasn’t Jason Voorhees. As I’m telling her what I remember all I can think about is Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter when the hiker goes into the basement. I know it’s not the correct movie, but I watch it over and over again hoping that I find relief. I never tell her that I used to watch Friday 4 obsessively seeking out the dreaded basement sequence of our youth. I remember a strange voice, but no words. Neither does she, and then one day her fiancé says the words “Tourist Trap” and everything becomes more clear. Like a nightmare as a child being explained. There was relief in find out that Tourist Trap existed. What was not relieving was watching it again.
So I pick up the movie from Netflix and throw it in the DVD player mid-day. I don’t know what to expect, but the minute the root menu comes on I hear an almost distantly familiar theme song composed by Pino Donaggio. Who uses instruments like these in the score to a horror film? It was downright unsettling and really didn’t give me much of a basis for what would be in store which ultimately would be equally unsettling. Next time you hear a wood block or a slide whistle you’ll think of Tourist Trap just as I couldn’t stop thinking of that strangely masked face.
Ever watch a horror picture during the day time… no theater to protect you. Sunny day, warm… summertime? You don’t get the heebie jeebies easy. It takes some work to get the adrenal pumping. The opening sequence of this film finds a young man, lost searching for assistance in a seemingly abandon tourist trap, a museum of sorts decided to part you sooner rather than later with your money. Finding no one immediately available our wanderer explorers the trap further and ends up meeting his demise at the hands of stark raving chaotic insanity. Mannequin heads and part communicating their tension through strange bit of laughter. Strange jaws dropping open. Electric energy and inanimate objects being tossed around by an unknown force. Finally a knife in the back from a cabinet across the room dissolves the tension. The voices are quiet. The mannequins rest and the man is dead. All of this happens mid-day, and fulfills the promise that my childhood made for this film.
I’ve seen Mannequin. It’s about Andrew McCarthy trying to bone a piece of wood right? That’s the gist anyway. You find a mannequin that comes to life after a journey of centuries. How about Today’s Special. Remember that one? The showing Nickelodeon about a mannequin that comes to life when you put his hat on (nice hat). Well the mannequins in Tourist Trap, and there are many, come to life at the psychic will of one Mr. Slausen.. or really his alter ego Davey. There’s no hat to act as an on off switch and none of them would have a past life regression that ends in Egyptian royalty. These are some creepy baddies. As previously mentioned the mouths drop open. They “scream” The simply stare you down. Stare through you. Terrorize. If you thought your fear of ventriloquists was bad wait’ll you get a load of these ladies. What’s better? They’re made from humans who find their way into … THE TRAP.
And that brings us to the basement. Let’s step back and get a feel for what this movie is about.
Synopsis from IMDB:
“Teenagers come across a shut-in psychopath with telekinetic powers. He proceeds to use these powers to slay them one by one as well as animate the various mannequins he uses to keep himself company.”
Now back to the basement. The mannequins in question are created by Mr. Slausen aka Davy. They are created from real people. Trapped people. The method of formation appears to be covering the victims face in a type of wax which will cast as if paper mache. From there all the victim has to do is die… of an exploding heart as Davy tells us. Show this to a young child and then have the bad guy repeat the words isn’t she pretty a couple o’ times. You have nightmare ready material. I look back to all the images I have that terrify me. All the little bits and pieces of childhood phobia. I’d say that this film somehow has inspired a few of them. Uncertainty in basements which may at first seem natural but is slightly more than overwhelming. The sound Connors uses to create the vocal present for Davy emerges in this basement sequence. Throatier than usual. Scratchy. Deep and brooding. Of course the nice young lady on the table in the sequence in question does die. She dies of heart explosion or stoppage or fright or psychic will to stop the heart.
Beyond the sequence that has stuck with my sister and I from our childhood, a scene that continues to haunt us both, the movie is quite good. Definitely has that late 70’s slasher feel, but has a quirky psychic twist. Once you start down the road the museum of animatronic dummies you enter a world that is filled with feelings of redemption followed by unbridled failure and helplessness that could easily rival the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in some of its chase scenes. You’ll never know who’s real. You’ll never know what’s real. You will die trying.
Without a doubt in my mind Tourist Trap is a terrifying movie and only fails today due to some of the dated camera/film issues and the simple fact that it was shot with late 70’s mannerisms. I urge you to let yourself be immersed in this film. To let yourself be scared. To try watching it in the dark, alone in the house or with someone who actually gets scared at horror pictures of unsettling movies. It just might stick with you. Or give you the nightmares you’ve been trying to unremember for years.
Remember to listen to Pino’s awesome score: