Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Visit the World's Largest Ball of Twine Next Time

Films: Tourist Trap
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

As I inch closer to finishing my Oscar project, at least for now, I’m finding myself returning more and more to reviewing horror movies. They are, after all, my first love, and 10+ years of stretching myself to other genres should get a little payoff. Movies like Tourist Trap are a part of the reason this shift appeals to me. Tourist Trap is so weird that it deserves to be talked about. It is simultaneously right in line with other horror movies and also so utterly unlike anything else that it can’t help but be interesting.

We start with Woody (Keith McDermott), who is clearly having car trouble. He’s walking down a country road with a tire, at least. Eventually, he comes to a house and goes in to investigate and try to get some help. What he finds instead are some weird mannequins. Soon enough, he is assaulted by items being hurled at him, and the mannequins themselves seem to come to life. Eventually, Woody is impaled by a flying pipe and its time to meet our other potential victims.

These victims are Woody’s friends. They are his girlfriend Eileen (Robin Sherwood), second couple Jerry (Jon Van Ness) and the rather sultry Becky (Tanya Roberts), and fifth wheel Molly (Jocelyn Jones). The latter three pick up Eileen, who is waiting by Woody’s car, and off they go in search of the missing man. As they drive along, suddenly Jerry’s car seizes up as well. He looks to fix it while the women go for a swim, only to be surprised by Mr. Slausen (Chuck Mothafuckin’ Connors). Slausen runs the nearby tourist trap that has seen better days since the government put in a highway that bypasses his place.

You can see where this is going, right? The group heads up to Slausen’s museum, which is made up of a variety of animated mannequin exhibits. Slausen claims these were made by his brother, who has since moved on. He and Jerry go off to fix the car and Slausen warns the women not to leave the building, and especially not to go to the nearby house. If you thought they’d listen to him, you’ve never seen a horror movie, so soon enough Eileen heads into the house. She finds more or less what Woody did: there are a lot of creepy mannequins as well as a person wearing an upsetting mask. That person appears to have some telekinetic powers, which he uses to strangle Eileen.

From here, we’re going to get the stuff you expect. Of course, there’s someone else around, and that someone likes to wear very upsetting masks to conceal his identity. Additionally, this person does seem to have real telekinetic powers, which are often used to animate the mannequins. Since mannequins tend to live in a neighborhood adjacent to the Uncanny Valley, this is surprisingly disturbing. Additionally upsetting is the fact that many of the mannequins have articulated lower jaws that frequently drop open suddenly and that issue forth various moans and vocalizations. It’s upsetting and unsettling as all hell.

There are a couple of reveals in Tourist Trap. The first one is only a shock if you’ve never seen a movie before and aren’t sure what conventions are to be expected from movies. It was so terribly obvious, in fact, that I pegged it long before we got anything like close to it. The second shock reveal is, again, not terribly surprising, but it’s played pretty well. The closing moments of the film, though, are great, and cover a lot of these minor sins.

The truth is that Tourist Trap is exactly what it wants to be. It’s a straightforward genre film that offers a few good scares and some genuinely weird moments. This isn’t Shakespeare. No one in this movie had delusions of grandeur or thought they were doing anything more than just making an odd horror movie.

But I like it. It’s inventive and weird. There are so many conventions of the genre here—people in the middle of nowhere, a strange house filled with bizarre artifacts, a weird old dude who lives on his own and has a potentially strange past, mannequins—that it feels like it should be nothing but a series of clich├ęs in search of coherence. At the same time, though, it includes such weird things, like the mannequins that have faces that drop open, The jaw structures are weird enough going in, but when they start vocalizing, it’s really upsetting.

Tourist Trap isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about anything. If you like weird horror movies, this one will be right in your wheelhouse. If you don’t, it won’t make you feel any different. For my money, though, it’s exactly why I love weird little horror movies.

Why to watch Tourist Trap: This is surprisingly twisted and weird.
Why not to watch: The first twist really doesn’t work.

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