Tourist Trap (1979) BluRay Review

Directed by David Schmoeller
Written by David Schmoeller & J. Larry Carroll
Produced by J. Larry Carroll, Irwin Yablans [executive], Charles Band [executive]
Starring Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Tanya Roberts

Released 21st April

Tourist Trap has enjoyed something of a renaissance throughout the horror community over the last decade or so. Thanks to a slew of disc reissues and the more than passing resemblance the underrated 2005 House of Wax redux bears to it, this cult favourite has now become a permanent part of modern macabre movie lexicon; a bonafide sleeper. Now hitting Blighty-side blu-ray as part of 88 Films’ ever expanding Charles Band-based catalogue, the opportunity to revisit this wonderful shocker for the gazillionth time in its new HD form– and to give you guys the lowdown on it, natch– was too impossible to resist.

So first off, how does the film stack up?
Why, as brilliantly as ever of course! Tourist Trap is one of this hacks all-time favourite fright flicks, number nine on the Budrewicz Top Ten Terror Scale for the record. Like Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the film that Tourist Trap is admittedly the most indebted to), often over-looked fear auteur Schmoeller [Crawlspace, Puppet Master and Catacombs] has crafted a sweaty, surrealistic nightmare of a picture; a deranged ninety minute squeeze of palpable- and often darkly comic- dread. It is this crazed carnival funhouse and bad dream-like vibe that is Tourist Trap’s key, the films creepy charisma and tense escalation of frightening imagery mattering more than “does it all make sense?” story logic.

tt1What story there is though remains compelling, with the basic set up cheekily throwing you off the scent with its simplicity. Granite jawed Connors leads as Mr. Slausen (a neat performance, poised somewhere between endearingly kooky and genuinely menacing thanks to the stars impressive physicality), the kindly but eccentric proprietor of the ramshackle roadside waxwork attraction Slausen’s Lost Oasis. Slausen’s near seclusion is interrupted by the arrival of a gaggle of early twentysomethings (headed up by ingénue Jones and featuring the hot dam’ Roberts), and their discovery of Slausen’s mask wearing brother Davey in the Bates-ish family home. Completely effed in the head, Davey is soon preying upon the hapless youths, murderously terrorising them with his bizarre, mind controlled mannequins. Can Davey be stopped? And, more importantly, can any of the gang escape in one human piece?

Fun, scary and abstract; a definite minor classic. It’s maddening then that Tourist Trap’s blu debut should be something of a fudged release: it’s missing approximately five minutes of bloody footage! Though not acknowledged anywhere (including the extras), the film presented here is actually a slightly shorter, alternative cut, with a few random trimmings here and there to various random scenes. Why? Who knows! Oh dear 88…

Meanwhile, the films new transfer leaves a lot to be desired too. Whilst it was always going to be a stretch for such a low budget, flea pit jolter of Tourist Trap’s vintage to look as slick as, say, Avatar, by and large the transfer is a bit, well, bleargh. There are moments of aesthetic harmony, yes: the flesh tones are gorgeous and naturalistic, a vast improvement over the orangey glow they had back on the films initial 1998 Koch/Full Moon DVD release. The blacks are lovely and rich too, especially in the scenes where Jones and Roberts are prowling around the Slausen grounds in the dark; whilst Davey’s first startling introduction looks wonderful as well. However, the near constant background visual noise is distracting; it’s almost like watching an old, incorrectly tuned portable television. Worst of all though, there’s a strange jittering going on throughout, with about sixty per cent of the films presentation marked by a tiny, flicker-like jumping. Visible if one studies the bottom of the frame, it’s at its most obvious whenever a shot calls for movement. It is, frankly, infuriating.

tt2Sound wise, the disc cuts the mustard. I’ve said it before that I’m no audiophile but everything sounds tickety-boo to me; the dialogue is nice and audible and composer Pino Donaggio’s [Don’t Look Now, Carrie and The Howling] fabulous, lush score fills the speakers. The extras are decent, if a little on the scant side, too with a cool interview with Schmoeller kicking things off. Entitled “Exit Through the Chop Shop”, the pleasant seeming chap fondly reminisces for twenty-ish minutes on the films genesis, production and release, giving a few witty anecdotes in between. Anyone who has seen his excellent documentary short Please Kill Mr. Kinski should know what to expect; Schmoeller makes for good company.

Elsewhere, Schmoeller provides an informative yak track. There’s a little overlap with the one on one piece, yes, but on the whole it makes for enjoyable and detailed listening; a must for Tourist Trap buffs and casual commentary fans alike. Interestingly, it should be noted that these are new special features and NOT just ports of the much shorter interview and old, different commentary option available on previous releases. These have not been included so, if you’re a devout fan like I, don’t be getting rid of your old DVD copy just yet (especially since all the DVDs contain the full version).

tt3A spoiler-filled trailer (DON’T watch it if you’re checking Tourist Trap out for the first time!) and liner notes round out the package, the liner notes being sadly unavailable with the screener copy. Weirdly, considering just how much he mentions it, Schmoeller’s short student film that inspired Tourist Trap, The Spider Will Kill You, is once again not included. It’s an odd omission, and would have been a great bit of supplementary material.

The bottom line? A cracking film with a bit of a crummy and truncated release. Though it’s hard to recommend it to anyone other than a real horror blu nut or a Tourist Trap completist, it’s not entirely worthless either thanks to some OK extras. Approach it with great caution and if you do buy it, for the love of all that is Holy please use the original cover art included on the sleeves reverse. The new art is awful, making this ghoulish gem look like nothing more than a hackneyed Wolf Creek knock off. Gah!

The film 9/10
The disc 4/10

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