Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Every horrorhound's favorite month is upon us, and to celebrate, I'll be dishing out a personal pick from the genre for every day in October. Some will be obvious and rather unoriginal (sorry that I like movies other people like), while some will be a little more oddball and off-the-wall. Some may even challenge your idea of what constitutes a "horror" movie. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the month with some good movies, even if they aren't ones I recommend!

Today's Pick: Tourist Trap (1979)

The 1970's was a fantastic era for American cinema all around, and the horror genre was no exception. The B-movie went A-list with Steven Spielberg's Jaws, our religious fears were mined with both The Exorcist and The Omen, and another mythical figure took his place in the hall of hallowed monsters in... well, we'll save that for another entry. But, hiding underneath all these mainstream successes are lots of mini-masterpieces waiting to be appreciated by a new generation. One of those happens to be Tourist Trap, an exercise in atmosphere and outright creepiness.

As the movie starts, we're introduced to a group of young folks traveling down the road. One of their friends has gone ahead but gets a flat tire. When he goes looking for help, he's attacked and killed by what appears to be some kind of ghostly force. When his friends catch up, they find an idyllic tourist stop that is owned by the kindly Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). Mr. Slausen invites them to his museum and offers to help fix their vehicle, but warns them to stay away from the house next door and its reclusive inhabitant, his brother Davey. As the night progresses, we learn more about the Slausen family history and eventually meet Davey, who has a frightening love of mannequins and other things...

If you ever saw the in-name only remake of House of Wax back in 2005, you actually saw a somewhat lesser iteration of Tourist Trap. The films are strikingly similar (at the plot level), but where Tourist Trap far excels is its utilization of mood to create almost constant unease. This is a film where the low budget actually works in the film's favor, thanks to co-writer/director David Schmoeller's application of a "less is more" approach. There are only about seven characters in the whole film, and this desolation of people helps enforce the physical desolation surrounding the picture. The aura Tourist Trap gives off is pure spine-tingling emptiness.

The other big factors that make the film utterly chilling are the music and sound design. Pino Donaggio's score is sometimes childish and other times aggressively insane, but it's often the lack of music and/or sound that create the most tense moments. There are also lots of ethereal voices heard throughout the picture that play with volume in the spookiest of ways. The soundtrack alone is worth watching this film, but there's lots of other things to love. Chuck Connors gives a great performance as Mr. Slausen, never winking at the camera or emitting a feeling like he's slumming it in some cheap horror flick. His good ol' boy demeanor adds a charm and warmth to a film that is mostly devoid of either.

Tourist Trap is an unsung minor classic, and a prime example that you can craft sufficiently scary material out of very little to work with. I don't want to talk about the film too much for fear I will ruin some of its "mystery" factor. I don't even recommend watching the trailer below, since going into this movie as blind as possible is a definite plus. Just go and watch it already. Heck, watch it with your kids! The MPAA felt like this deserved a PG rating back in 1979, and while I somewhat agree with them (there's no really bloody violence, nudity, or extremely harsh language at all in the picture), this is a film that will probably permanently scar any impressionable young ones. So, you know my kids will end up having to watch it.

Tomorrow brings us the greatest comic book film ever made! Spoiler alert: It's not Howard the Duck. Come back tomorrow and find out!

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