Being a genre aficionado, I like my horror in all sizes, shapes, and colors – but I generally prefer a serious tone. I prefer feeling unnerved, and I enjoy the feeling of being in the presence of a filmmaker whom I don’t entirely trust – not in the sense that I feel the filmmaker is not up to the snuff of delivering a good fright, but in the sense that said filmmaker might just be a little…off; perhaps eccentric, or even insane, to have delivered such a god damned strange, indecipherable, and flat-out bizarre little picture like the one we’ll be examining today. To watch Tourist Trap is to wonder if the film had been accidentally made by an escapee from an insane asylum after he had held a mini-studio hostage so that his film may be realized. And when I insinuate the filmmaker was approaching this in as unconventional manner as possible, I don’t allude to such high-brow works of art like E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten or even Buñuel & Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou, which are artistic to the extreme of defying convention. No, Tourist Trap is a different kind of insane – one that sports a straight-forward concept that became rather go-to in the late ’70s and early 80s thanks to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: a group of kids getting lost in an unknown territory and falling victim one by one to a madman. On its surface, one would assume that’s all it would seem to entail. But oh, how wrong one would be to assume such a thing.
Have you ever heard the expression “a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma?” Tourist Trap is that movie, in spades, but with mannequins. It, truly, is the most bizarre film I’ve ever seen – one that at some points is deeply unsettling, and at others completely ridiculous, whimsical, and odd. It’s almost as if two directors, whose styles completely contradicted each other, directed different portions. Picture an unhappy studio executive screening the latest film from David Lynch, then picking up a phone and requesting an immediate meeting with the guys who made Airplane.
To attempt to explain or make sense of what’s soon to unfold is a fool’s errand. A rather simple-minded premise about mannequins with a life of their own soon morphs into a story featuring quirky and potentially dangerous twin brothers, split personalities, telekinesis, necromancy(?), and even heartbreak.
Tourist Trap cannot be summarized; it needs to be seen (and experienced) to be believed.
Being that Tourist Trap was a low budget production from the late 1970s, it was never going to make for a fantastic, high-definition picture. Much like other films of its age not held in very high esteem outside of cult audiences, Tourist Trap is prone to some blemishes, on-set camera artifacts, telecine tremors, and very rare (but ever-present) print damage. Still, the picture presented is a decent one, and on a technical level bests the DVD. Blacks are surprisingly strong despite the very grainy picture. This transfer offers a somewhat darker picture, but flesh tones are warmer and more realistic.
However, there’s another issue that needs to be addressed. Not long after the release of the blu-ray, it was discovered that this particular cut was not the one that’s been long available on other home video formats. Though the source of this particular cut is still up for debate (some have called it an alternate international cut), the fact remains that the version of the film that made it to blu-ray does not represent the version the director originally intended. Mind you, nothing has been cut out of the film due to violent or sexual content; rather, some character scenes have been rearranged or excised entirely for reasons unknown. This has made for some interesting drama (in purely a muck-raking way) between Charles Band (the film’s producer, and head of Full Moon Pictures) and the film’s director, who has maintained distrust and bad blood toward his producer for many years now, mostly having to do with owed royalties over Schmoeller’s other film he shot for the mini studio: Puppet Master. These very public back-and-forths won’t be found here, but Destroy the Brain has the whole breakdown. From a personal standpoint, it’s baffling that Charles Band, who proclaims Tourist Trap as being one of his studio’s most revered and celebrated titles, chose to release this cut of the film that has the approval of exactly no one – not even himself, and, to be fair, not the director, who provides a new commentary for this release – which is not only disconcerting from a consumer standpoint, but also frustrating, since Band’s esteem he claims to hold for the film apparently was not helpful in him determining that the cut sent to the company responsible for the transfer was the incorrect one. Sadly, it doesn’t change the fact that this “unauthorized” cut of the film is the one that’s been made available in high-def, and will likely be the last release of this film on blu-ray, or any home video format.
Options provided are the original theatrical 2.0 mono track, or a 5.1 surround sound track. No matter which track you choose (the adequate [the 5.1] or the preferred [the 2.0]), the stand-out on either track is the musical composition by Pino Donaggio, who turns in one of the most unique scores for a horror film…ever.
Director David Schmoeller provides a solo commentary on every aspect of the production: his early beginnings, his admitting to being young, inexperienced, and “not that good of a writer” while he was writing the screenplay for what would become Tourist Trap. With very few bouts of silence, Schmoeller provides some pretty interesting anecdotes, such as having offered the role of the villainous Slausen to Jack Palance, who opted to pass (Connors is aces in the role, but how I’d love to see Palance’s version) or that it’s implied Slausen “does have sex with and dry humps the mannequins.” Holy shit. Also included is a featurette described as a “making of,” but which is actually a sit-down interview with the director. Also included are previews for other Full Moon features.
This particular edition of Tourist Trap is a difficult one to widely recommend. First-timers looking to discover less heralded gems from horror yesteryear likely won’t be as disturbed by this alternate version that’s inadvertently made it to blu-ray, since they have had no prior (repeated) viewings in which to compare them. But for those (like your reviewer) who appreciated the film in its cut that has been available for years, it’s a tough call. Respecting and preserving the original intent of the director is a huge proponent of being a film fan, or at least that’s the way it should be. Though this current cut of Tourist Trap reflects quite largely the film as it was meant to show, it’s still not the version audiences have been discovering, and loving, and being disturbed/entertained by for the last thirty-five years.
(Thanks to Horror News for the screengrabs.)