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Tourist Trap: VHS Retro Big Box Collection [Blu-ray + DVD]
Directed by co-written by David Schmoeller (who would later go on to direct the first Puppet Master film as well as the Klaus Kinski vehicle Crawlspace) and produced by Charles Band, 1979's Tourist Trap begins with a guy named Woody (Keith McDermott) and his lady friend Eileen (Robin Sherwood) are stuck on the side of the road, the victims of a flat tire. Woody takes the tire up the road to try and get help, and Eileen connects with travelling companions Jerry (Jon Van Ness), Becky (Tanya Roberts, who tragically passed away just the other day) and Molly (Jocelyn Jones), who soon drive by in their Volkswagen Kübelwagen. Eileen hops in and they head up the road hoping to find Woody, unaware that he's wandered into a roadside diner, found his way into the backroom and been murdered by way of some mechanized mannequins!
The rest of the group winds up following the signs to an old western museum, figuring it's the only place around that Woody could have possibly wound up at. Here, the Kübelwagen breaks down, and the three girls leave Jerry to fix it so they can explore… and go skinny dipping (no nudity here though, sorry kids). While enjoying nature au natural, an older man, touting a shotgun, arrives and introduces himself as Mr. Slausen, the owner of this ‘lost oasis.' Like Norman Bates before him, he's seen his business fail since the government built a main highway, taking traffic off of the local roads and ruining his business. He seems kindly enough and offers to help Jerry with the car, letting the girls hang out in his shuttered museum full of weird mannequins, but warning them not to go out, as there are coyotes around after dark, or to go up to the house behind the museum where Davey lives.
As the day turns into night, the girls decide Slausen's warnings are for chumps, and that's when things go from weird to weirder.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out who the bad guy really is in this movie, it's pretty obvious right from the start, but Tourist Trap otherwise has a lot going for it. Pino Donaggio's bizarre but effective score does a great job of accentuating the seriously eerie vibe that Schmoeller and company manage to create here and if you happen to find mannequins creepy, as you should? So much the better, because there are a lot of them here, all of them creepy. The set design and overall feel of the setting itself owes a bit to Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but what this film lacks in the intensity of Hooper's undisputed masterpiece of horror is more than made up for with what Stephen King called an "eerie, spooky power. There's something unnatural and unseemly about all of this, even if the movie never pushes the boundary of its PG rating in terms of on screen gore or even really any strong violence. It's all about the atmosphere, and this movie's got it to spare.
In this middle of all of this weirdness is the very embodiment of weirdness himself, Chuck Connors. The one time star of popular western TV series The Rifleman was dabbling in less reputable fair by this point in his career (see The Police Connection for a great example!) and according to the director's commentary on this disc he was hoping to reinvent himself as sort of a Boris Karloff of his day, focusing on horror pictures. Tourist Trap gives him the opportunity to do that, and the toothy behemoth takes full advantage of it, delivering a performance that is just as utterly odd as his character's surroundings. The rest of the cast? Well, Keith McDermott and Jon Van Ness aren't given all that much to do but they do it well enough. Jocelyn Jones who had a small part in the Dirty Harry film The Enforcer a few years prior in 1976, plays her character quite well, looking and acting a little on the naïve and jumpy side quite effectively. Robin Sherwood, who played Carol Kersey in Death Wish II, is just fine as the headstrong Eileen while the beautiful Tanya Roberts, who had starred in The Final Victim in 1975 and just a short time later would land a role on Charlie's Angels, is also quite good here.
The previous Blu-ray release (which I fully admit to not having seen) from Full Moon Features (and its UK counterpart from 88 Films) was missing approximately five-minutes of footage and had a few scenes arranged in a different order, leading to plenty of speculation that it wasn't transferred from the negative but from an altered print, possibly put together for a TV broadcast. You can read details about that controversy online if you want to look for it. This new version from Full Moon runs 1:29:34 (though sixteen-seconds of that is the Full Moon logo preceding the film) and would appear to be the original cut of the film.
Full Moon brings Tourist Trap back to region free Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen on a 25GB disc with the feature taking up just 16.1GBS of space, which would explain some of the compression artifacts visible in the presentation. Full Moon hasn't said what elements were used to put this Blu-ray together, simply referring to it as a "stunning, totally UNCUT, digitally remastered transfer," but given that there are a couple of scenes that do show a noticeable drop in quality it's likely that this is a composite of some sort (some snippets look to be tape sourced). Grain can sometimes look a little clumpy in the background. A little more cleanup work would have been welcome but this is a serviceable enough transfer. Tourist Trap is a very dark film, visually, and there is some crush in some of these darker scenes, but shadow detail can look decent at times. Lighter, outdoor shots, which make up most of the first twenty-minutes or so, can and do look pretty nice with good detail. Color reproduction looks pretty solid here. A full-blown restoration would have yielded better results but this transfer, as uneven as it is, is watchable enough.
Audio options are offered in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, both in the film's native English. There are no subtitle options or alternate language options included here. The 5.1 mix is the weaker of the two, mostly just moving the effects up front a bit, but the 2.0 mix sounds decent enough even if there really should have been a lossless option provided here to take advantage of the format and to give the audio more depth than it has. Dialogue is generally pretty clear, Donaggio's weirdly effective score sounds fine and the levels are balanced well enough.
The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary with director David Schmoeller that covers quite a bit of ground. He speaks here about directing this, his first feature film, in 1978 after originally making the story as a thesis film. He notes that this was the first film for a lot of people involved in it from both sides of the camera, shooting in and around Los Angeles over a twenty-four day period, some of the locations that were used for the shoot, how Tanya Roberts came to be involved in the film, the movie's nightmarish qualities and how they overrule logic in how the characters act, who did what as far as the special effects were concerned, why there's no nudity in the skinny-dipping scene and, of course, what it was like working with Chuck Connors on the picture and how he came to be involved with it in the first place. He also notes that the movie was originally to be placed in Texas, where Albert Band and Schmoeller's mother-in-law cameo in the movie, having to use dough to stand in for plaster and his own thoughts on the visceral qualities of the film. There's some dead during the last third of the track and maybe a moderator would have been a good idea here, but overall this is a decent track with some good information in it.
The disc also includes a featurette called Exit Through The Chop Shop that runs tewnty-four-minutes and features an interview with Schmoeller who talks about his schooling and his background, where he got the idea for the story that became Tourist Trap, working on Capricorn One and learning a lot from that experience, being inspired by the success of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, hooking up with Charles Band to get Tourist Trap made, casting the film and the importance of getting Connors after Jack Palance and Gig Young passed, the importance of the production design in the movie and Robert A. Burns' work on the film, how a lot of people involved with this film were related to famous people, how some of the effects were pulled off and more.
Additionally, the disc includes a trailer for the feature as well as bonus trailers for a few other Full Moon properties (Crash And Burn, Intruder, Mansion Of The Doomed, Shrunken Heads, Prehysteria, Crash!, Blade: The Iron Cross and Weedjies: Halloweed Night), a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
As this is a combo pack release, we also get a DVD version of the movie included inside.
As to the packaging, full points for this. Full Moon has placed the two discs inside a standard Blu-ray keepcase which fits inside some genuinely cool replica VHS big box style packaging. Also tucked away inside the box is a Mr. Slausen action figure that comes with a removable mask!
If Tourist Trap is a bit on the predictable side, it's weird enough to work. The movie has atmosphere to spare and it's got some seriously creepy set pieces that, forty-years later, still have the power to creep you out! Connors is great as the heavy and the supporting cast is decent here as well. Full Moon's Blu-ray reissue presents the film in its proper, uncut form and while it doesn't carry over all of the extras from the past issue, it does include a decent commentary and, gimmicky or not, the packaging is pretty damn cool. Recommended mainly on the strength of the movie itself.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.