You know, it’s never a good sign when the second victim of a slasher movie casually throws out an insightful synopsis of the events to come in the first ten minutes of the movie:
“These tourist traps are all alike. They give you a big build up, and when you get there it’s nothing but a roadside trap with a bunch of cheap trinkets.”
— Eileen (Lolita, heart-shaped sunglass wearer; asphyxiation-by-scarf victim)
Prior to the ominous warning, two carloads of nubile teens merges into one after the first car encounters a flat tire on a back road somewhere off the highway. Woody, the ripped-ab driver of the first car pushes his flat tire to the nearest gas station and ends up falling victim to a supernatural impalement by a lead pipe after being confronted by a menagerie of automatons in the back room of a deserted bar. But wait, it gets weirder. The second car of teens picks up Woody’s traveling companion, and the gang eventually ends up following his trail to Slausens’ Lost Oasis, an old-timey house of wax road-side attraction. While driver Jerry tries to figure out what is up with his suddenly failed transmission, the three girls in his car set out to exploring in their tube tops and hot pants and naturally end up skinny-dipping in a pond. (The lone tube top hold out is final girl Molly who is demurely dressed not unlike Holly Hobbie.) Whilst frolicking and splashing about topless, as girls in the late ‘70s were wont to do, their fun is interrupted by the shotgun wielding Mr. Slausen (square-jawed CHUCK CONNERS) who invites the young ladies back to his creep-tastic wax museum. Back at the super-boring museum filled with mannequin displays of Davey Crocket, Sitting Bull and the like, Slausen cautions the girls not to leave and to not go near the house located behind it. He claims that his brother Davey, who is responsible for crafting all the piss-poor wax figures in the museum lives in the house and shouldn’t be disturbed. Naturally, the trio splits up and Eileen (ROBIN SHERWOOD) meets her demise in the off-limits house. Becky (CHARLIE’S ANGELS most forgettable angel TANYA ROBERTS) ventures after Eileen and ends being held captive in the wax-museum workshop basement in the off-limits house along side the driver of the second car Jerry, where they witness the plasticization murder of some other random young gal who happened upon Slausen’s Lost Oasis looking for gas. Their captor, presumably the aforementioned brother Davey, first wears a wax mask resembling a bloated ELIZABETH TAYLOR meets SHAYE SAINT JOHN in a dark alley before swapping it out for an even creepier ROBERT GOULET-looking mask (Later in the film, it gets even more surreal when he dons a LINDA EVANS mask). This leaves goody-two shoes Molly (JOCELYN JONES), who Slousen has taken a shine to, to figure out what has happened to her friends, and what is up with Slousen’s wax shrine to his late wife. Eventually Molly figures it all out (SPOILER ALERT!): there is no brother, Slousen is completely cuckoo and the man behind the ROBERT GOULET mask.
Released in 1979, the undeniable May-December sexual tension between Molly and Mr. Slausen in TOURIST TRAP is evocative of the questionable dynamic later exhibited in 1980’s MOTEL HELL between motel proprietor Vincent Smith and motorcyle-crash hanger-on-er Terry. What differentiates the two, and makes TOURIST TRAP all the more enjoyable, is Slausen’s completely unexplained supernatural powers. He can close windows, he can make mannequins move, he can even strangle a girl with a scarf without using his hands. He is pretty amazing in my book, and it’s his surreal powers that elevate his wax museum from being just, “a roadside trap with a bunch of cheap trinkets” to a destination I’d like to check out on my next vacation.
- Woody’s impalement via a flying pipe, amongst the other projectiles that are launched at him while he is trapped (very evocative of Margaret White’s demise in CARRIE)
- Eileen ties on a scarf a bit too tight
- Sitting Bull takes out TANYA ROBERTS with a tomahawk
- The SHIELDS AND YARNELL-esque movements of the supposed wax figures
- The closing shot with Molly and her dummy pals driving down the highway