Woody (Keith McDermott) was planning on a nice relaxing day, but his car has just broken down and now he's roling a tyre towards the nearest gas station he can find. As he and his friends are in the middle of nowhere, he might have to endure a long journey, but eventually he sees a place up ahead that looks promising and ventures inside, calling out for assistance. However, there doesn't seem to be anyone about and he ends up in a back room where there is someone lying beneath a blanket whose attention he tries to attract. He wishes he hadn't bothered when a mannequin springs up, laughing, startling him - and then the dummies start smashing through the windows, out of the closet and the door has been locked from the outside...
Based on a student film of director and co-writer (with producer J. Larry Carroll) David Schmoeller, Tourist Trap is a curio that at first glance mixed House of Wax with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, yet on second glance didn't appear to be precisely like anything else. It capitalised on a whatever fear of mannequins, dummies and puppets that might be in the audience by giving the wax figures supernatural properties, and contrived to stick in the minds of the few who saw it by offering up the clichéd group of young people to be terrorised and doing something very strange with them.
The film gained a little attention and respectability in its field when Stephen King highlighted it in his Danse Macabre book, an overview of the horror genre of what was then the past thirty years or so. This prompted a select few fans to seek it out, and while some were baffled, others enjoyed what they saw for its sheer funhouse oddness. Once poor old Woody has apparently been bumped off by the dummies we concentrate on his friends, three of whom have brought their own jeep. The drive on, hoping to catch their pal, until they reach a pool beneath a waterfall and the girls (including a raven-haired Tanya Roberts) go for a swim only to be accosted by a sinister but grinning fellow called Mr Slausen (Chuck Connors with a twinkle in his eye).
It's Mr Slausen who is somehow behind the weirdness they are about to endure, and when the jeep won't start, he invites them back to his abandoned wax museum, created, he claims, by his brother. Foolishly, they agree, and not long after night falls, the mannequins come to life somehow and along the way some of the friends are transformed into mannequins themselves. Whether by accident or design, Schmoeller works up a heavy mood of genuine unease when he fails to explain himself, and those figures with their gaping, ventriloquist dummy mouths are memorably disquieting creations. Connors lends a charm to the film that is not quite funny, more menacing, and Slausen's chatty, masked brother might be responsible for the goings-on. Whatever, there are some kind of psychic powers occurring, but the more you think about Tourist Trap the less sense it makes. It's best not to know too much about the story before watching it: otherwise, it's a pretty good approximation of a nightmare with its plethora of capture and escape scenes contributing greatly to that atmosphere. Music by Pino Donaggio.