Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tourist Trap

Tourist Trap
Directed by: David Schmoeller
USA, 1979
Horror, 90 min
Distributed by: Studio S Entertainment

There’s a wave of old school horror sweeping over us these current days, perhaps an even mightier one than during the home video boom of the eighties. There’s no end to the source of classic eighties horror flicks to revamp, redux and remake, finding new audiences and catching the attention of the old guard who where around when the movies where shot the first time around. And in the wake of these remakes it’s no surprise that many of the originals are resurfacing in various releases on DVD all over the place. Call it childhood memories, call it rituals of passage, call it nostalgia, but revisiting your childhood scares is one of the best rushes that you can have.

One of the companies faithfully releasing art house classics, erotic oddities, screwball comedies and golden age horror gem’s are the company that goes under the name Studio S. Now for people outside of Sweden Studio S probably doesn’t hold any significant meaning at all, it’s just a company name and not much else.

In Sweden through it’s primarily associated with one single programme and one single night of milestone television. The social debate programme led by Göran Elwin for almost a decade is only remembered for that one legendary programme that aired on Swedish National television, at a later slot than usual on the cold dark night of December the 2nd, 1980. The show was the infamous Video violence programme, and it would go down in Swedish history as the night that firmly planted the attraction of horror for a generation to come.

That one episode of Studio S – Vem behöver video - debated against... or rather declared war on the wave of easy accessible videograms, yes that’s what they called them. Pointing out that they where an outrage, foul beasts from hell and that these movies shouldn’t be available to children fortunate enough to have a video player in their home. Clips where shown after sincere warnings where given by Elwin and then the mayhem started… Well in all honesty there wasn’t too much mayhem shown at at all, only a few out of context violent clips from movies like Ulli Lommel’s The Bogeyman 1980, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974, Basil Brabdbury & Neil Yarema’s A Taste of Hell 1973, Dennis Donnelly’s The Toolbox Murders 1978, Norman J. Warren’s Terror 1978 and Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap. Moral panic struck, and the day after the programme had aired the fuzz started raiding video rental stores and seizing tapes. They where determined to stomp out the vile video violence at all costs.

But where there's a negative there's almost always a positive at the other end of the spectrum, and I’m completely serious when I say that almost everyone I know in my age group, who has an interest in horror, saw this show. I remember seeing it and that’s all we talked about for the next few weeks at school and we rented every single horror tape we could find. It was the start of a life long love affair made possible thanks to television. Where the UK coined the phrase Video Nasties, even Sweden now had a new word in its vocabulary – videovåld!

On a side note, one of the politicians in the debate, Jan-Erik Wikström stated that the makers of these movies should have a grindstone hung round their necks and laid to eternal damnation at the bottom of the sea... I worked on a show last year where we did a piece on the Studio S TV show and the events that came in it’s wake – moral panic - and part of that segment also included an interview with Terri McMinn from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre about her thoughts on TCM and the way Swedish authorities reacted to that specific movie - especially Wickström's comment. To round off the segment we conducted a new interview with Wikström, and thirty years later he’s still stern in his opinion that makers of these kind of films should have a grindstone hung round their necks and laid to eternal damnation at the bottom of the sea!

But why do you need to know any of this at all?

Well the answer is simple, and I have a reason for sharing this piece of Swedish cultural history. Apart from calling their company Studio S, they are also using the label to release all those movies that where seized, banned, hated and feared by parents from that infamous night. As I said earlier nostalgia is a fine thing and if you like revisiting those great old movies from that time of innocence and curiosity, then you should keep an eye on Studio S. To date they have put Warren’s Terror, Lommel’s The Bogeyman, and Schmoeler’s Tourist Trap out there on the shelves once again, and they should be in yours too, beause they are landmarks in the timeline of modern horror.

What is it about Tourist Trap that made "the man" seize and ban the movie, and why did Stephen King say that it’s one of the best horror films he’s ever seen in his 1981 book Danse Macabre? Let’s take a look; five kids on a weekend road trip end up trapped at Slausens Oasis Paradise where they meet the gentle landowner Mr. Slausen [Chuck Connors]. Quickly establishing generic characters we single out the tramps from the prude, the brave from the fearsome and shit gets started for real. As Mr. Slausen helps the kids out back at his creepy waxwork museum, he warns the kids not to venture up to the nearby house, as “Davey” doesn’t take to friendly to strangers. Needless to say the slutty one of the bunch Eileen [Robin Sherwood – Michael Winner’s Death Wish II 1982] goes up to the house in search of her boyfriend Woody [Keith McDermott] who we saw killed in the opening scene. Pretty soon she’s stood face to face with the freaky mannequins that haunt that house and strangled by the masked killer Davey. The movie stays true to formula – even though it’s an early entry to the genre – and one by one the kids are lured up to the house one by one to confront Davey the masked monster, or be told by the friendly Mr. Slausen to stay put in the safety of the museum. Inside the museum good girl Molly [Jocelyn Jones] and Becky [Tanya Roberts] discover a mannequin that looks just like the photograph of Mr. Slausens late wife. Slausen starts to tell the emotional tale of his wife, and of the great skills his brother had at making the dolls that look so life like and are showcased in the museum. Eventually even Molly overcomes her fears of going against Mr. Slausen’s suggestion to stay in the waxwork, and moves up to the house only to confront the creepy Davey and reveal the haunting secret that is hidden both inside the mannequins and behind the mask of Davey.

Influenced by movies like André De Toth’s House of Wax 1953 (Shot in 3D by Toth who was blind in one eye! How impressive is that!) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960 and Carpenter’s Halloween 1978, Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap is a damned fine piece of old school horror, and I'm sure that it served as an influence for Gary A. Sherman's Dead and Buried 1981 (with a script by the late great Dan O'Bannon) along with the above mentioned films. There’s some scares, there’s some surprise shocks and a pretty grim flow of constant creepiness that still works. Yeah sure, it’s also kind of corny and cheesy, but it works and the movie still entertains successfully on several levels. There are some really poor movies of this period that still are regarded as “classics” but Tourist Trap does deliver and is a great piece.

Wasting no time at all the movie more or less jumpstarts with an initial attack against Woody that avoids showing the monster or entity or threat of the movie, and instead brings a creepy atmosphere to the film as we still have no indication of what evil lurks in the backwoods location. All we know is that there’s some freaky telekinesis going on and that those mannequins are some spooky shit.

Presenting some great arc types in the character gallery, I appreciate the fact that they have given some complexity to the lead antagonist, filling one side of him with sympathetic strokes, like the sadness, the tenderness and concern for the kids, and late wife in contrast to the evil sadistic Davey persona. It also brings that extra oomph when he confesses to the crimes he’s done to Molly.

There’s the common presentation of stereotypes but with a little twist, their stereotypical traits are shown in dialogue and interaction more than the simple smack in the face. It would have been so easy to have Emily and Woody snog it out, but instead we are told of their character traits first when Molly and Becky go towards the house in search of them. Becky says to Molly “I bet their getting it off in that strangers house.” The jock type Jerry, turns out to be a law student, and the innocent prude a hopeless romantic. This kind of cunning exposition creates a kind of unpredictability for the characters of the movie and it creates unease as genre conventions are twisted around, even if on minor level, it becomes somewhat unpredictable. But then again this is a slasher, stalker horror movie firmly within the generic horror formula, and you know that these kids are going to find themselves in serious shit pretty soon. And that’s more than obvious when lead antagonist Mr. Slausen makes his entrance. Chuck Connors is great in the role of Mr. Slausen with his two personalities. The gentle giant with a limp - and the sinister Davey who flows through each scene with an aura of sadism to each scene he’s part of. That scene where he plasters Tina’s [Dawn Jeffory] face shut with the wax is heavy-duty stuff, even if they only used dough in reality.

Tourist Trap is a splendid little movie that uses some interesting tricks to create an entertaining weave that even though it plays safe within the classic haunted house/creepy killer sphere brings some complexity to it’s characters and revisiting it all these years later, it’s a mystery to why the film was one of the seized and banned pieces of the Videovåld wave to start with. There’s no nudity, there’s hardly any onscreen blood, and very little actual violence, instead it’s pretty heavy on atmosphere! The Videovåld debate is since long merely a humorous document of time, but the films still remain, and some, like Tourist Trap re-released in it’s full version, and the fact that it was singled out for controversy in Sweden only goes to prove the naiveté of that time period. That which scared the Swedes or stood out against the norm was stoned to death, swept under the carpet and taken out of the public eye. It’s fair to say that Sweden was a safe heaven with a nice glossy furnish for many years, mostly associated with fair-haired maidens sunbathing in the flesh, fun loving peace loving pacifists where the streets where a safe place to stroll at any time of the day. But in 1986 the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme put a bullet right through the heart of the Swedish innocence and the country slowly grew cold and hard.

When attempts to bring the video violence debate back into the living rooms was tried once again in the early nineties – just like the initial debate, due to the fact that kids could easily purchase video nasties at any decent video store, Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust 1980 and Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox 1981 being the ones starting the spark this time. I worked in one of the video stores under scrutiny and was in one of the debate programmes at this time. I defended the genre, and every individuals right to watch violent entertainment if they wanted to as if my life depended on it. - Anyhow, the second wave debate fizzled out and faded away. The age of innocence was past and the age of import video was sweeping over the retailers leaving the officials no way of controlling the supply of video violence.

It’s remarkable how much a few scenes pulled out of context can provoke, create a public outcry, or even awake an interest in the dark world of horror cinema. The guys and gals at Studio S and their ingenious marketing for these titles are hitting the spot at all the right places, and I’m pleased that later generations can take part of the movies that at one point in time where considered so harmful that they where banned. It's time to check out the originals kids and find out where all the shitty remakes are coming from.

1.85:1, Anamorphic Widescreen 16x9

Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Swedish, Finnish, Danish or Norwegian subtitles are optional.

The disc features Biographies on Schmoeller, Chuck Connnors and Tanya Roberts, trivia about the film, the original trailer and several other trailers for other titles released by Studio S.

Best place to pick up Studio S titles is from one of best movie stores in Sweden - SubDVD.


Anonymous said...

Intrresting. But too much not is about movie.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Dude! There's a story behind everything, and I love telling stories. if you just wanted a few random lines on the movie, then there's plenty more sites that will give you that out there. But I appreciate that you took the time to read it all and actually post a comment on here!


Anonymous said...

An interesting fact about this film is that in the states it was a total flop. Not because it was bad, but because it was given the rating PG13. No one wanted to see a horror film that was "suitable for children". :)

The irony.

CiNEZiLLA said...

cool.'i had no idea! :D

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