Starting this journey with a film that helped usher in the 80s, this installment of the Slasher Vaults makes a pit stop at the mid-80s, and finally takes a wrong turn at the end of the decade.
TOURIST TRAP (1979)
1979’s Tourist Trap is pretty much the stepping-stone between Halloween and Friday the 13th as the slasher genre moved into the decade with which it will always be identified. Despite rarely being mentioned in the same breath as classics of the genre, it is generally loved by fans that lived the era.
Directed by David Schmoeller (The Seduction, Crawlspace, The Arrival 1991, Netherworld, Catacombs, Puppemaster), Tourist Trap has a lot going for it, from its similarities to other horror faves to the aspects that make it unique. Not to mention, it has the distinction of being rated PG! You just have to overlook the horribly whimsical instrumental song that plays over the opening credits, because the string-based soundtrack throughout the film is perfect, and not unlike the score for Prom Night 1980.
The film wastes no time in getting us in the mood. A group of friends is stranded with a flat tire, so a cutie heads off to get it repaired. He enters a seemingly empty gas station, and it’s jump scare city, with creepy as hell, moving, cackling mannequins and sharp flying objects….
While waiting for him, the girls in the group go skinny dipping…but no nudity! Amongst the girls is Tanya Roberts, a year before she’d make the big time on Charlie’s Angels.
Suddenly, iconic actor Chuck Connors appears with a shotgun, as if he’s looking for the set of his next Western film. He runs a nearby museum that doesn’t see much business since the new major roads have been laid, so he offers to let the group stay there overnight. Clearly, they never saw Psycho, because they agree.
When you see what transpires as Tourist Trap progresses, you realize that essentially, the 2005 House of Wax is a remake of this film rather than of the original Vincent Price film. Connors runs a wax museum with eerily lifelike mannequins. Pretty soon, the friends are being hunted by a killer that plans to get them plastered. He also seems to have predicted the various looks Leatherface would have in the years of Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels to come.
Speaking of, one dude in this film even jumps through a window to get away from the killer…while on the first floor. He’s got nothing on Sally.
Chilling and featuring about as much blood as Halloween, Tourist Trap truly is a classic of the genre with some nightmarish situations, a fresh killer “ability,” and a darkly twisted ending.
MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE (1986)
Mountaintop Motel Massacre is basically Psycho III with a female Norman Bates, and the two films happened to have been released only months apart.
We get right into the action, meeting Evelyn, a clearly crazy bitch running a motel. She kills her daughter’s rabbit…then does the same to the daughter. There are hints of backstory suggesting she’d already been locked away in a loony bin for a while, yet the police accept her claim that her daughter’s death was an accident.
So, on a stormy night, an eclectic mix of guests comes to stay at the motel – an older man, a young couple, two girls who want to be singers, and a guy who tells them he’s a music producer.
Hearing her daughter’s voice in her head, Evelyn is urged to kill them all. She begins by setting various critters free to sneak into their rooms (snakes, bugs, etc.), but that doesn’t get her very far, so she just grabs a hand scythe and starts hacking everyone up.
While the atmosphere rocks, the musical score is a perfect throwback to classic horror (you expect to see Vincent Price make a black and white appearance), and Evelyn is deliciously demented, Mountaintop Motel Massacre is fairly generic slasher stuff that is easily forgettable. The only curiosity is hints of an occult/paranormal backstory that never gets explained.
Moonstalker is a perfect example of why the slasher genre started to fall apart by the end of the decade. Not even an attempt to clone the Halloween soundtrack could save this absolute mess, although, there are a couple of wickedly good scenes near the end.
From the moment the film begins with a bunch of people dancing by a campfire at night, you can tell this is going to be bottom of the barrel material. There’s an immediate massacre, but we see nothing. Soon after we meet a man who keeps his psycho son chained up in a trailer. Here’s the movies first huge mistake. It has the opportunity to have a killer that looks like this….
But instead, the killer decides the cowboy look is better. WTF?
For a majority of Moonstalker, people seem to randomly roam around in the woods at night (I never realized the woods were such a popular hangout), while the killer is busy appearing in tent openings to hack off various campers’ limbs. The repeating scenario gets comical fast.
FINALLY, we get a sense of a handful of people that are intended to be our main characters—right before most of them die one after the other.
But at least most of them have sex first.
No, it’s not Shaun Cassidy.
We establish who our final girl is simply because she’s the only one left.
The killer at last shows some personality by using the dead bodies to fuck with his victims, we get a chase scene, and the film closes with the old “killer dressed like authority figure drives away from the scene of the slaughter in a squad car” ending. Personally, I’m not surprised he drove away for good and never came back for a sequel.