Hanging out at Duke’s Restaurant in Hollywood’s Tropicana Motel sometime in the Spring of 1979, I asked my friend Chuck if he’d seen any good movies. He answered that “Tourist Trap” was the best thing he’s seen in about a year. As the ad for the picture looked like a cheap cash-in on “Magic,” which had come out around Thanksgiving, I thought he was putting me on, so I didn’t even listen to his raves about this comeback event for Chuck Conners. Had I been paying attention I might have caught “Tourist Trap” on a triple feature at The World on Hollywood and Gower for 99 cents. As it was, I didn’t see it until 1983, a rental from Videosmith that I watched alone on a crappy couch in my Mass Ave apartment just outside of Harvard Square. Chuck had been right, and I kicked myself for missing the chance to have seen it on the big screen.
Conners plays the owner of a marionette museum who has gone insane after …..Well, I’m not going to tell you the story. Even though you’ll figure most of it out as it goes along, it is still fun to think you are the one doing the figuring. I will say that director David Schmoeller, who studied theater in Mexico with Alejandro Jodorowsky, takes everything you could want in a horror movie and mixes it up into something that seems original. More than that, he has the audacity to subject the audience to things that can’t possibly be happening without giving a phony explanation about it. He pulls off a structural coup by making it look like most of the cast has been killed off in the first half an hour and then bringing some of them back for encores, which makes the final reels speed by.
The scariest thing about a marionette has got to be the way the lower half of the face drops away when they smile, leaving us staring into a huge square mouth after the spring holding the jaw in place has busted. The scariest thing about Chuck Conners is that he is still playing good guy Lucas McCain from the Rifleman while going about the business of a Jim Thompson psycho killer. Schmoeller is not a director who fools around; he plays it tight and to the point, not only throwing scares from all corners of the field, but putting a few things into your mind that rarely make it through the doors of perception.