How did I miss this one? Just when you think you've seen everything the genre had to offer, it's a treat to have something that's lurked on the periphery of your knowledge for 20 years come and tap you on the shoulder. But let me back up and get all autobiographical to set the stage. I was one of those video store kids. In the early 80's, most of my time was spent kicking my skateboard to and from the mom-and-pop store in the small town where I grew up. This wasn't the bar-coded mega chain of Blockbuster or the late Hollywood video. This was the type of store spoken of with reverence by folks like Scott Weinberg or the Alamo Drafthouse's Zack Carlson. Locally owned and more than a little cultish, who knew what forbidden flicks lurked on the shelves of these dusty and cramped VHS vaults.

I was there damn near every day. Naturally, I'd head straight for the horror section and more often than not, grab the first video I hadn't seen, devour it, and come back the next day. Every day, I saw the blank face on the cover of Tourist Trap staring down at me, and every day, I skipped past it. Even at nine years old, I'd had enough of masked loonies knocking off horny teenagers. I'd moved on to the "harder" stuff, stuff with bad dubbing and nuclear-colored blood. As I just learned, skipping out on this one was my loss.

A bizarre opening immediately threw all of my expectations out the window. Right out of the gates, you learn this isn't your typical slasher film. The first kill brings the weird with giggling mannequins and things flying out of cupboards. It was immediately apparent that this was going to be more than a mongoloid with gardening equipment. Shortly after, our four victims show up, obvious in their victim-ness. Mysterious car trouble has left them stranded near the once-thriving Slausen's Lost Oasis, an odd little museum populated by mannequins of historical figures and a kindly, if suspicious, Mr. Slausen. Then it hits me. It's the Rifleman himself, Chuck Connors. The gleam in the Western icon's eyes was enough to give you the shivers. I had no idea he could play against type like that. It's like seeing Bronson play Norman Bates, but it works.

As our party of targets gets picked off one by one, we learn that our villain, the gravel-voiced Davey, isn't just a killer, but a telekinetic recluse who has set up a virtual society of mannequins to keep him company. (As Brian mentioned in his review, the House of Wax remake bears staggering similarities.) As a result, the dangerously unhinged Davey has an army of murderous marionettes at his command. The atmosphere is eerie throughout with some genuinely unnerving sequences, backed by a somewhat loopy, but very effective score. It's not a perfect film, mind you. The characters are your standard slasher meat. While they're not dripping with tawdry, forced sexiness, they're still almost completely uninteresting. The motives of the murderer are a bit out of the norm, but nothing you haven't seen before - a lost love driving someone completely off the deep end. Unfortunately, this nut can move things with his mind.

That's telekinesis, Kyle. Mind bullets!

It's definitely worth a watch, if only to see Chuck Connors go all bug-nuts crazy. As a semi-obscure, minor classic, it doesn't get much better.

CATEGORIES Horror