‘Name’s Buck…I’m rarin’ to fuck.’
Death Trap, Tobe Hooper’s follow up to his absolute horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is perhaps the most irritating movie I have ever seen. It’s not the worst, because there are worthwhile moments and good ideas, unlike some of the films we’re gonna cover. But my god, most of the time it’s the cinematic equivalent of nails being repeatedly scraped down a chalkboard, a chalkboard that is INSIDE YOUR HEAD.
There’s not really a story here, more a series of misadventures that befall the residents of the inexplicably popular Starlight Hotel over the course of one very long night. You see, the hotel is run by Judd, a proper nutjob with a wooden leg and a giant crocodile, who ends up murdering everyone who stays there, which can’t be good for business.
Luckily for him, these were the days before TripAdvisor.
Right from the off the film let’s you know it’s going to be ugly to look at and ugly to listen to. The soundtrack over the opening credits sounds like every single one of your neighbours is hoovering at the same time, before cutting to a close up of a young Robert Englund’s crotch as he removes his belt and tries to sodomise a hooker.
Believe me, you’re going to be spending a lot of time looking at Mr England in his Y-fronts in Death Trap, and yes, you can put that quote on the Blu-ray cover. The poor girl escapes and ends up at Judd’s hotel, where Judd hacks at her with a scythe and feeds her to his crocodile. It’s a decent opening I suppose, but the problem is the film never relaxes. It tries desperately to recapture the manic, frenzied energy of the climax of Texas Chain Saw, but it’s just too much to take over the course of ninety minutes.
And what a waste of a good cast! Marilyn Burns, the star of Texas, returns in the most thankless role in cinema history, spending an hour of the film gagged and tied to a bed, writhing and screaming. Neville Brand chews up the scenery in a performance where he never stops muttering nonsense to himself, while at least former ‘Morticia Addams’ Carolyn Jones is a hoot as the brothel owner. The Phantom of the Paradise himself, William Finley, has a small but immensely annoying role as a husband seemingly having a mental breakdown, while his onscreen daughter takes on the Marilyn Burns role from Chain Saw Massacre by screaming endlessly while being chased around under the hotel by a crocodile.
As for the crocodile itself – well, I don’t want to harp on about bad special effects here. For a 70s horror film, it gets the job done without ever being terribly realistic. The whole film is shot on a rather fake looking soundstage, garishly lit to give the feeling of an old EC comic book, and so a rubbery looking reptile doesn’t really look too out of place.
It certainly contributes very little to the violence, which is pretty soft for a Nasty. The opening murder is about as bad as it gets, with Brand viciously stabbing a rake into a girl’s stomach, but we never actually see the impact. It’s possible that it was banned due to the age of the little girl who spends much of the film being menaced by Judd and his pet, who can’t be more than about ten years old.
Hooper seems to finally find his feet in the last ten minutes, delivering a well staged chase through the deliberately stagey swamp set, while the heroine strips to her panties and sits brushing her hair for no reason. It’s a curiously ineffective horror picture from a man who once promised so much, and one that was sadly more indicative of his future career path than his earlier horror hit ever was. If you’re really that desperate to see another utterly mental Tobe Hooper film, then stick with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which is just as loud and annoying and well cast as this film, but also a hell of a lot of fun too.