Another movie in which a simple premise, and not a bad one I might add, can be killed (if you will forgive the pun) by a lazy film making. ‘Death Trap’ is Tobe Hooper’s follow up to his influential ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. Heralded by publicity as the movie we all wanted him to make, probably in response to the lack of actual gore in TCM, ‘Death Trap’ was billed to contain more of everything we didn’t see before! Sadly, whilst in some aspects this is true, the end result is a movie which falls below standards in all other aspects, and if I am being completely honest, it’s not even that gory.
The plot is set in a rundown motel located in rural America. The old guy that runs the hotel is clearly not playing with a full deck and rather ludicrously keeps a giant crocodile in a water filled pen to the side of his establishment. Through a series of chance events several groups of people check into the motel, but soon find themselves at the mercy of the owner’s lunacy and ultimately ending up as dinner for his pet. Each of the guests have their own reasons for visiting, although after the initial story gets going you see that in all honesty these ‘side-stories’ offer nothing more than padding to the run time. The acting isn’t awful and certainly the gruff voiced hotel owner comes across as a complete nutter, but the script they were instructed to deliver is completely useless. The conversations are dull and in for some parts in the movie I can imagine the struggle some of the actors must have had keeping the dialogue going for more than 20 seconds. It is at these points particularly that the pace slows down completely leaving you constantly tempted to simply hit the fast forward button to jump to the next scene. The poor planning doesn’t stop at the dialogue, the set too is drab and unimaginative, and when you consider the excellent level of detail shown in the cannibal’s house in TCM, it disappoints further. The walls are bare, the rooms simply have a bed in them, and the location in general does nothing to create any sort of atmosphere.
With every other aspect of the film being some what uninspiring my hopes still hinged on the violence in the movie. Let’s be honest at least a crocodile attack should be reasonably savage, and blood/gore in water effects are hardly difficult to achieve. There is a relatively lengthy build up to the first death which took some watching; however, when the killer brandishes a full length scythe I thought things were looking up. Sadly, as with all other aspects of the film, the first death, and all subsequent ones, were as unimaginative as the rest of the movie, with most kill shots lingering on the expressions on the victims faces rather than on the wound with only bits of blood shown from even the strongest of blows. My hopes remained on the cardboard-croccodillus to deliver the goods but again, just a bit of blood followed the victim wrestling with an obvious puppet.
Overall this movie does nothing to improve Mr Hoopers reputation as a one hit wonder. TCM was a strong movie; it was grimy, brutal and atmospheric; ‘Death Trap’ isn’t. Many reviews I read consider the killer in the movie to be its strongest point, and despite being mad, I found it difficult to access him, or any other aspect of the film, on any level. It should have been good, but with a pace which essentially stops, a set of boring characters and locations and very little gore I find it difficult to see why I would recommend this movie to anyone. There are plenty more movies from that era which excel, and indeed influenced many movies, in the 1980s. Watch them instead, this is one which deserves to be forgotten.