Death Trap (1977)

Death Trap (1977)

He’s out there and he’s got murder on his mind!

A psychotic redneck runs a dilapidated hotel in the backwater swamps of Louisiana, killing people who upset him or his business and feeding them to his giant pet crocodile that he keeps locked up in the swamp.

 

Tobe Hooper’s follow up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacreis this? Boy, the dude really fell from grace quickly didn’t he? Shot in the same grainy, low budget style that made The Texas Chain Saw Massacresuch a grim classic, Death Trapcomes off as wanting to be a Leatherface and co. follow up but never really does anything worthwhile to achieve that goal. It’s almost as if Hooper caught lightning in bottle with his previous film and attempts to replicate that success, simply substituting backwoods Texas for rural Louisiana. Whilst Death Trap isn’t a particularly well-made film, there’s no question that it’s got a strangely perverse quality which warrants at least a look.

Death Trap’s main problem is that the narrative is all over the place. The story here doesn’t follow any major plot threads and meanders between the numerous random strangers who end up at the hotel before being offed by crazy Judd for whatever reason. There is the underlying search for the missing hooker from the beginning but most of the characters who visit the hotel aren’t involved in this search so it begs the question of whether it is actually the main plot or not. We never really know what pushes Judd over the edge to kill either so by the time he’s taken care of another stranger, you’re just happy to sit back and believe that the guy is just a total fruitcake. The script really needed some serious work here.

As expected for a low budget film, the crocodile doesn’t look too hot (or an alligator as some characters in the film claim) and has limited movement. But thankfully Hooper realised this and keeps it mainly covered in the swamp, only using it sparingly for a few shots where actors try and free themselves from the jaws of the model monster. No one and nothing is spared from this croc, even a poor dog!

But the croc isn’t the main source of violence from the film – that comes from Judd himself who is a dab hand with a scythe. Hooper shoots the death scenes here with gritty realism. Too often in horror films, one blow is enough to kill someone. Here, Hooper strings the death out, causing victims to bleed or gasp for breath as they hit the floor, trying in vain to escape or defend themselves. Death isn’t instant and this is where Hooper earns brownie points. As with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you know that the victims here are suffering and going through hell before they eventually die. There’s a reasonably smattering of blood and Hooper even throws in some T&A to try and liven things up. But Death Trap is slow going and excitement is in short supply. The scenes drag out way longer than needed, the exposition takes for too long and there are only a handful of half-decent set pieces which are few and far between.

As for the cast, well it’s a pretty decent bunch of performances given the craziness around them. Neville Brand is great as Judd. I don’t think he had much of a clue where the character should be heading so he went for it and it works though Hooper could have cut back the amount of time he gave to his rambling monologues. Robert Englund, looking very young and pre-Freddy Krueger fame, appears as a horny redneck that uses the hotel as a meeting ground for hookers. Marilyn Burns, fresh from screaming her lungs out in the finale of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is also in the film.

 

Death Trap is far too similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to work, given that it’s not a patch on its predecessor and seems content in trying to replicate its success without knowing why it has become a classic. Death Trap has got a few decent moments but there’s very little to stop the craziness, an incoherent script and lack of solid direction from ripping it up.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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