Tag Archives: David Schmoeller

The Spider Will Kill You (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blind man with dummies.

Jonathan (Robert Palter) is a blind man living alone in a cramped apartment surrounded by two mannequins who he speaks to as if they’re his parents and in his head he hears their voices in response. One day he comes upon another mannequin made in the form of a female, which he names Christine (Shirley Anderson). Christine eventually comes to life and becomes, at least to him, human and the two fall-in-love. Christine though starts to reveal a dark side and begins taunting Jonathan while trying to break into a chest in his apartment that supposedly holds deadly spiders and that Jonathan has been told by his parents never to open.

This was a student film directed by David Schmoeller, which went on to finish in second place at the 2nd Annual Student Academy Awards festival, but ultimately losing out to another student film directed by a guy named Robert Zemekis. The concept for this film was the basis for Tourist Trap, which Schmoeller directed 3 years later.

This film is far better, even at only 30 minutes, than its big budgeted revision. First there’s no annoying generic college kids here just three characters and the setting takes place entirely inside Jonathan’s apartment, which has a really dark and creepy atmosphere. The mannequins also at various times take human form and there’s some spooky effects including having Christine remove her own arm.

There’s also surprisingly nudity and explicit sex. ( I was a bit surprised with the nudity bit since Schmoeller stated that he was ‘too shy’ to ask the actresses to take off their clothes in Tourist Trap, but apparently didn’t have any problem asking the one here to disrobe even though this was done before that one.) The sex is an odd sight to see too since we initially see it from Jonathan’s point-of-view where it appears he’s making love to a human, but then it cuts to the next-door-neighbor’s (Donald Weismann) viewpoint, who peers in from the door, and it’s clearly a mannequin that Jonathan madly humps, which is a freaky sight.

The ending is quite weird and leaves a lasting impression. If Tourist Trap had stayed more inline with this film it would’ve been far more intriguing. I liked the surreal quality and the scenes involving the mannequins are scary it’s just a shame it wasn’t played-up more. Overall though, it’s still an impressive first attempt especially when dealing with the constricted confines of a typical student project.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Runtime: 30 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Schmoeller

Tourist Trap (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mannequins come to life.

A group of college kids go driving through the countryside in two separate vehicles. When one of the vehicles breaks down, Woody (Keith McDermott), the driver, decides to go off looking for a replacement to his flat tire. He finds an abandoned gas station and when he enters the backroom gets attacked by mannequins and flying objects. Later the young adults in the other car also have their vehicle break down near an old museum that features wax dummies and an eccentric owner named Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). Soon the same fate that befell Woody starts to occur to them one-by-one.

With the critical success of director David Schmoeller’s first film, the movie short The Spider will Kill You, which will be reviewed tomorrow, he managed to find enough funding to expand the idea into a feature film. The film though did not do well when first released and sat in virtual obscurity until Stephen King lauded it in his book ‘Danse Macabre’, which brought new attention to it and eventually garnered it a strong cult following. Now, I know everyone has their own unique ideas of what’s scary, but honestly I can’t see what King found about this that was so great.

To me it comes off as just another cheesy low budget slasher flick with very little that is original or interesting. Having the bad guy able to use telekinetic powers I thought was dumb. Why would this backwoods hillbilly be able to harness special powers that 99.9% of the rest of the world’s population doesn’t have? The original version of the script did not have the telekinetic powers present, but the filmmakers were forced to incorporate it at the behest of producer Charles Band, who refused to give the money for the project unless they did.

Chuck Connors, best known for his starring role in the TV-show ‘The Rifleman’, is a bit annoying and was the third choice for the role as the part had been offered to Jack Palance and then Gig Young first, both of whom would’ve been much better, but they turned it down. It’s not like Connors is necessarily bad, but he’s too campy and comes-off like just another tired rehashing of Ed Gein. The ultimate reveal of who the masked killer is offers no surprise at all and most if not all viewers will easily predict who it is long before you finally find out.

The cast of victims are boring too and I didn’t like the sexist undertones where the women, with the exception of the very end, never really fight back at all and almost seem to surrender to their fate and it’s only the men who show any gumption to escape and be aggressive. It would’ve been nice too had their been some nudity, as the females, particularly Tanya Roberts sporting a brunette hairstyle instead of her usual blonde one, look great. Most of these types of films would usually show some skin to help keep things interesting during the slow parts and when they all decided to go skinny dipping I was fully expecting this to happen, but instead you get nothing. Apparently Schmoeller, being a first time director, was too shy to ask them to remove their clothes, but it would’ve helped the film get the coveted R-rating as Schmoeller felt the PG-rating is what ultimately hurt it at the box office.

The only time things gets even slightly creepy is when the mannequins come to life, but that doesn’t happen enough. In retrospect the Mr. Slausen character should’ve been scrapped completely and instead featured a surreal storyline where the college kids find themselves trapped inside a warehouse filled with animated mannequins and forced to single-handedly battle them one-by-one in order to escape.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Schmoeller

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video