FEBRUARY 18, 2012
You know, at least the Asylum mockbusters are up front with what they're ripping off, using only slight variations on the movie's title and even copying the poster design on occasion. Plus, they're usually ripping off giant blockbusters like Transformers or War Of The Worlds, and often doing their version before they have access to more than the trailer for the real deal, so it's just kind of cute. Terror Trap, on the other hand, is a beat for beat ripoff of Vacancy, an under-appreciated film with a title that doesn't sound anything like theirs. I wonder how many people will rent this and be upset that it's a shameless ripoff of that film and not Tourist Trap.
Of course, most people haven't seen Vacancy, so maybe writer/director Dan Garcia (who produced the legendarily awful Carnivorous) is banking on that to hide his film's blatant theft of not only its concept, but even its character dynamic! Our hero couple is traveling on a dark road and endlessly yelling at each other over every minor issue (and once again the male is slightly more tolerable than the female), and then car issues (an accident instead of a breakdown, to be fair) force them to check in at a seedy motel. Before long they realize that the place is the "set" for snuff films, with the murders carried out by a few guys in masks. And wouldn't you know it, the ordeal allows the couple to get over whatever bullshit was driving them toward divorce and (spoiler) walk away happily ever after! Yay! They even copy the "Call 911 only for the bad guy to intercept the call" scene practically verbatim.
Now, horror is pretty much built around copying what came before, so there's nothing wrong with swiping a concept as long as you make it your own. The problem with Terror Trap is that Mr. Garcia fails to make it his own in any meaningful way. The differences from Vacancy are minor and not often for the better. For example - the biggest change is that the motel folk aren't making tapes of the snuff films to sell to random weirdos - they charge folks to come by, crowd around a monitor that we never see (in fact I'm pretty sure we never even see a camera filming them, so I have no idea how this works) and watch the events as they unfold. Now, this could have been interesting if the voyeurs had any stakes or control ("For 100 bucks we'll do 'em quick, for 200 we'll make them suffer first!" or something), or were maybe betting on the outcome. But no, they just stand around watching an invisible monitor, presumably seeing the same near-escapes and dull "attacks" that we are. One guy mentions how long it's taking, but otherwise there seems to be no indication that this is an unusual "episode" of the show or whatever. In other words, the only reason this seems to be in the movie at all is to give it some semblance of a difference from Vacancy.
Another issue is that even the world's biggest fans of Vacancy seem to agree that the ending was a cop out, yet Garcia not only doesn't take the opportunity to satisfy them by killing one of the couple off, but he can't even bother to inflict any harm on them whatsoever! The hero (JAG's David James Elliott) gets a towel wrapped around his throat for about 10 seconds, and they both get a couple of minor scrapes and bruises, but otherwise they walk away perfectly fine. As I've said in pretty much every review of these kind of movies, if these guys have been doing this for so long and seemingly never had a problem, why are our heroes so successful in getting away when all they do are basic survival things like "run away" or "block the door"? There's some backstory about their military background (he was in it, her grandmother was apparently a 5 star general), but these two dolts can't even figure out that maybe grabbing the knife that was thrown at their heads might be a good idea. Basically, considering how idiotic they are at times and yet still manage to get away relatively unharmed, I have no choice but to believe that all of the motel crew's previous victims were in fact mentally disabled children.
It's also rife with confusing sub-plots and unresolved issues. At one point we see a room filled with kidnapped girls, but their fates are left to the imagination (unless I just missed it; by around the one hour mark I started finding more "cat and mouse" excitement in the most literal way: watching my cat play with his little toy mouse). The ending drags way longer than it should, spending time at a funeral scene of the movie's first victim with the promise that the motel crew will continue doing their thing (some random dude offers the grieving mother a room at the place), before villain Michael Madsen talks to some dude for a while before blowing up his truck. Your guess is as good as mine as to what any of this has to do with anything, only to reinforce that a. the movie, which had slow credits over black, still needed padding to make its meager 85 minute runtime, and b. our damn villains get away at the end, preventing the movie from having something as exciting as a "climactic showdown". Hell, the movie's other main villain (Jeff Fahey - the only reason this movie isn't in the Crap bin) is taken down by one of his alleged partners, not our heroes. It's like the movie purposely goes out of its way to ensure a total lack of viewer satisfaction.
It's also poorly made; they clearly spent all of the money on the cast (and I'm sure the producers pocketed plenty of dough as well). The cinematography in particular is incredibly awful; I often have to watch home movies to find so many blown out shots and dull framing. Little is done to make any of the rooms look different, so there's zero visual flair to the film either - most of the 2nd half of the film just finds our heroes running back and forth between identical rooms or the parking lot. Riveting. The action is also poorly staged; there's a funny bit where one of the killers (who have cool masks, admittedly) somersaults from a balcony down toward our heroes as he makes his way toward them, but otherwise it's one of those chase movies where the villains seemingly disappear the second our heroes round a corner or open/close a door. With four guys it should be pretty easy for them to overcome any obstacle that the heroes put in their path, yet they barely even seem to try busting down a door (or just breaking one of the giant windows). There's a second floor to the motel, which could have been used wisely for some chases, but I don't think the heroes ever even notice it. Again, Garcia has a perfect opportunity to improve on or at least differentiate his film from Vacancy, and can't be bothered.
But Michael Madsen blows up a truck! Vacancy didn't even HAVE Michael Madsen, let alone trucksplosion. Way to go, Terror Trap!
What say you?