In director David Schmoeller’s 1979 film Tourist Trap, a group of college-age kids are terrorized at a mannequin-filled roadside attraction owned by Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) and his brother, Davey (who is really Slausen in a mask). Although the film was rated PG, there is nothing kiddie-friendly about the scene in which Davey literally scares the strapped-to-a-table Tina (Dawn Jeffory-Nelson) to death by smothering her face in plaster. Below, the actress recalls shooting this nightmarish moment.
DAWN JEFFORY-NELSON: This darned role almost traumatized me! I could not get off of that damn table. I’d hop up there and [the props person] would buckle me down with handcuffs or whatever, and I believe there was also a rope across my body, or another belt. So that in itself is kind of crazy. You feel very vulnerable.
On the comic side, there were so many mannequins and body parts all over the set, that they would sometimes forget that that was a “real” me. I mean, literally, I had people lean on me. One time, they all left me there. Lunch was called and everybody ran off to lunch. And I’m yelling, “Hey, you guys, unstrap me!” David Schmoeller, the director, was a doll. He was very supportive and he would remember to ask if I was okay. [Laughs] So, that was the funny side of being in a set peopled with mannequins.
It was either mashed potatoes or whipped cream being put on my face. I can’t remember which. I probably had to act out my death five to eight times. Not having suffocated or died of a heart attack — thank God! — I did some research on the breathing and what happens to the body. You suspend your disbelief, and you go for it.
I don’t think the film was very well reviewed, but many more people than I ever suspected love the film, which is awesome. I was the acting coach for the young boy who played Danny in the miniseries of The Shining. One of the things I found out was that this was one of Stephen King’s favorite films. But it still is a surprise to me. None of us thought it was going to become a cult classic!
Watch the trailer for Tourist Trap, above.