ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Craig Edwards is an award-winning blogger as well as a self-proclaimed Media Guy and a consumer of pop culture for a lot of years. He also writes a great blog called Let’s Get Out of Here!
We start out in 1989 New Jersey, watching as twin sisters take a trip through a “Dark Ride” – aka an amusement part attraction where you ride a roller coaster-like train through a dark and spooky environment – and not to shock you – but they don’t finish the ride and go for cotton candy. No, instead they get killed by a hulking goon who is promptly arrested, charged with the murders of the fourteen bodies found scattered about the place, and taken off to the booby hatch. This Dark Ride goes truly dark. Someteen years later, a group of five college students and one unstable but easy on the eyes female hitchhiker decides to take a trip to the amusement park, reopening after all those years. And wouldn’t you just know it? The psycho escapes from the asylum and heads right back to where it all began – the same Dark Ride the kids have decided to break into and party in. Who will survive, and what will be left of them?
Dark Ride ends up a meh misfire of a movie. The ingredients are sorta there – you have a mostly unknown but adequate cast, with Sigler proving an adequate lead for what she’s asked to do here; you have a big creepy killer; you have a smidge of nudity; and you have some fairly gruesome and gory kills, including two that are undeniably awesome in their graphic nastiness. But there are some pretty big problems, and to mention them I’m going to need to whip out The Sword of Spoiler! First off: big ol’ killer Jonah. He’s deformed and wears a babyface mask for the bulk of the movie. We hear about his disfigurement a few times. But when he’s maskless for a brief interval in the middle of the movie — in admittedly poor lighting conditions — his face seems mostly okay. And then, come the end of the movie – they “forget” to show us what’s under that mask — not even a Final Jump reveal. WTH?
And, while we’re on the subject of our Psycho du Jour – it turns out ol’ killer Jonah is really just a big kid with the mind of a child in the body of the Hulk. My co-watchers and I had a discussion about this during the movie – what’s scarier? A big dumb guy who doesn’t realize what he’s doing but wants to recreate the gory scenes of the Dark Ride he lives in using your body? Or a confident and intelligent nutjob who wants to kill you because 1. he likes it. 2. he wants to. and 3. because he can? Well, having seen this movie — I have to go with the latter — the sick fear of knowing someone is working hard to get you into position to slaughter you – creeeeeppppyyyy! Wandering into a place and having a big goon grab you and mindlessly mash you into hamburger – well, don’t get me wrong – it still seems like it would make for a lousy afternoon – but it’s not really as scary.
Oh, and another problem with the movie – it’s slow enough that my co-watchers and I could have the above discussion about the movie during the movie and not feel like we were missing the movie. Yep, some big slow patches in that middle section lead to wandering attentions and off-screen anecdotes a flyin’. The filmmakers take no care to clue us in on the layout of the Dark Ride, so in the later reels there’s no sense of where anyone is at any time, and the place seems as big as a small town, which adds nothing to the suspense bank at all. There are also weird stylized directorial touches by Singer that bring nothing to the table, like the sped-up patty cake game in the van, and Sigler being front and center while the background spins around her twice. Dial it back there, Hitchcock Junior!
And the script has problems as well – giving us characters who are mostly at best unlikable and sometimes really annoying, and plot holes – I thought I heard something about a trip from California to New Orleans — by way of New Jersey? Worst navigation ever! Finally, and this is a big one — there’s a big twist near the end — turns out one of the college kids had a secret agenda all along. Well, okay, during the final minutes of the movie I’m not going to say I was surprised, but I went with it. But now, having thought about it – this character was working overtime to get everyone into that funhouse – but the subplot of Jonah’s escape plainly shows it to be a random bad luck thing involving a stupid choice on the part of his guards. And not in a “planning to escape first chance I get ah here it is now” kind of way either. You got Jonah sitting in catatonia in a room, followed by the guards blatantly breaking one of the cardinal food rules of his incarceration — yes, much like a Gremlin — followed by this event winding Jonah back up to his old murderous ways and putting him on the path to walking out and heading back to the Dark Ride. What incredible luck; that happening right on the same night when the plotter in the amusement park just happened to get several new victims lined up inside the joint. That’s a key point of storytelling that these filmmakers totally tried to gloss over. And I’m calling them on it. Shenanigans indeed.
So, in the end, this one might be worth a look for desperate slasher junkies in need of a fix, but they could save a lot of time and check out a death scenes compilation on YouTube. Everyone else? Your tickets to the Dark Ride are revoked. You can thank me later.