It occurred to me while I was watching Dark Ride that it’d be unfair to fault the film for being stupid and exploitative. After all, it’s a B-level slasher, and fans of the genre should know exactly what to expect: an eerie but familiar setting, a handful of horny teenagers, a monstrous killer with twisted appetites, and lots of gruesome death scenes. Who cares that the characters are paper thin? It only means you won’t feel as bad when they inevitably bite the dust. In other words, this type of entertainment doesn’t require subtlety or good taste. Still, as the credits were rolling, another thought came to mind: this movie sucks anyway.
It’s too bad, really, because the film gets off to a promising start with a prologue about twin sisters embarking on the titular dark ride at an amusement park. One is a scaredy-cat afraid of her own shadow. The other is pushy and mean-spirited. “You’re not looking!” she complains with that self-righteous tone only kids her age can master. Her sister is staring intently at her own feet, quietly waiting for the whole thing to be over. We, of course, have a pretty good idea what kind of fate awaits the poor girls, but the scene works because it takes the time to create a believable reality for the characters, turning a predictable setup into a moment of genuine suspense. The movie should have stayed on this track.
Instead, Dark Ride jumps seventeen years ahead and introduces five college students on their way to New Orleans for spring break. Depressingly, sex seems to be the only thing on the teenagers’ feeble little minds as they go on and on about past and future conquests, which include each other, of course, except Bill (Patrick Renna), whom the female passengers dislike because he keeps re-enacting scenes from old movies the actor has clearly never watched. Bill isn’t missing much, mind you. The two girls are insufferable, constantly interpreting what others say as bids for their approval: “And this makes you cool how?” I have a better question: why would anyone want to spend even five minutes with these addlebrained shrews?
Anyway, after picking up a mentally unstable hitchhiker (Andrea Bogart), whom I liked considerably more despite her wild overacting, the gang decides to spend the night at the old dark ride from the prologue because breaking and entering apparently makes you cool how. There, they smoke weed, destroy property, and provide helpful exposition such as the ever important origin story, which involves a ride operator locking one of his sons inside the attraction. Meanwhile (or two weeks earlier, according to the caption), the monstrous killer (Dave Warden) sniffs raw meat, thereby regaining his evil superpowers, and escapes the mental institution in which he spent the last decade and a half. Seriously, that’s what happens.
Truth be told, the killer is actually kind of interesting in spite of being yet another behemoth with a creepy mask. His name is Jonah, and he’s so strong he can force his way out of a straightjacket, punch a hole through an obese orderly, and cut a man’s head in half with a single stroke. Name me three vegetarians capable of that. Obviously, I could’ve done without these goofy excesses, but I like the way Warden plays the creature, with his subtle limp and languorous posture. The actor gives a genuine performance, which is rare for this type of role. I also got a kick out of Jonah’s sick motivation. The latter mutilates and displays his victims in order to contribute to the ride. It seems no one ever taught him the concept of return customers.
The lack of repeat business isn’t the only issue with this dark ride though. The blasted thing doesn’t have rails. In fairness, a cart is used in the prologue, and there’s some token dialogue about tripping on the tracks, but the latter never actually appear on screen, and I just can’t figure out how patrons are meant to climb up staircases and operate door knobs from their little trolleys. This inconsistency becomes particularly problematic in the second half of the film as the panicked teenagers run across labyrinthine corridors, desperately trying to find a way out. A ride like this usually takes ten minutes at most on a slow-moving wagon. How complicated would it have been to just follow the railway to the exit?
Maybe I’m asking too much of these characters. They are, after all, complete morons. Cathy (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), in particular, could give the kids from Kicked in the Nuts a run for their money. She uses her cell phone to send snarky text messages but doesn’t think of calling for help; she runs off in a panic less than a minute after telling her friend to keep it together; and when she sees the killer lurk behind a would-be rescuer, she covers her mouth and points instead of telling the poor soul to turn around. Now, I know stupid victims are a convention of the slasher genre, but just what is it about another person’s impending doom that made her think this was a good time to play charades?
None of it makes any sense, really. As is the case with many horror flicks of recent years, the filmmakers seem to have been so focused on designing a scary monster that they completely forgot about telling an engaging story. Granted, the movie does have an amusing twist at the end, but anyone paying attention during some of the exposition scenes is likely to see it coming a mile away. Besides, it doesn’t change the fact that all we have here is a superhuman mass murderer slaughtering a bunch of obnoxious teenagers, and that’s just no fun. What the creative team behind Dark Ride should have realized is that good slashers are about how some of the teenagers survive the superhuman mass murderer.