Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Abusement Park!

Dark Ride  (Lionsgate, 2006)

Weirdest thing about this poster - the lead actress changes her name
in the time it takes to read the title. Look close.

Before the Camera:

Jamie-Lynn Sigler  (The Sopranos)
Patrick Renna   (The Sandlot)
David Clayton Rogers  (Bloody Sunday)
Alex Solowitz  (The Onion Movie)
Andrea Bogart  (Something's Wrong in Kansas)
Jennifer Tisdale  (The House Bunny)
Jim Cody Williams  (Grand Theft Parsons)
Jack Doner  (The Invisible Avenger)
Steven Mattila  (Last Night at the Alamo)
Atticus Todd  (S.W.A.T.)
Dave Warden  (Everything Will Happen Before You Die)
as Jonah

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Craig Singer

Produced by Daniel Bickel, Jennifer Booth, and 9 other various co-, executive, and associate producers

Written by Robert Dean Klein and Craig Singer

Part of the 2011 Halloween Horrorfest!™

    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 enviroment - 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?

When Jonah heard the guard's name was Cleve Twain, well, what else
could he do?

    In a weird coincidence, this turns out to the be the second Halloween Horrorfest in a row that started out with a movie set in a carnival attraction - last year it was 1981's The Funhouse - you can catch that review here - and this year it was this clone - er, entirely unrelated movie. And just like The Funhouse - Dark Ride ends up a 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 the mask seen above 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 cowatchers 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 offscreen 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.

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At about 23:30, Atticus Todd wishes he hadn't given that meat to the vegan psycho.

Eye Candy ?

Though her character gets pretty annoying during the "screech-the-film-to-a-halt-and-watch-some-acting" monologue she gets in her opening scene, this department is called EYE candy, and she's in! Welcome aboard Andrea Bogart!

Dark Ride

Saying hey to Marcel while being a weathergirl (?)

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Dark Ride goes off track in the early reels
and will make you want to call Hey Rube!"

You got that one right, BM! Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Sounds like they missed a major plot opportunity. They could written it as/dropped a hint that the subplotter had visited psycho killer's Bedlam--and was responsible for setting him free. Could have made for some interesting twists and turns. Ah well.

    As I was reading your (entertaining and well-crafted!) review, I heard a way-back ad for a flick called Werewolves on Wheels. Sounds like Dark Ride may be Masterpiece Theater by comparison.

    1. No, I've seen that one - and the Werewolves win! Paws down!

  2. This killer was seriously lacking the panache of Jason or Michael. He was just meh. The ore was okay, but I didn't like the story. It was so implausible and not even in that I-know-there's-a-psycho-in-the-basement-but-I'm-going-anyway way. I wanted all of these kids dead ASAP because I could not stand them.

  3. Yep - see - we do agree on most movies, MM!