Monday, March 28, 2016

The Carnival Is In Town

Because of its doll head poster and carnival setting, I’d always meant to watch Dark Ride.

And now I have. So now life is fully open to so many more possibilities...

Quick Plot: Five awful college students decide to drive to New Orleans for spring break, taking a detour to New Jersey (because GPS wasn’t quite all there in 2006) and spending the night in a carnival dark ride that once hosted a sadistic serial killer. Naturally, said sadistic serial killer is residing in a mental asylum run by equally sadistic and far stupider orderlies whose abuse offers him an easy exit back to his killing grounds. 

No, you haven’t seen this movie before.

Well, I mean, of course you sorta have.

Directed by Craig Singer, Dark Ride is, well, it’s a slasher set in a funhouse and not unlike The Funhouse or many another horror flick set in a funhouse. Our cast is led by Meadow Soprano as a rather unremarkable final girl trying to figure out her relationship with an on again/off again boyfriend. Ashley Tisdale’s sister is her blond friend/early death fodder/partner in slut-shaming the friendly blonder hitchhiker they pick up. Also on board is Patrick “The Sandlot” Renna as Bill, the token fifth wheel/film geek with some confusingly ridiculous secrets of his own.

It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm when discussing a movie like Dark Ride because the movie barely has enthusiasm about itself. As the token frat jerk, Alex Solowitz is the only cast member to offer anything interesting onscreen, so that’s a minor problem. The overall tone can’t seem decide if it should be serious or silly, and the story seems to not even want to tell itself. The logistics of our killer conveniently escaping from a mental institution the same time that--


The only reason I go this deep into the plot is that Dark Ride just doesn’t have much else to talk about. Since I’d rather write about messy storytelling than a woman being slaughtered while giving a dude oral sex, allow me to spoil away.

Bill, the geeky friend who wouldn’t really be the rest of our cast’s friend in real life but is required on the trip since movies have a nerd quota, is revealed to be none other than the little brother of Dark Ride’s raging maniac. Which would make sense if said raging maniac brother’s escape was planned for the same night when Bill’s caravan ended up in the out-of-the-way dark ride. But so far as we see, both were done by chance. Considering the wrap-up isn’t even wrapped up with any kind of satisfying resolution, it’s hard not to think Dark Ride was written as it moved on the tracks. 

Which, actually, don’t really exist inside the dark ride of the title. Customers visiting this attraction are apparently supposed to walk through miles of unclear path with no discernible way out. I don’t know about you, but from 1985 on, I don’t know that I’ve ever gone through a haunted house without having the illusion killed by a glowing “emergency exit” sign. But again, maybe things were just, well, 2006 New Jersey.

High Points
While the geography of the actual dark ride doesn’t quite add up, there’s certainly some interesting imagery and effective production design going on

Low Points
Aside from the rather ridiculous machinations of the plotting, Dark Ride suffers from serious tonal confusion in just how seriously it wants to take the death of its characters. Some of the gore is over the top and silly, while other deaths seem as if they’re meant to be taken with great gravitas

Lessons Learned
In the early 2000s, going to New Orleans was considered retro

Unless you're Danny Trejo, no orderly in a mental asylum is ever not a sadistic bully

Shit old towns are the best

Feeding raw steak to an insane and weirdly muscled vegetarian is like giving spinach laced with crystal meth to Popeye if Popeye were, well, you get it.

Eh. One could do worse with a breezy 21st century slasher than Dark Ride, but that’s about the highest compliment I can give. So, you know, that. 

Sometimes these reviews just THAT themselves. 

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