Today we added our review for the After Dark Horrorfest film Dark Ride, which played in 500 theaters yesterday. Ryan Daley writes, “Unfortunately, the half-assed acting, incoherent editing, and sluggish pacing soon demote Dark Ride to nothing more than a boring, slow-moving kiddie ride that just won’t end.” A second review can also now be found inside! Directed by Craig Singer, the film stars Jamie-Lynn DiScala, Patrick Renna, Alex Solowitz and Jennifer Kelly. Click the link above for the review, pics, trailers and a synopsis.
Review By: Loomis 7
Slasher fans have an unfortunate burden to carry: their beloved genre is roughly 90% crap. Sure, most of these films can be salvaged with a few drinks and a group of like-minded friends, but every now and then, a film is so abysmal and worthless, even those elements aren’t strong enough to save it.
Such as the case with Dark Ride, one of the “8 Films To Die For” (a one weekend only nationwide horror film festival). The films are being promoted as films “too terrifying for wide release” or something to that effect, and while some of the films are actually quite enjoyable (such as Mike Mendez’s The Gravedancers), others are clearly direct to video quality being given, for whatever reason, a brief moment to shine.
Dark Ride does not deserve this publicity.
The film begins with twin girls visiting an amusement park on the New Jersey shore. After encountering an odd carnie or two, they enter the eponymous Dark Ride, an old fashioned “Sit in the cart and go around in a circle” haunted house. Before long, both girls are murdered, and as we learn in newspaper clippings during the opening credits, the ride is closed, the murderer shipped off to a mental institute, and then 14 years later, the ride is re-opened. Once that exposition is out of the way, the film is free to introduce our group of kids (including Sopranos’ Jamie-Lynn Sigler), each with their own quickly established stereotype (nerd, pothead, slut, good girl, big man on campus) to serve as characterization. They are about to head to New Orleans for spring break (one of many signs that the film has been on the shelf for quite some time). En route, the nerd, a film obsessed introvert (Patrick Renna, best known for The Sandlot) finds a flier advertising the reopening of the ride. Should they save some money on a motel for the night and stay inside the haunted house? Of course they should, and even pick up a bonus hippie/hitchhiker along the way.
Once they arrive at the amusement park, they spend some (ok, too much) time “developing character”, i.e. creating a pointless (and quickly resolved) conflict, having the pothead and the hippie get high, and of course, revealing that one of the characters knew about the dead girls, as he was their cousin. Finally, after about a half hour of this drivel, the killer shows up, and yada yada yada.
To be fair, the film does have two things going for it. The setting is effectively creepy, with several “are they dummies or corpses” populating the interior of the ride. In fact, the film is at its best when none of the humans are onscreen (it may be the first film in history that would have worked best if it was nothing but establishing shots). Also, the killer has a memorable look, a hulking brute with a child’s doll face for a mask. Unfortunately, director Craig Singer repeatedly squanders his opportunities, framing everything in closeup (so close it’s sometimes difficult to tell what we are looking at) and editing the film with a chainsaw. No less than three chase scenes begin with absolutely nothing to set them up, instead just plunking a victim and the killer near each other after an unrelated scene and setting them off running. There are many editing problems in fact (a reaction shot of Sigler shrugging is used twice within a span of about 45 seconds, for example), the most ridiculous one being a randomly inserted scene showing the killer’s escape “two weeks earlier”, something we already knew from the newspaper clippings anyway. Clearly it was shown just to insert some gore (which is often fairly impressive, if not entirely original), but as a result, an already woozy pace is thrown further off track. Hell, the problems literally start as soon as the projector begins to roll, as the new Lionsgate logo is immediately followed by the older logo that was used at the time the film was produced. Way to start things off on a positive note.
(The minor fact that the license plates set the opening college scenes in California yet somehow our group stops in New Jersey en route to New Orleans should be ignored all together.)
It is clear that Singer and co. wanted to make an early 80’s style slasher, and that is fine. But the difference is, at the time those films were produced, they were relatively new. Now, there’s 25 years’ worth of slasher films. You can’t get away with simply having stupid characters get killed and expect a modern audience who has seen all of the same films to give a crap. As Adam Green proved with his film Hatchet, you can make an old style slasher film while still creating likeable, three dimensional characters and pacing the film effectively (Hatchet takes a while to “get going” as well, but the film is just as entertaining up until that point due to the likeable characters and technically sound production).
In the end, hopefully Singer will learn from his mistakes and make a better followup. If I may offer him one bit of advice, however, it is this: If you have a character that is obsessed with movies, make sure your film isn’t a pale imitation of a superior film (in this case, Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, itself no masterpiece but far more entertaining than this), as the target audience will be wondering the entire time why the movie nerd, of all people, didn’t know better.