Five friends on a seemingly purposeless road trip decide to take an overnight detour to explore a condemned carnival ride that is about to reopen after several years of closure. The cast of shallow, uninteresting characters in Dark Ride seem to have been plucked straight from Lionsgate’s bloated straight-to-DVD generic character stash.
You’ve got your tough guy who’s a little bit douchebaggy, your weird movie freak guy (Patrick Renna, creepy in The Sandlot, still creepy today), your bug-eyed Anthony Michael Hall-type stoner who is sparking a doob during every pause in dialogue, an ugly girl with big ears who makes a lot of sarcastic comments, and lastly, you’ve got your Jamie-Lynn DiScala (or Sigler, or whatever), who fake-lisps and eye rolls her way through a thoroughly cheesy valley girl routine. Of course, we all fondly remember Jamie-Lynn from her semi-awkward turn as Natalie in Campfire Stories, the most uneven horror anthology this side of Grim Prairie Tales.
There is a pit stop at a gas station that feels suspiciously like someone is trying to pad out the running time, and then the group picks up a hitch hiker (Andrea Bogart) who is so unbelievably hot she should be in a different movie. After these numerous and poorly-paced distractions, the clan is finally off to spend the night in the “dark ride”, which is a term that is peppered into the dialogue as if it’s perfectly acceptable slang that amusement part goers use nationwide, creating the assumption that you could drive up to your local Six Flags and inquire, “How many ‘dark rides’ do you have here?”, or “Will you please direct me to your ‘dark rides’?, and they would actually know what the hell you were talking about and escort you directly to Dracula’s Nightmare with its two-seater cars and meandering track.
Once they’ve arrived at the “dark ride”, the friends wander around, just to check out the vibe. Actually, the set design of the haunted ride itself is one of the best parts of Dark Ride. It’s a moody atmosphere, rife with tension and palpable dread; unfortunately, its potential is never truly exploited. After what seems like hours of aimless, poorly written dialogue, it is revealed that there’s a retard prowling the Dark Ride, a huge retard wearing the tattered remains of a straight jacket and a cherubic porcelain mask.
This mentally-handicapped plot point thankfully begins eliminating the group, and a fair amount of respectable gore results. The crazy-hot hitch hiker gets decapitated while giving the bug-eyed stoner character a hummer, in a gruesome and strangely riveting scene. During a poorly placed flashback scene, an institution guard is impaled through the torso with his own Mag light. Kind of interesting, but much of the killing takes place off screen, with the audience left to view character reaction shots once the bodies are discovered, like the last few minutes of Halloween.
Dark Ride isn’t totally awful. The dialogue is unintentionally entertaining. The gore delivers when it has to. The film seems to be in focus. The crazy-hot hitch hiker gets topless. 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.