A rip-snortingly enjoyable rerun of all those hoary old slasher clichés, which manages to put enough of a kooky spin on things so as not to feel overwhelmingly familiar. DARK RIDE is a real throwback to the halcyon days of the early 80s.
A group of college students are planning a weekend getaway in one of those passion wagons (so beloved of the horny and the doomed in classic slashers). Two girls, Cathy (Jamie-Lynn DiScala of SOPRANOS fame) and Liz (Jennifer Tisdale). Cathy has split from hunky Steve (David Clayton Rogers), and Liz is still ruing a one-night stand with the wacky Big Daddy Jim (Alex Solowitz). Also along for the ride is the requisite geek, Bill (Patrick Renna), who continually quotes old-time movies.
On route to New Orleans they stop at a gas station, where they get a peculiar reception from the attendant (who only seems to perk up when someone makes an off-the-cuff comment about a blow job!). Bill is given a flyer advertising the grand re-opening of the ‘dark ride’, in Asbury Park, New Jersey (which is another term for an elaborate ghost train). Through various plot machinations, the group decide it might be fun to sneak into the funfair and spend the night in the ‘dark ride’ - it’ll also save money on a motel room.
On the way they stop to pick up a hitchhiker - a hyperactively ditzy blonde named Jen (Andrea Bogart), who breaks out the spliff and the shrooms. Jim tells the group how twin high school girls were murdered on the ’dark ride’, back in 1989, by a disfigured madman called Jonah. After disemboweling the girls, he was captured and banged up in the local asylum. However, what the group don’t know, just two weeks earlier, Jonah escaped from the local nuthouse after the strict vegetarian (!) was hit around the head with a chop by an unkindly attendant! And he may back in his old stomping (and hacking grounds).
Once at the funfair, the doomed kids enter what might be the last ride of their lives …
Drug taking, t&a, a masked killer, ultra-gory kills and teens running around in the dark screaming - yes, DARK RIDE really is a throwback to those classic slasher flicks. Pleasingly, it also captures the essence of many of that time’s best. To my mind, the most enjoyable slashers were those that managed to have relatively likeable characters in peril without being overly mean-spirited. Films such as MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981), HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) and HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1982).
Ten years after SCREAM (1996), which resurrected the subgenre with a witty self-referential vein, DARK RIDE refreshingly plays things straight. It’s good to see a film finally without wisecracking about how it feels like they are in a horror movie. The only nod to this is Liz amusingly wondering why killers are never called anything like Ernie! Even the comedy light relief (which thankfully doesn’t interfere too much) would be right at home in an early 80s slasher.
It’s also good to see a slasher movie that’s happy to wear it’s (ripped out) heart on its sleeve. DARK RIDE certainly doesn’t shy away from the red stuff, and a head whacked in two (so it splits in half in a loving close up) and a head severed in the middle of oral sex are just two of the gooey delights! To add all the fun of the fair, Jonah seems to have as much fun trying to be part of the ride as he does finding ways to creatively off his victims.
There’s really not much to complain about here. A minor niggle is Jonah’s mask. The child’s mannequin face (which is hacked off a display figure) could be spookier, and often just looks plain goofy. The film’s paper thin plot (it could easily be written on a napkin) helps things skip along at a fair old pace without being bogged down too much, but it leaves Jonah as nothing more than a boogeyman with a machete (hardly a bad thing).
Of course, DARK RIDE can’t escape comparison with a real bone-fide early 80's slasher: Tobe Hopper’s THE FUNHOUSE (1981). Both have their strengths and both rely on funfair thrills - and, to be honest, I’d be hard pushed to choose between them.
Ultimately, DARK RIDE is perhaps the best homage to classic slasherdom of recent years. It was obviously written and directed by people who love the subgenre and know how to make it work (are you listening Rob Zombie?). Anyone who enjoys a good slasher movie will have a riot with it.
female:4 / male:6
1) Female found disemboweled
2) Female killed (method unseen)
3) Male impaled on a torch
4) Male disemboweled
5) Male found dismembered
6) Female decapitated
7) Female killed (method unseen)
8) Male has his head split in half
9) Male impaled on spikes
10) Male stabbed repeatedly with butcher's knife