"The background is drawn from a series of female murders in Northern California. To date no one has been arrested. The basis of DARK RIDE is, indeed, fact, but the script and conclusion are a work of fiction.
In DARK RIDE, Detective DeCarlo is convinced that the murders of six young women are the work of one psychopathic killer. The search for the killer of the girls, all who were hitch-hiking, makes a thrilling police drama.
The meticulous police work, the excitement of the chase, the frustration of chasing a killer who flaunts his murders under their noses, and the heart-stopping conclusion, are the ingredients that make DARK RIDE top class in the police-suspense genre. "
A vicious psychotic rapist and killer is terrorising San Francisco and its surrounding neighbourhood in this obscure slice of sleazy 70's trash.
THE DARK RIDE sets its tone from the off: the body of a naked woman is lifted from the boot of a cream coloured van and thrown over a cliff edge by an unidentified man. Next, a female hitch-hiker, with her cute English sheepdog, accepts a lift in the same van, only for her naked body to be discovered later by a passing boy (in a particularly cruel touch, her dog, covered (presumably) in her blood, pining at her side). The police, led by Detective De Carlo (James Luisi), reason that, "[The killer ..] must be a strong one, he threw her body 25ft across the gulch."(!).
De Carlo links these murders to those of four other young female hitch-hikers in the area. The only lead he has to go on is the fact that several of the girls had visited an isolated outdoor swimming pool before they were abducted, so he decides to head up there and snoop around, hoping to find clues to the identity of the killer before he can strike again.
THE DARK RIDE was ostensibly made in 1979 (languishing, barely released until it appeared on video in the US in 1984), but it looks to my eye that its origins were a few years earlier. It bares few of the tell-tale signs of a post-HALLOWEEN slasher flick, in-fact it has much more in common with thematically similar grindhouse epics like THE HOLLYWOOD STRANGLER VS. THE SKID ROW SLASHER (also 1979) and DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980) (both of which were also seemingly oblivious to the charms of Capenter's seminal classic, too). In-fact there's precious little slasher action going on here at all, mostly it's depressingly routine: we see the female hitchhiker alive; see her picked up in the cream van; and then see her naked body dumped in the bushes (often accompanied by gruesome black-and-white 'crime scene' photographs, which look worryingly like the real thing (i.e. the production was too cheap to fake it and just tastelessly used some old morgue photos)). There is, however, one reasonably suspenseful scene, which is very nearly ruined by poor lighting: a young woman is tricked into accepting a lift from the killer, after realising she is in danger and trying to escape she is knocked unconscious; she awakens in the back of the van with her assailant crouched above her, undoing her blouse. The woman manages to escape by scratching at the man's eyes and fleeing from the van into the woods. After a brief bit of stalking - and in the film's one chilling moment - the killer emerges from the gloom behind her, putting his hand over her mouth and whispers, almost sweetly, "Why did you run away?". Needless to say, her body is soon found.
If the film has one strength then it's John Karlen in the difficult role of psychopath, lending the material a certain gravitas which it probably doesn't deserve. He manages to shine as the sweaty lowlife with the obligatory mother fixation and the usual misogynistic mission against nubile womanhood, especially when he shakes off the afro wig and droopy moustache disguises he uses to evade the police. It's even more impressive that his performance made me forget the shock I first got when I realised he played Lacey's mild mannered husband in early 80's cop drama lite, CAGNEY & LACEY!
Incidentally, THE DARK RIDE plays like a TV detective movie (just listen to that amiable easy-listening opening track). Only like a TV detective movie with added grindhouse appeal (in the sleaziest scene two teenage girls are abducted and tied up in the back of the van, Karlen's character looks close to orgasm as he rips off one of the girls' blouses and begins to massage her breasts). Towards the end of the film DeCarlo thinks he has his man but needs concrete proof, so he enlists the help of his friend (could be his mistress, it's never quite clear) to play the role of a nightclub singer in an effort to entrap him and show his true colours.
THE DARK RIDE is fairly obviously based (if very loosely) on the non-fictional Ted Bundy case, in-fact the film opens with this introduction: "The events in this motion picture are based on facts from actual police files. The names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent"; the addition of acting calibre like Karlen and Susan Jennifer Sullivan (who also did STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE the same year (quite some change of gear!)) would seem to lend the film some legitimacy, but really it's played for sleazoid thrills all the way (surprisingly, it's written by a woman). Of course, that wouldn't be such a bad thing but unfortunately the film is almost sunk by a general ineptness in nearly every department: it's almost impossible to see what's going on in the night scenes (which could be a bad video transfer, admittedly); however, it's the incoherent narrative and ham-fisted editing that really make, especially the mid-section, a chore to sit through. Frustratingly characters appear in the film and then vanish without explanation; story threads are left hanging in the air; and, unbelievably, one shot shows a victim of the killer sitting in his garage with tape over her mouth a full 20 minutes before she's abducted (now that's quite a gaff!).
Admittedly, the generic police-work of the last half an hour is fairly, er, arresting, (capped off with a typically cynical 70's ending) but by then it's a bit too little too late. However, fans of trash films from this period should find something to like here, be it the generally sleazy atmosphere or little touches like the appearance of 'Frisco Disco' (where you can happily "Dance your ass off!"), but if you're looking for a serious study of a serial killer, then look elsewhere.
BODYCOUNT 8 female:7 / male:1
1) Female body thrown from a cliff
2) Female found mutilated
3) Female found mutilated
4) Female found dead
5) Female presumed dead
6) Female presumed dead
7) Female has neck snapped
8) Male shot in the stomach