Directed By: Craig Singer
Starring: Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Patrick Renna, David Clayton Rogers
Tag line: "Will you survive the ride of your life?"
Trivia: This movie premiered at the 2006 Hollywood Film Festival
Carnivals and amusement parks have, over the years, been the setting for a number of horror films, some “hits” (Carnival of Souls, The Funhouse) and some “misses” (Carnival of Blood). Dark Ride, a 2006 movie directed by Craig Singer, definitely falls into the “miss” category. In fact, it misses by a mile!
In 1989, twin sisters Colleen and Samantha (Brittney and Chelsey Coyle) hopped on the "Dark Ride", a horror-themed attraction at the Asbury Park Amusement Pier, and were never seen alive again (turns out a killer was living inside the attraction, and the two girls were the latest in a string of victims). Since that fateful day, the ride has sat dormant, but all that’s about to change. While on their way to Spring Break, a group of college friends: Cathy (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), Liz (Jennifer Tisdale), Bill (Patrick Renna), Steve (David Clayton Rogers), and Jim (Alex Solowitz), along with Jen (Andrea Bogart), a ditzy hitchhiker they picked up, discover that the Asbury Park Dark Ride is going to re-open in a few days. Not willing to wait that long, the group decides to break into the attraction and spend the night there. Their timing, however, couldn’t have been worse; the killer (Dave Warden) who, for years, was locked away in an insane asylum, just escaped, and has made his way back to the attraction he once called home The moment they realize they're not alone, the friends start searching for a way out, but will they make it to the exit in time?
The characters in Dark Ride cover all the standard bases. We have the couple whose relationship is on the rocks (Cathy and Steve); the nerd (Bill, a movie geek); the lead girl’s slutty friend (Liz); and even a stoner (Jim). Along the way, they pick up an additional oddball: a psychotic hippie hitchhiker (Jen). Ultimately, though, it’s not the stereotypical characters that hurt the movie (Dark Ride isn’t the first horror film to adhere to these clichés, and it certainly won’t be the last), but the way they're presented, carrying on uninspired conversations and rattling off inane dialogue that goes absolutely nowhere. More than once, Bill jumps in with bits of movie trivia that aren’t the least bit relevant to…. well, anything (when he and Steve are leaving their dorm room to meet up with the girls, Bill complains how Michael Cimino nearly bankrupt an entire studio with Heaven’s Gate. Huh?), and within moments of being picked up, Jen the hitchhiker launches into a ridiculous tirade, the only point of which is to make her look like a total loon (she complains about some random guy who tried talking music with her, a speech so incredibly forced that I honestly wanted to switch the movie off right then and there).
Is it possible to make a good horror movie with the above cast of characters? Absolutely! Back in the 1980s, slasher films did it all the time. But to make up for their weak character development, those movies would scare the hell out of us. This is easily the biggest sin committed by Dark Ride: it’s not the least bit frightening. The opening scene, where the twin girls were picked off, generated zero tension, and later on, when the friends were being pursued by the killer, I was actually kinda bored. There wasn’t a single moment in this movie that put me on edge. Perhaps it was the inconsistency of the killer that ruined it (sometimes he walks slowly with a limp, other times he darts down a darkened corridor), or maybe it was just that the characters ran... and ran... and ran, and never - got - anywhere! Whatever the case, Dark Ride failed to provide any tangible thrills.
Poorly developed characters I can deal with, but couple it with poorly developed horror and you have a movie that’s dead on arrival.