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Dark Ride: Back to a Better Time

September 22, 2009

Leatherface, Michael, Jason, Freddy, Pinhead.  Over the past four decades, these names, some of them our friend’s names, some of them merely physical descriptors of their unique attribute, evoke vivid images of carnage and death.  But they also represent a renaissance in horror, a rebranding of the dark genre that now, 30 years later, is under assault by a scared and timid Hollywood industry.  In sequel after sequel, these madmen dispatched their victims with imaginatively staged brutality while revealing more and more of their tragic back-stories.  Ultimately, however, their goals remained simple, their motives basic.

In 2006, Craig Singer (Perkins 14) introduced to a new generation another simple minded killer, Jonah.  Deep within Asbury Park’s very own dark ride lurks a porcelain doll-faced maniac waiting to rip the insides out of unsuspecting children.  Dark Ride opens 20 years in the past.  Twin girls sit securely in their cart as it smashes through doors, slows to a deadening pace, and jerks around hidden corners.  Just as the girls begin to relax and enjoy the thrilling scares, one sister is violently ripped from her seat.  But the car continues on its path, leading the terrified twin past her disemboweled counterpart and her baby faced executioner; it is a chilling introduction.

With the killer of 14 children tucked safely away in a mental institution for the past 20 years, the residents ofAsbury Parkare finally ready to reopen the dark ride in time for spring break.  Now it’s time to meet the meat; Steve, Bill, Kathy, and Liz pile into Jim’s van for the trip.  Singer wastes little time setting up the dynamics; horrors await.  Steve and Kathy are broken up but still in love.  Jim, the rebellious musician, engaged in a one night stand with Liz.  And Bill, Steve’s roommate, is the dork; “he’s just happy to be invited.”

Meanwhile, confined to a straight jacket and strict vegetarian diet, Jonah suffers in front of a static filled television set.  Trapped within the madness of his mind, Jonah is shaking, wet, and seemingly incapacitated.  But the smell of meat awakens the beast and, like a savage demon, he breaks the binds of his straight jacket, rises high above the bumbling attendants, and tears out their hearts with his bare hands. Reborn all these years later, Jonah is hungrier than before; and soon the dark ride will once again be alive with suffering.

Jim (Alex Solowitz in a scene stealing performance) is the first one into the empty structure.  Quickly locating the fuse box, he brings the ride to screaming life. Singer utilizes all of the tricks, but each one is perfectly staged so that the ride, even without the lurking monster, is claustrophobic and intense.  And for a short period, there are moments of extreme discomfort.

Then the lights go out.  Jim finds his way back to the electrical room, but this time he has company.  As hilarious hitchhiker Jen provides Jim with oral delights, Jonah quietly severs her head from her neck.  Just after Jim releases, he cups her ears and guides her lips to his.  Before discovering that he’s literally got head, he implants his tongue in her gurgling mouth.

Dark Ride is a horror movie from another time.  Revealing influences from low budget classics like Funhouse and Massacre at Central High, Dark Ride is the movie that so many young horror lovers dream of making.  The reasons for the bloody mayhem don’t matter. In the end, the fun of Dark Ride is that the reasons are only excuses for slaughter.  Jonah is a formidable entry in the pantheon of horror movie monsters, and Craig Singer is fast becoming the goremeister’s go to guy.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 1, 2009 9:58 am

    this was an awesome review! Mine was more of lampoon, and from a Jersey perspective, but it may bring you a laugh:

    http://thesexyarmpit.blogspot.com/2008/10/new-jerseys-great-pop-culture-moments_13.html

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