Friday, August 21, 2009

Bad Horror Films: Dark Ride

BHF: Dark Ride
Lionsgate Films, 2006

Okay, so this is basically just me watching a Bad Horror Film. I do this a lot, and I usually speculate about how things might have gone if the script had been just a little bit... different. Usually, for Bad Horror Films, this means wondering what might happen if the protagonists had even a little bit of intelligence or common sense.

Tonight's selection Dark Ride. It's one of the Eight Films To Die For - except that they've been doing this for at least three years, giving us a bare minimum of twenty-four films to die for. I've seen others in this collection, and the quality varies widely. However, the rating information on the back of this one promises "strong grisly horror violence and gore, sexuality, nudity, language, and some drug content." So however bad the writing and acting may be, it'll at least have a few redeeming features...

I should warn you, as a courtesy, that there will be spoilers in this post. Don't read ahead if you haven't seen the film, and want to be surprised by the plot. (On the other hand... Come on. It's a Bad Horror Film, one of the most predictable beasts in the jungle. How surprising could it be?) Anyway, you have been warned.

Previews: It's always a good sign when the previews themselves have an R rating.
...Dear gods, I think they've decided to preview all seven of the other films.

The movie (finally): Opening shot, empty pier, two girls walking. I'm guessing this is a flashback to set the stage. They're wearing pretty generic school uniforms, look to be late middle school or early high school. They've gotten on a carnival ride... lot of stage smoke, things jumping out. They've been lulled into thinking it's harmless, so it's probably time for one of them to die.

Yep. One of them just got yanked up out of the seat. The one who was afraid to get on in the first place is busily freaking out. Even odds on whether she dies too, or whether she survives to return as a twenty-something. Oh, her newly-dead friend is now part of the ride... and the figure at the exhibit just reached for her. Both dead, then.

Flickery credits interspersed with bits of newspaper clippings and scary images, mostly from the ride. We're about ten minutes into the film now; hopefully we can start the main plot. Newspaper clippings suggest the ride has reopened, spring break is about to start, and there was something about an insane asylum.

Fade to a movie vision of a dormitory... (In the movies, dormitories - and, for that matter, parties - are always a lot more lively and active than they ever are in real life.)

Okay, so... we have the two girls, one blonde and one brunette; and we've already set up the blonde as the slut. The brunette, meanwhile, is angsty about her boyfriend. She's basically having a Define The Relationship talk with her blonde roommate, about her boyfriend. Boyfriend, meanwhile, expresses doubts about whether he still loves the brunette. The boys are pretty much characterized as the taller, socially-aware guy, and his shorter, nerdier friend. We're fifteen minutes in, and I already want to kill all four of them myself.

...And, we've just introduced a third guy - blonde, guitarist, smooth; leaving a female admirer behind to go on his Spring Break trip. He has a guitar, but somehow I doubt that'll be at all relevant later on. Frankly, he comes off as a little sleazy.

Okay, so we've established the five main characters, and I'm not so much hoping for one of them to survive as I am trying to decide which one I want to see die the soonest. This does not speak well of the acting, or the basic characterization. I doubt the effect was intentional.

Ah, good. The spooky gas station. Likely they'll hear about the Dark Ride, or receive an eerie warning, or do something stupid to piss off the locals. Okay, I think I like the creepy old gas station attendant better than any of the kids. Sadly, he probably won't reappear. And, yes, they did find a flier advertising the Dark Ride.

Apparently not content with implying that a lunatic had escaped (during the credits), the script writers have now flashed back to a sanitarium, "Two Weeks Earlier". Abusive orderlies are messing with one of the patients, and they're about to feed him meat in direct defiance of their instructions. So, naturally, they're going to die horribly and the patient's going to escape. Nice spooky growl and an Incredible Hulk-style ripping-out-of-the-restraints scene, though. Good splattery gore, too.

One of these days, I'd like to see a version of this scene where the orderlies are competent professionals doing an unpleasant (and underpaid) job. It wouldn't really change the outcome, and it would be a nice change of pace...

Back to the kids... They've decided to skip getting a hotel, and stay overnight in the dark ride itself. Less obvious than a haunted house, I suppose - but also less logical.

Oh, good. Now there's a hitchhiker. "I bet she's either a psycho or a nympho." Since she's an attractive blonde with no fashion sense, naturally they're going to pick her up. Okay, actually I guess it's just an ugly hat; the rest of her outfit isn't actually that bad. Ah, good, she's acting crazy in a transparent attempt on the part of the screenwriters to build suspense. She looks like a drama major trying to win the Golden Tree of Overacting. ...And, now she's stripped down to a bikini top. She wants to go with them on the Dark Ride, and she brought mushrooms. Apparently pot just isn't enough some days.

Now they're trying to interact... can we please just kill them? Singly, in a group, I'm not sure I care. The psycho hitchhiker is no better developed than any of the others, and she's flaky. I have, however, finally identified the main character; unsurprisingly, it's the angsty brunette. She has distinguished herself, at 45-50 minutes into the film, by staying behind in the van while everyone else goes to explore the Dark Ride. She's also been the main voice of opposition to the whole plan. So, she probably gets pushed into coming inside, but she probably survives the night. We'll see...

Blonde Surfer Dude (hereafter referred to as BSD - he was the one with the guitar) is exploring an upper floor and has managed to turn on the lights. I'm a little impressed that he went inside by himself, as that's a lot harder to do in real life than it looks here. I'd be more impressed if I thought it was supposed to be characterization, as opposed to, say, sloppy writing.

Things are popping out at them in spite fo the fact that they're walking through the exhibit, which strikes me as profoundly unrealistic. That sort of mechanism is usually tied to the progress of the ride. Also, they've just reminded me that BSD is half out of his mind on 'shrooms. Off hand, I'm not sure whether that makes his solitary upstairs exploration more or less believable.

Just a hint, guys: when you're breaking and entering, try to be sober. It makes you much less likely to be caught. Also, it makes you more likely to make good choices if something goes horribly wrong (as things so often do in Bad Horror Films).

Brunette is sitting alone in the van. If she had any sense, she'd be sleeping through the whole thing.

Psycho-hitchhiker just started talking about "negative energy". And it turns out that BSD knows about the twins who were murdered in the prologue. Oh, and apparently there was a deformed kid who lived in the dark ride. Oh, and BSD didn't mention this earlier because he wanted them to come. Now Nerdy Guy is telling them about how the killer was sent to a mental hospital instead of killed - apparently the twins from the prologue were his cousins, and he didn't see fit to mention this, either. It'd be a pretty good campfire tale, right down to the "no really, I know this is true because..." part, except that in this context the two guys are probably telling the truth.

Angsty Brunette just played a trick on her boyfriend, making him think she was dead. Turns out the boyfriend slept with someone else. Boyfriend is really angry about being tricked, and just stormed off. So we've now set up a situation where either the Nerd or the Boyfriend could start killing people... but since we did the flashback to the sanitarium, I'm thinking probably not - independent lunatic is more likely.

We're now at about 1:10, and nobody's died yet. But Blonde Surfer Dude has just left, by himself, to go turn the lights back on, and Hitchhiker Girl has slipped away also, so hopefully we'll make some progress pretty soon. Death... or bosoms?

1:11 - Bosoms.

The rest of the group - now down to the original two girls and Nerdy Guy - are trying to find their way downstairs. Boyfriend is still missing. Someone really should have died by now. I've been interrupted, so I'm not sure just how far along we are, but there can't be more than twenty or thirty minutes left in the film.

Oh, good. I think they've finally found a corpse... and I think it's Boyfriend. Girlfriend thinks so, too. If it's a joke, he has a much better costume than she did.

Yay! Hitchhiker girl's been killed. And BSD just knocked himself out. Psycho didn't stop to kill him, though. There's some possibility that Nerd Guy is actually the killer. It's also possible that this is all an elaborate party game that Nerd Guy planned out in advance, and nobody is actually dead.

The fact that nobody seems to be looking for weapons is deeply, deeply disturbing to me. Oh, and the girls have just separated, further lowering their odds of survival. The blonde roommate is panicking, so she's in no shape to face anything more dangerous than a chipmunk... Ah, good. She seems to be getting it back together. Oh, and she's trying to grab a hatchet out of one of the exhibits. Good for her. Going about it all wrong, but the instinct is good. Naturally, the masked Psycho snuck up on her while she was at it, so now she's running away.

Right, safety tip number two: when you're exploring someplace dark, always make sure you have at least three light sources with you.

Psycho just caught up with the blonde roommate, so she's out, too.

BSD just surprised Psycho on a balcony - I think he was sneaking up on the brunette - and now Psycho is chasing BSD. This is because BSD was too stupid to grab a weapon. Psycho hasn't used anything more formidable than a hunting knife so far, so even a mid-length chunk of wood would do a lot to even the odds.

We've now added a security guard, who's calling for backup from - it seems - outside the Dark Ride. Hopefully the kids will all finish getting killed before their Deus Ex Machina can arrive. Honestly, the standards for psycho killers have really gone down these days...

Oh, good. The backup is a pair of lazy security guards who are probably going to sleep through the whole thing. This is actually smart, pro-survival behavior on their part.

Finally! Psycho just split the security guard's head in two with a short saber or long cleaver. That tends to contradict the "just a big practical joke" theory I was considering earlier.

And now the brunette has jumped out a window. Since she was on the second floor and made no attempt to tuck and roll - she pretty much came down on her hands and knees - she seems to have a sprained ankle. Frankly, she's lucky she didn't break her wrists as well. On the plus side, she's out of the building and in the rain, which ought to make her somewhat harder for the Psycho to find.

Ha! Now she's driven off in the van, leaving Blonde Surfer Dude behind with the Psycho. Good for her. Unfortunately, she'll probably turn back in a fit of abject stupidity and try to save him. This is the moral equivalent of running back into a burning building: it sounds like a good idea, but it usually just leads to more dead bodies. Even odds on whether she dies as a result, or whether she saves BSD. Nerd Guy is still missing, too - so either he's the psycho, or the script writers want us to think he is.

Psycho just caught BSD. BSD is fleeing, but not very successfully. Brunette, as predicted, has turned the van around.

And, the dramatic finale (I hope): Brunette drives the van through the front door, knocking Psycho back into a wall of spikes and saving Blonde Surfer Dude.

Oh, look! Nerd guy just reappeared. Twenty bucks says he was the normal-looking brother of the deformed murderer who lived in the Dark Ride. If so, BSD is about to die anyway.

Ohhhhh, yes. Nerd Guy stabbed BSD, and brunette is semiconscious in the van. Nerd Guy was, in fact, the younger brother of Psycho. ...And, brunette woke up just in time to figure out the relationship. Nerd Guy thanked her for her help, and she's wandered out into the rain. I'm guessing there's some serious therapy in her future.

Final shot is a view of the Psycho's mask, fading back into darkness; possibly hinting that the younger brother will take on the job of murdering people in the Dark Ride.

All in all, not too bad. I'd have more sympathy for the characters if they had been more likeable to begin with, and if they'd made even a token effort to defend themselves, but it certainly could have been worse. The writers held off on the "kids getting killed in a spooky place" part until fairly late in the movie, which would have been a good idea if they'd spent the time developing the characters and/or if the characters had been more sympathetic to begin with. As it was, it just made me impatient.

The ending is a little unsatisfying, too. If Nerd Boy is going to live in the Dark Ride and kill people, he should kill the girl to cover his trail. If not, is he going to be arrested? There are sirens in the background. Is he going to run away? I suppose, since he only killed one person, and the girl was unconscious at the time (no witnesses), he could claim to be an innocent victim... but he's going to have a hard time convincing the authorities, since he brought everyone to the ride in the first place.

Oh, well. Maybe the next Bad Horror Film will offer more chance to critique the characters and their behavior. I seem to have spent most of this one criticising the film itself.

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