Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, June 22, 2008
      ( 6/22/2008 10:54:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"IT'S ALL FAKE, YOU LITTLE BABY!" To fans of The Sopranos, there's a measure of amusement to be found in Jamie Lynn-Sigler's starring role in the "After Dark Horror Fest" flick, Dark Ride. One of the more amusing subplots in the show's final seasons, after all, was Christopher Moltisanti's involvement in the production of a cheesy slasher film (Cleaver). Seeing Tony Soprano's daughter play the heroine in a Jersey-set splatter flick ("Bleedings from Asbury Park," a leaflet for the movie's title funhouse ride trumpets), you can almost imagine poor dumb, drugged-out Christopher popping up in the DVD's "making of" documentary.

Fortunately, Dark Ride (co-written by director Craig Singer with Robert Dean Klein) isn't as hapless as the low-rent grindhouse movie we saw being shot on The Sopranos. It's slickly directed, adequately acted and definitely has its good grim moments. Ride's monster, a deformed psycho killer named Jonah ("Why does it always have to be Jonah or Jason or Jedediah?" one character asks) who was originally arrested for slaughtering two young girls on the Steeplechase Pier, is an arrestingly creepy figure. After escaping the mental institution to return to the park where he once wreaked gory havoc, he uses the cherubic face of a young boy manikin to mask his features, looking like a kewpie doll from hell. Thus disguised, he proceeds to go about his bloody business on a sextet of dumb college students who've snuck onto the pier's Dark Ride just before its big reopening.

It's probably not revealing too much to note that the character Sigler plays proves to be the last one fighting to survive. . . or that one of the characters is more than they claim to be. Soon as we learn that Jonah has a sibling, we wait for one of the group to take off their own metaphorical mask - and aren't much surprised when we see who it is. Still, the movie's dialog is crisp, and there are more than a few bright bits scattered throughout. There's a homage to the creepy hitchhiker scene from the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre that'll get horror buffs chuckling and one truly striking demise, which the movie saves for an unfortunate security guard instead of our obnoxious collegians. In it, we're shown a close-up of the guy's face as his head gets cleaved in two and the whites of his eyes turn red. Now that's what we go to see slasher flicks for - not a bunch of self-aware pomo joking.

As one of the offerings in the first year of "After Dark" flicks (now seeing a second round of DVD releases courtesy of Lions Gate), Dark Ride proves a fairly conservative selection. Its most potentially offensive moment - the flashback evisceration of one of the two young girls - was kept out of the released flick, though it's thoughtfully provided for us on the DVD in a "deleted scenes" feature. The flick does end on a surprising little grace note: a "thank you" calmly delivered by one of the characters as Ride's darkly ironic punch line. In formula fare like this, it's the little touches that count.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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