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By Heidi Martinuzzi | December 14, 2004

I love set visits. I love walking around the props, cast, and various fretting P.A.’s with my camera, snapping pictures and causing general annoyance as my flash goes off when the film is rolling, or my cell phone rings in the middle of the take. “It’s okay, I’m press!” I don’t think they care…

“Dark Ride” was a set visit just like that. Despite my bumbling clumsiness, excessive smoking, and my un-preparedness, (what else is new?) I ended up interviewing the cast and crew and delving into the inner core of the slasher flick that is “Dark Ride”…

A lot of the good horror that has been coming out recently is not this 50 million dollar, big budgeted stuff. It’s stuff like Saw, Cabin Fever, films that are really, like, 5 million and under, really independent. “Dark Ride” kinda fits into that category. Not a lot of CGI, no Nicole Kidman, but myself, and a lot of the die-hard horror fans truly believe that when its indie, it’s better… we’ll see…

Chris Williams, the producer, says, “There are the big budget horror flicks, and there are people who make horror films for 50,000 where the poster looks better than the movie. There was no one really filling the void of the in-between… we feel like, we have a budget level and creative ideas that fill a huge demand for horror from the audiences. It’s a gamble”.

Chris would like to knock on wood at this point, but everything around us is fake because we are on the Universal back lot.

In big budgeted films the PA’s have PA’s have PA’s, but on “Dark Ride”, everyone seemed to do a little bit of everything in order to get the job done.

It’s the last night of shooting, and Peter Block is there from Lion’s Gate, as is Chela Johnson, she that is ruler of all films dark at Lion’s Gate, so everyone must be really excited about the last day of shooting. Of course, its at night, and it’s freezing, and the back lot is so creepy…it’s perfect.

The film stars Jamie-Lynn Discala, (of “Sopranos” fame) Patrick Renna (you know him from “The Sandlot”), David Rogers, Alex Solowitz, Andrea Bogart, Jennifer Kelley Tisdale, and Dave Warden. PD Fred Andrews and DP Vincent Toto (don’t confuse DP with PD) have made this film a virtual nightmare wonderland with their artistic input. The Universal back lot makes for a perfect setting for this creepy, and twisted, story.

The premise of the story is this: 5 kids get trapped in a Dark Ride, which is a haunted attraction in one of those small amusement parks you find on boardwalks or in traveling carnivals… There, lurking in the Dark Ride, is a deformed killer who stalks the teenagers and subjects them to torture and death appropriate to the setting that they are in. Says Chris Williams, “It’s not ‘Scream’. It’s not a parody of the genre, it is the genre.”

If you were thinking “Funhouse” by Tobe Hooper, the 1981 slasher flick, you’d be wrong. (At least according to the cast and crew) But don’t feel bad, that’s what I thought, too. I mean, “Funhouse” is about 5 kids who get trapped in a carnival funhouse, and a deformed, masked killer stalks the teenagers and subjects them to torture and death appropriate to the setting that they are in.

As I brought this up to the entire cast and crew, they seemed to wholeheartedly disagree that this film is anything like “Funhouse”. Sure, it takes place in a carnival ride. Sure, the killer is silent, deformed and masked, and sure, there are girls and boys being tossed around like props in a dollhouse. But other than that, it’s completely different.

(My second thought was “Ghoulies II”, but I don’t think that counts. If you know to what I am referring you are as lame as I am).

Craig Singer (writer and director) has a better way of telling us what inspired the storyline, “Here’s a story: At a Six Flags in Jackson New Jersey, called Great Adventure, 7 teenagers were killed in a Dark Ride in a fire. I thought it was a great backdrop for a horror film. When you’re in a Dark Ride, it is a return to innocence. Man becomes primal when you’re in the dark…if you think about the great Haunted House films; letting the architecture of the Dark Ride becoming a co-conspirator for the villain is really wonderful. The mannequins, the props, the gags, in addition to the murderer. Whenever I saw films like ‘House of Wax’, or Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red’, or ‘Suspiria’, the props take an active roll…”

Though it is, according to Robert Dean Klein, the screenwriter, “A throwback to the golden time for horror films; the late 70’s, early 80’s, when slasher films were really creative…I don’t think anybody has really made a film like this in 25 years.”

“It’s got some similar things,” adds Robert, “but we wanted to make the characters less like lambs going to a slaughter and more like real friends. I am a fan of that film but I think we take it to another level…”

Chris Williams, “We made a big attempt to avoid eye rolls. As students of the genre, it really is more about homage than any specific similarities to ‘Funhouse’. It pays homage to TCM, to ‘Evil Dead’, to ‘Waxwork’, to ‘Last House on the Left’, all of them. Funhouse is just one of the movies (and not one I would single out). This is not a funhouse, this is a Dark Ride. It’s different. It’s a very specific horror attraction…”

Robert and Chris have not exactly convinced me, but they’re letting me smoke during the interview so I’ll let it slide.

Robert continues, “’Dark Ride’ is a throwback, we’re kinda trying to re-invent the genre. Most of the horror films that have been coming out are Asian remakes, they’re sequels or they are remakes. We wanted to create a new character rather than remake something that was old…we’ve really put a lot of time into the killer in the film…there is an innocence about him. He was deformed and a freak, he has lived inside this Dark Ride all of his life. He was growing up all around these sets that were going on, he always watched these people get so excited about these great sets, so he just started playing with the people as if they were mannequins. He was really killing them, but in his own mind he was just playing with them…he would just mimic something he’d already seen in the Dark Ride.”

Chris Williams says it rather more concisely, “’Dark Ride’ is a hardcore horror film in an age when people are remaking and doing sequels. It’s an effort to create something new and unique and to shock and titillate.”

What is a Dark Ride?

“Dark Ride,” says Robert Dean Klein, “is a term for a type of attraction you would find, say, on a boardwalk, like a funhouse, things pop out at you, sometimes it’s people, sometimes it’s puppets… That’s a Dark Ride.”

Chris Williams says, “A haunted house where people get into carts and you’re slammed through doors and driven through these vignettes in order to scare you.”

One thing that has been a trend in serious horror lately is a high gore level. Saw and Haute Tension have raised the bar for horror films this past year in terms of violence and blood. Can “Dark Ride” compete?

Robert Dean Klein says, “There is a lot of gore, but there is also a lot of suspense. We wanted to scare the crap out of people. David, who plays Jonah, the killer, even though he doesn’t speak, is so creative in just the way he moves. It’s creepy.”

What’s the budget? Judging, from what I’ve heard, I’d say somewhere between 1 and ten million.

Robert, “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you”.

One aspect of horror films I am preternaturally obsessed with is the issue of women in horror; not just the actresses, but the women working on the film in other contexts, and the characters that the women play. Slasher flicks are notorious for making women out to be idiotic sex toys…how would the filmmakers justify and explain their portrayal of women in “Dark Ride”?

Chris Williams on female characters in horror…“You start with cliché and develop it into a character…”

Get the rest of the story in part two of CLIMB ABOARD “DARK RIDE”>>>

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