“5, 4, 3, 2, 1…0!” My friend and I open our eyes to see a lone flashlight in the darkness, leading us to a small bench. We sit and the bench begins to move, the flashlight dies and voices begin to whisper in the blackness, making the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Where are we going? What will we see when we get there? Who – or what – is behind me? The cart comes to a stop and a woman, glowing with orange and green paint, proclaims like a carnival barker: Welcome to Hell! Oh, that makes sense… We are at Zombie Joe’s… Dark-Ride Dark-Ride Dark-Ride
The members of Zombie Joe’s Underground (ZJU), and Zombie Joe himself, are masters of innovation and transformation. Always pushing the boundaries of what the notorious black box theater can do, ZJU has outdone itself with Dark Dark-Ride Ride.
Dark Dark-Ride Ride invites audiences of two to board a Drew Rausch-created cart while actors push it through the unsettling darkness of the theater. The unseen creatures filling that darkness snarl, whisper, moan, and giggle in the void. Each time the cart stops, flashlights illuminate a new vignette, incredibly brief but always inspired. Similar to ZJU staple Urban Death, each scene is punctuated with a macabre twist meant to elicit fear, discomfort, or laughter: a woman with a smile entirely too big for her face; a human-cat hybrid pawing at the riders; or a man with a shotgun turning it in the cart’s direction. But the cart can only take people so far, and passengers must walk through the worst of ZJU’s Hell, perhaps meeting the Devil himself, in order to make it back out into the real world.
Unlike the versatile Urban Death and grim Blood Alley, Dark Dark-Ride Ride presents a psychedelic, glowing version of Hell. With designs by Jocelyn Gajeway and Rausch, the scenes are brought to grotesque life with neon, black-light make-up and props. Unseen in the dark, these hyper-colored tableaus pop into uncanny focus when the lights hit them. With the experience only lasting around 15 minutes, the painted actors fire on all cylinders throughout, grabbing and growling and screaming at the innocent passengers in the cart, a radiant kaleidoscope of depravity.
The technical feats of the cast also cannot go ignored. The timing and precision required in a creation of this specificity must be difficult, especially when moving around the space entirely in the dark, as well as exerting energy pushing the two-person cart. The cast excels in the challenge. I especially enjoyed a scene brought to brilliant life with hallucinogenic lighting, all controlled by camouflaged actors.
Due to its extremely limited audience size, Dark Dark-Ride Ride completely sold out for its one-weekend run, but thank the demons-that-be that it has been extended for two more weekends, and you can take a trip to this demented carnival yourself! This is one version of Hell I’m more than happy to visit again.
Dark Dark-Ride Ride has been EXTENDED for two more weekends, Thursdays-Sunday, January 31-February 10th! Follow ZJU on their Facebook page, and check their website for upcoming shows and tickets. Also, check our Events Guide for other creepy experiences waiting for you in the darkness.
All photography by Brandon Slezak.