Amusement parks are thrilling places. The rides create an artifice of danger, one that is scary but never actually scary as thought you might actually be injured or killed. Or, at least, that’s what they are supposed to do.
Action Park, built as a summer season companion to a ski resort by ethically unscrupulous developer Eugene Mulvihill, did not create that artifice; it literally put people in danger. Directors Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III new documentary Class Action Park looks back at the story of the park and the scars inflicted on the survivors.
Here’s the thing about this story: you’re going to laugh. The first half of the movie breaks down the park and its origins, from Mulvihill’s purchase of the park after a brief stint on Wall Street, to the design of each of the most notorious rides in the park.
The rides, including the Cannonball Loop (pictured!), were slapped together by park staff with effectively no oversight or even expertise. A waterslide with a loop in it sounds awesome, but coming out battered and bruised –or lacerated by teeth from prior riders embedded in the padding– were also dangerous. These wounds and scars were worn like badges of honour, with many of the talking heads in the film remembering them fondly.
As my Granny always said though, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Now according to the documentary no one lost an eye, or at least they don’t highlight that at any point, but several people died.
Rides like The Alpine Slide, a concrete track down the side of a mountain ridden on a cheap sledge with dubiously functioning breaks, a kayak course with electric fans moving the water, and a wave pool nicknamed “The Grave Pool”, all claimed lives through the course of the parks life.
The first half of the movie functions as a celebration of the park and its time. A place that seems to have offered freedom and fun for kids who not only visited the park but effectively ran it. Once the story shifts to the story of George Larsson Jr., the first patron who actually died, the tone changes and to remind us why parks are only supposed to create that artifice of danger.
Class Action Park is undeniably entertaining; comedian Chris Gethard’s remembrance of the park, in particular, leads to several laugh-out-loud moments. It also does a good job of balancing that entertainment with the reminder that my Granny was right. It’s incredible that Action Park was open as long as it was, and I feel like the film could have dived a bit deeper into how that was able to happen , and more condemnation to the people in higher placed positions that they were able to interview.
Still, Class Action Park is a fascinating look at a piece of 1980s Americana, and well worth your time.
Class Action Park is streaming now on Crave in Canada and HBO Max in the US.