Theme parks have been a huge part of my life, ever since I was young. Living in Southern California had it’s benefits of being extremely close to two major theme parks. Both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were always just a hop skip and a drive down the freeway from us, and Six Flags Magic Mountain a couple hours away. As I got older, my cousin’s introduced me to many more theme parks that I wish I could visit, and with the release of RollerCoaster Tycoon games on PC, I fell head over heels in love with the management and design of parks and rides.
Now as an adult, I rarely have time to go to theme parks, but I can live vicariously through others thanks to things like youtube, and people who are passionate about covering the history of parks new and old. One park that I loved learning about was a park in New Jersey called Action Park, and it was a park that was basically split into two major sections, one was a water park section, and another had things like motorized go-karts and boats.
A documentary film was released this year about it, and after learning about it beforehand, I was interested to see if I’d learn anything new or if it was going to be just the same regurgitation of stuff you’d find on Wikipedia.
Class Action Park basically tells the story of Action Park, from it’s inception to its closure in 1996. It has interviews from a few of the park’s former employees who were just basically kids and teenagers at the time, some interviews from former guests of the park, some people who worked closely with the owner, and even one person who had their son killed at the park.
Underneath this documentary of this park lies in it’s infamy, hence the title “Class Action Park”. Action Park is known as the most dangerous theme park ever made. Tons of injuries happened within it’s operation season every year, and even a few deaths. This is not new information, but with the interviews from the former employees to help, you get more incited at how the park was basically run by teenagers. Lots of stories about kids learning first hand how to treat first aid with no prior knowledge or training. Hook up stories in the maintenance shed, and things of that nature.
Ultimately, it really doesn’t try to lean one way or another, the documentary doesn’t try to push a narrative, or paint anyone as something they are not. The owner of Action Park seemed like a genuinely nice “crazy uncle” type of guy. He wanted to run a theme park that reminded him of his youth where rules were more of a suggestion, than a requirement. To make that dream happen, it seemed like he tried to circumvent the law when it seemed to get in his way too much. Things like opening a fraudulent insurance company in the cayman islands to produce fake insurance documents required to open the park…. Things of that nature.
The one bummer part of the documentary is where the filmmakers get into the deaths that occured at the park. That’s never fun to discuss, but one interviewee, who’s son died was not particularly enjoyable to listen to. The reasoning is, first it always sucks hearing from someone who’s life was completely shattered by the tragic and senseless death of a child. I can’t imagine how that feels, and pray to God I never have to go through that pain. Her son was a guest at the park and one the alpine slides, which were notoriously dangerous. Basically a plastic sled with wheels going down a mountain in a concrete slide.The sled only has a single break, and if you have ever been on one, you know they are sketchy at best, and those brakes barely work. It’s fully up to the rider to know how to use it and when to break. So her son’s sled might have been busted and the sled’s break didn’t work properly. He flew off the embankment and hit his head on one of the many rocks and boulders protruding out from the mountain.
This is where it can get a bit weird. This basically was a freak accident, but could have been avoided with the removal of the rocks. This really wasn’t the fault of the park, because the park operated basically as a “use at your own risk” type of mentality. There is zero control over the sleds and the breaks once the rider goes down the slide. It’s up to the rider to discern how and when to break.
The mother of the son who died is heartbroken with the loss of her son, and you hear her side of the ensuing lawsuit from the tragic event. You can tell there is a grudge and bitterness in her heart that will never go away. I don’t blame her, she has every right to be pissed. But once you hear her story about the day that Eugene Mulvihill died (the owner of Action Park, and the one the lady holds responsible for the death of her son), and how her and her husband celebrated his death with a fine bottle of champagne, you can tell there is a hatred that just seems mean spirited. Again, I understand it, but it just came off as vindictive and my view on the situation changed drastically, from me feeling sorry for them, to them seeming like the villains. Especially since the woman still holds a grudge all these years later (40 years later to be exact).
Other than that part, the documentary is well done, and everyone else in the documentary basically talks positively about the experience. They grew up at Action Park, they made lifelong friends and memories there. Were there sketchy things that happened? Of course, but everyone has those jobs where things weren’t always what they seemed, where it got way out of control at times. Action Park looked like a crazy place where if you were ok with very little rules, and you could make your own fun… it seemed like the most amazing theme park in the world. I know I personally would have had an absolute blast at Action park if I was around at that time.