Class Action Park is the first-ever documentary on the world’s most dangerous amusement park, Action Park, that had its heyday in the 80s and 90s and was a staple for anyone who grew up in New Jersey.
The first time I had ever heard about Action Park was on an episode of the daily morning YouTube talk show Good Mythical Morning, hosted by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal. I first discovered that show back when I was fourteen-years-old, and have watched the day’s new episode almost every day since then. Seriously. It’s always been such a delight to tune in and see what crazy thing the duo will talk about or do in each new episode, and I remember back in 2015, they made an episode about the “world’s most dangerous amusement park”, and that park was, of course, Action Park.
Watching their video truly shocked me. They discussed just a few of the theme park’s wild incidents and showcased some of the rides, but even though they didn’t show or talk about it for too long, it really opened my eyes. It turned me off of waterparks for a while and made me realize just how dangerous amusement parks, in general, can be if they’re not operated by the right people.
In Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott II’s Class Action Park documentary, we learn all about the insane inside details about Vernon, New Jersey’s infamous waterpark and how it started off as an everyday park that turned into an incredibly frightening place that teenagers went to in order to experience the deadliness up close and personally. But why was Action Park such a terrifying place to visit? Well, it’s really all thanks to Gene Mulvihill, who designed the park.
Mulvihill was truly a reckless man that believed that the park-goers should essentially be in control of everything. He would design zany waterslides and various different motor rides, but you, as a guest, were always the ones in control. Perhaps the most talked-about ride at Action Park is none other than the Cannonball Loop, which goes down like a regular waterslide, but goes up into a loop at the very end.
People would always get stuck at the top, their teeth would often pop right out of their sockets due to them bumping against the sides of the slide, and they would have to be evacuated from the top nearly every day.
You would think that a couple of incidents like this would cause Mulvihill to completely disregard the ride as a whole, but no. He kept it there to stay, and he did the same for all of the other incredibly dangerous rides that some people even got killed on. Despite deaths occurring at Action Park on a frequent basis, shockingly, the park still remained open for business for years to come.
Throughout the duration of this documentary, we get narration and interview segments from various different people who were involved with Action Park in some way, whether it be park employees, simple guests, and even Mulvihill’s brother. In the film, they discuss their experiences while being at the park and how truly off-the-rails everything was during their time there. They discuss the many different mishaps and accidents that happened on a daily basis, the reckless after-hours employee parties, and the thought process (or lack thereof) that went into operating Action Park.
Seeing these people talk about their experiences while they were at Action Park was equal parts fascinating and heartbreaking. I was quite pleased to see that this documentary didn’t shy away from showing the emotional side of things. As I mentioned earlier, people actually died while at this park due to faulty engineering. Every once in a while, we cut to a woman named Esther Larsson, whose son died after going down a slide, went airborne, and hit his head on a rock on the way down.
She discusses the utter heartbreak and pain she went through when she found out this had happened and the pain she goes through all these years later. Her son was taken away from her that day and the wounds have and will never heal. It was excellent to see a balance of themes here. The film touches upon the zany and thrilling side of Action Park as well as the utterly tragic parts that came along with that.
Admittedly though, the transition between the zaniness and emotional aspects wasn’t too smooth and was a little bit jarring, to say the least. One minute, we see somebody joking around talking about how exciting the place was for teenagers, and the next we see a woman who’s son died there. It would have been nice if the tonal shift was done in a more natural, satisfying way.
But nevertheless, Class Action Park will open your eyes and may even turn you off from waterparks as it did to me the first time I heard about it five years ago. It’s a truly fascinating watch that excellently details the thrill and chaos of the world’s most dangerous amusement park – Action Park.
Class Action Park is an eye-opening, excellently detailed look at the most dangerous amusement park in the world. It’s equal parts exhilarating and tragic to watch.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: N/A
Distributed by: HBO Max
Release Date: August 27, 2020
Running Time: 90 minutes