Fantasia 2020 Review: CLASS ACTION PARK Must be Seen to be Believed
Fantasia 2020 Review: CLASS ACTION PARK
Sometimes when you see something so batshit, you don't know where to start.
Class Action Park is the new documentary from Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott about the world's most dangerous amusement park. It's a wild, audacious doc that truly must be seen to be believed. Canadian viewers with a Fantasia 2020 badge viewed it tonight during the festival. You can read the festival's write-up on their site here and watch the trailer at the end of this post.
In Vernon, NJ in the '80s and '90s, Action Park lured many kids and teens from neighboring suburbs and cities to reckless abandon, sun and skin burns, hospitalization, and in the worst cases, their deaths.
To understand how things went so wrong, we must talk a little about the man who was responsible for all of it.
Action Park was founded and run by Eugene Mulvihill, a criminal who'd gotten banished from Wall St. for selling worthless penny stocks who somehow got an angel investor to throw money at him.
Mulvihill apparently drew the designs for his rides on napkins and hired "engineers" rejected from the rest of the business.
Seems like a good idea, right? The ride testers were teen employees who were given $100 by "Uncle Gene" to take a spin at the injury wheel. Many of these kids lost teeth because the ride wasn't constructed by actual professionals.
Then there was the ball that you could get in, and roll down a PVC track, only to bounce off the rails and roll across the highway. Plastic is never used in amusement rides because the material is not safe.
And on your way to the Aqua Skoot for more misery, you could walk barefoot and burn yourself on asphalt. Or you could drink as much alcohol as you like and get into fights. Sex, alcohol, and drugs were readily and often imbibed in by the teen employees, particularly during off-hours.
A bonus: none of the teen employees were actual lifeguards or security guards, so if you went to Action Park, you really were taking your life into your hands. There were six-year-olds jumping off 20-foot cliffs into the water.
Sometimes you could sail down a water slide into creek water and go into shock from how cold the water was. You could sail down the hill slide and it could simply come apart and you'd be thrown into rocks. Good times!
If you wanted to get really nuts, you could drink all day and ride your go-kart across the highway to the other side of the park, from Motorworld. On that side, you could also drive actual speedboats through all the dead fish, jump a dock, and land on top of another boat.
Worse, people died both at the park and as a result of being hurt there. A few people drown in the "grave pool." One was electrocuted in the Kayak Experience due to improperly grounded electrical "work."
Here, Class Action Park changes in tone from awe, shock, and outrageous giggles to a much somber note. We hear from the mother of the first person to die from shoddy construction and landscaping at Action Park, and it's heartbreaking.
On to the not-so-great with Class Action Park: the various talking heads, intercut so much, sure could use their names and roles in the subject matter. It's a common mistake made in docs; because the filmmakers are so familiar with these people, they forget that their viewers are not.
I would also loved to have seen a short explanation of sorts --- even someone simply stating something --- on why/how/if Mulvihill got away with all of this. There are so many crimes committed that we hear about, aside from the breathtaking levels of negligence, such as: fraud; theft; tax evasion; embezzlement; manslaughter; and a billion other legal technicalities. At one, mob ties are mentioned. Was it that connection in addition to payoffs and the area's love of tourist dollars? I'd have liked to have heard theories.
We learn that the son of Mulvihill is planning on reopening Action Park, which is horrifying enough on its own, but we don't hear any proclamations of safety. Good luck, everyone!
However, the truly baffling choice was the strangely positive ending. The editing, sound design, and score all ensure that we're supposed to feel... upbeat at the end. However that end is of the couple who lost their son (the first park-induced death) to Class Action Park --- standing in a graveyard, the camera hovering over their grief. Don't tell me I should feel happy here. Tonally, it's a ghastly choice.
If you didn't catch the film playing tonight at Fantasia, you can watch it soon: HBO Max will stream Class Action Park exclusively, starting on August 27th.