“It was a place where death was tolerated.” One of the most legendarily dangerous waterparks of all time and the subject of countless youtube videos and oral histories, the now-defunct Action Park finally gets its own full-length documentary. Part of Fantasia Festival’s virtual lineup, Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III’s Class Action Park mixes never before seen footage, talking head interviews with former guests and employees, and adorably primitive 2D animation to tell the story of a deeply corrupt and negligent New Jersey business that flagrantly broke countless safety rules and claimed the lives of at least six attendees. The brainchild of Gene Mulvihill, a Wall Street type who was eventually kicked out of the business after his firm was busted for selling worthless securities, Action Park eventually closed in 1996.
The first hour sports a light and breezy tone and comes jam-packed with anecdotes both amusing and horrifying. Mulvihill’s son Andrew, who also served as CEO, seems gleefully unapologetic – the filmmakers could have pressed him a bit more about his role in this blatantly unsafe operation that allowed teenagers as young as 14 to operate rides. Of all the interviewees, comedian Chris Gethard gets the most screen time, and his vivd recollections are consistently hilarious. The New Jersey native grew up going to Action Park and guides viewers through most of the dangerous attractions including the the Cannonball Loop, an waterslide added in 1983 that threw riders down a steep hill into a full loop before spitting them out into a dirty, shallow pond. Stories of its inception and testing period, including Mulvihill bribing teenagers with 100 dollar bills to risk their lives as human dummies, truly boggle the mind.
Other hazardous attractions are throughly explored, like the Tarzan Swing and the Aqua Scoot, which also happened to be infested with bees. Footage from MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball shows members of Alice in Chains commenting on the Super Speed Slide, a steep beast notorious for giving riders their first colonic. Viewers are also treated to stories about prototypes for stuff that thankfully never came to fruition, and they’re just as misguided and ridiculous as you’d expect – a story about the redundantly named “Man in the Ball in the Ball” attraction is another one that’ll make your jaw hit the floor.
About two-thirds of the way in, one starts to wonder when the filmmakers will address the lives lost at Action Park – the insane level of carelessness eventually led to multiple drownings and an electrocution. The “OMG LOL I can’t believe this place existed” tone of the first hour abruptly shifts to a more serious discussion with Esther Larsson, a still-grieving mother whose son George Jr. died in an accident on the Alpine Slide. The pain still present in her voice 39 years after the accident is heartbreaking, and the aggressively assholish manner in which Mulvihill responded to this event sends chills down the spine. This last portion of the film further interrogates the park owner’s overall shady dealings by interviewing a local newspaper reporter who got a little too close to the flame.
You can’t make a documentary about ’80’s NYC crime shit and capitalism run amok without mentioning our current joke of a “president,” though Trump’s tenuous involvement with the park might actually surprise viewers. The intentions were probably of a self-protective nature, but even he knew not to get involved with this shady deathtrap masquerading as a theme park.
Class Action Park is currently at Fantasia Festival in Montreal and hits HBO Max on August 27