The Reel Review

B

During the 1980s, Action Park, a New Jersey amusement water park about an hour north of New York City, became notorious for its insanely dangerous rides, created under the helm of shady former investment banker Gene Mulvihill. This HBO Max documentary dives beneath the surface to explore the fascination by young thrill seekers for the park.

Action Park’s wave pool, nicknamed by employees as the grave pool.

Blending an impressive array of archival footage, f-bomb laden interviews with guests and former park employees, and some pretty hysterical cartoon renderings, the first hour of the film features one jaw dropping tale after another, describing each of the poorly designed rides at a park where adult supervision (and apparently lifeguards) were routinely lacking. It is at the same time hilarious and horrifying.

Action Park, you see, was run largely by teenagers – some even underage. Its nostalgic allure was that it could be as dangerous an experience as its visitors wanted to make it – which, for its many devil-may-care teens, was typically a lot. The stories of the many, many, MANY injuries however, is enough to give any parent serious PTSD.

Action Park’s water slides, which shot visitors out like cannonballs at a terrifyingly fast, disorienting speed.

The final half hour of the film is where the documentary takes an abrupt, more ominous tone, as it describes the deaths, the whitewashing by money-minded town officials, and the reckless, law-breaking manner by which Mulvihill operated his business. While the quality of the documentary has a cheesy, low brow feel befitting its subject, it is one morbidly fascinating ride.

REEL FACTS

• Besides Class Action Park, the other nicknames for the legendary water park were Accident Park and Traction Park.

• Actor Johnny Knoxville used Action Park as inspiration for his 2018 film, Action Point.

• A book by Mulvihill’s son Andy (Amazon purchase link below) has been optioned for a TV series in development for the Hulu streaming platform.

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