Director: James Goldstone
Starring: George Segal, Richard Widmark, Timothy Bottoms, Henry Fonda, Harry Guardino, Susan Strasberg, Helen Hunt
Plot: When a bomber (Bottoms) plants a device on the tracks of a rollercoaster causing it to derail, it soon becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse as Safety Inspector Harry (Segal) attempts to stop him before he strikes again.
Review: A film probably best known for its rather spectacular opening roller coaster crash than the film the footage was taken from this would be one of the few feature films that director James Goldstone directed spending most of his career directing TV Pilots for Ironside and the original Star Trek were his work was not only noted for its momentum but also the “fifteen-minute cliffhangers” he brought to them. A film equally noteworthy for being one of the four films which Universal presented in “Sensurround” were selected theatres were low-frequency bass speakers were used to create vibrations at key moments, which ultimately proved to be so successful that it cracked the plaster of some of the theatres which choose to use it.
Despite the impressive opening crash this is surprisingly a much more subtle film than I was expecting as Goldstone instead here chooses to craft a tense thriller with the rest of the film plays off the tension of not knowing were the bomber has hidden his next device let alone the mind games between Timothy Bottoms unnamed bomber and George Segal’s Safety inspector Harry. Bottoms however was criticised for being too boring as a villain in reviews for the film when it was originally released but here he gives a performance reminisant of Kevin Spacey’s John Doe in Seven which here really works for the film, especially when he is spending the majority of the film taunting Harry over the phone or a walkie talkie, all the time knowing that he holds the power in this situation with Harry left to play the unwilling puppet in the proceedings.
Segal meanwhile is an engaging leading man as the frustrated safety inspector he works in humorous subtle digs at his incompitant bosses while also having to work with the local police chief and Richard Widmark’s tough FBI agent. While it might seem that his talents are perhaps alittle wasted here seeing how he spends most of the film talking to the Bomber over the walkie talkie while moving through a variety of amusement rides which for theme park fans provides its own enjoyment with the film being shot on location at Ocean View Park, Kings Dominion and Six Flags.
The Cinematography throughout is extremely impressive especially with the rollercoaster footage were large portions are shot from the front of the carriage creating that simulator feel of being on the ride which is a nice touch especially when Goldstone isn’t planning on giving the audience any more crashes. The fact that they are shot from so many angles including some impressive profile shots is really add to the excitement, especially during the finale were the cat and mouse games are played out on the opening of the six flags Revolution the world’s first coaster to use a clothoid-shaped vertical loop and more fun against the backdrop of a Sparks concert a gig which had rumoured to had been offered to both the Bay City Rollers and KISS the later turning it down in favour of doing KISS Meet The Phantom of the Park. Sparks would later recall doing the film as one of the worst things they have ever done which I had to wonder if this was before or after they did their 2006’s album Hello Young Lovers. Despite what they feel about it, the high energy performance here really play well against the tension of this final game between the bomber and police.
While it might initially be a little disappointing to see what seems to be setup as another disaster movie dissolve into a thriller it ultimately proves to be the right move here, especially with Segal’s performance certainly able to carry the film so that such shocks are never required even though the film had originally been planned to be a lot more gruesome with both the opening crash and how the bomber ultimately meets his demise, a plaque for which can still be found on the rollercoaster at Six Flags. While perhaps not a film that rewards repeat viewing it’s one still worth checking out especially for the opening crash as you wonder just how they pulled it off.