This disaster thriller seems like a made-for-TV flick but features a couple of bloody good practical effects and a Lalo Schifrin score.
A deranged killer sabotages roller coasters across the country and threatens to kill more if his ransom isn’t paid. Let’s dig into 1977’s ROLLERCOASTER, directed by James Goldstone!
As I See It
The most egregious element of the Steven Spielberg masterpiece Jaws is that the mayor won’t allow for the beaches to close because he’s worried about the money the holiday weekend would generate.
There is no lack of this anti-human, capitalist mentality in film or reality. It was the driving force in that film, the whole reason bad shit kept happening. If people had stopped going in the water, they wouldn’t have had a movie.
Therein lies the problem with this film. There wasn’t some corporate pig refusing to shutter amusement parks because some deranged killer sabotaged roller coasters.
Honestly, there had to be. Otherwise, you just ask, “Why didn’t they just close all the parks?”
The debate about whether it is a disaster film or a thriller is as silly as the sub-genre debate gets. It’s both.
The opening roller coaster crash is bloody, practical, and well executed (besides the injury of stunt men). This film featured an audio technology that didn’t quite take off called Sensurround. It was used both to record audio and to present the film and was reportedly bass-heavy (“low end”). Other films that were presented with this technology were Battlestar Galactica (1978) and Alien (1979).
It also featured yet another wonderfully terrifying score from the great Lalo Schifrin.
The late George Segal (Harry) doesn’t have much in the way of genre flicks on his resume, but two standouts for me are his role as Steven’s (Matthew Broderick) dad in The Cable Guy and as Jack in the sitcom Just Shoot Me.
Timothy Bottoms (The Young Man) had a solid leading man run in the seventies as well as features in films like Peter Bogdonovich’s The Last Picture Show. Most recently, he played the Grandpa in Frank Sabatella’s vampire flick The Shed.
The father of Jane and Peter, Henry Fonda (Davenport), had a long and storied career, including Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and the major war film Midway.
Helen Hunt (Tracy) was just fourteen in this, being her first film. It’s easy to recognize her.
You may not know this group, even though they keep making great records no matter the trend or decade, but Sparks makes an appearance during the lead into the climax at the amusement park. Their tracks “Fill-Er-Up” and “Big Boy” off the album Big Beat are featured.
I would suggest, if you have any interest in music, especially with a lean towards any pop over the past forty years, to give their documentary a watch on Netflix: The Sparks Brothers. Even if it’s not your style, you can’t help but appreciate how much they’ve accomplished, how many artists they’ve inspired, and how many trends they’ve set.
Of Gratuitous Nature
I’m sure there was no intent to injure. But part of the problem when you achieve significant effects practically is putting stuntmen and actors at risk of injury, or worse (see The Twilight Zone Movie). The roller coaster crash in the opening looks real because it mostly is. Two stuntmen were seriously injured during the stunt gone wrong.
Timothy Bottoms’ voice (if it’s not dubbed) is smooth and menacing on a level with Douglas Rain’s reserved and brilliant voice performance in 2001: A Space Odyssey as Hal 9000.
Ripe for a Remake
After the Final Destination films, can anyone really build any more terror wrapped around accidents at amusement parks (or on planes, at work, on the highway, etc.)?
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
Shout Factory released a Blu-Ray which features a new interview with writer Tommy Cook and the original SENSURROUND soundtrack.