Posted Tue Jun 9, 2015 at 12:00 PM PDT by Matthew Hartman
It's closing in on summer time. Kids will be out of school and in need of some recreational activity to keep them occupied and wear down those excessive high energy levels. Parents naturally flock with their children to the brightest beacons on the horizon - Amusement Parks! Growing up in South Eastern Michigan, I have fond memories of my parents hauling my sister and I 90 minutes south on one of the most dangerous expanses of expressway known to man just so we could reach Cedar Point - home to some of the largest and most terrifying rollercoasters in the world. Given the natural adrenaline kick that comes from having your body flung down a two hundred foot drop it's only natural that Hollywood would want to try and replicate that high. Having horror or science fiction thrillers set in a theme park or amusement park is only natural - and with 'Jurassic World' about to unleash some dinosaur fury on its guests this Friday - now is the best time to look at some of the best amusement park flicks. For all intents and purposes this list will be limited to sci-fi and horror movies; if we included comedies, we'd have to list the phone book. And with that, keep your arms and legs inside your cubicle or work station at all times while reading this article.
The Unofficial Universal Theme Park Trilogy
Amazingly a single studio has effectively remade the same movie three times! And no, I'm not referring to just the three previous 'Jurassic Park' films! Every 20 or 30 years, Universal Studios seems to have a need to have one of their franchise movies involve people meeting an untimely end at their favorite theme park destination. I'm shocked and saddened that the 'Fast and Furious' franchise hasn't used bumper cars yet!
'Revenge of The Creature' 1955
The first time Universal Pictures got the bright Idea to terrorize innocent amusement park bystanders with a franchise monster was in this 1955 followup to 'The Creature From The Black Lagoon.' After being captured from his Amazon River home, The Creature is hauled to Florida where he is to be the signature aquatic attraction for "Ocean Harbor" A.K.A. Sea World while being studied by a team of scientists. As with the first film, 'Revenge of the Creature' was shot in 3D - only this time many concessions were made to make the production run smoother - the chief of these was Creature performer Ricou Browning got to actually have breathing equipment in the suit! A novel idea except bubbles are frequently seen escaping through a small hole in the head making him look rather goofy. In fact the only truly terrifying moments in the film come at the expense of John Agar and his disturbingly tight and tiny swim trunks. It also stands as the only 'Creature' film to be appropriately savaged by Mystery Science Theater 3000. For a good bit of fun, keep a look out early in the film for one of the first onscreen appearances from some guy named Clint Eastwood playing a lab technician who has trouble keeping rats in their cage. Sadly this sequel has yet to make its proper 3D Blu-ray appearance stateside, but hopefully that will change soon as Germany and other European outlets will be getting their 3D Blu-ray discs later this summer!
'Jaws 3D' 1983
Just when you thought it was safe to visit Sea World! Prior to the recent resurgence of 3D on movie screens, the late 70s and 80s saw to it that cinema audiences were frequently gouged in the eyes with three dimensional entertainment that graced the biggest franchises of that time including 'Friday the 13th,' and 'The Amityville Horror.' Not even a gigantic great white shark was safe from the extra dimension with this semi-unrelated followup to 'Jaws.' Here we have Dennis Quaide, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCrokin, John Putch, Lea Thompson and then recent Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. all doing battle with a big momma shark and her pup that were trapped in a new state-of-the-art Sea World park. When the young pup shark dies after being captured, big momma Jaws gets angry and takes her wrath out on the park goers who are trapped in an underwater attraction. Boy is this a gloriously wonderfully bad movie. Personally I cannot wait for its 3D Blu-ray debut. Everything about this movie yells "gimmick" in that deliciously cheap sort of way. From the static floating shark to the clearly animated yellow submarine - I give all credit in the world to Director and one-time Spielberg cohort Joe Alves for trying to bring this one home. The man was always working against the current since the film was originally pitched as a National Lampoon film. But still, a shark terrorizes Sea World and that's all it needed to be for audiences to have a great time.
'Jurassic Park' 1993
This is perhaps the most obvious one on this entire list. It screams theme parks run amok that place stranded people in the maws of danger and was one of the biggest box office hits of the 1990s. Of course you have the human element with Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, and the youngsters Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards, but the main focus with this movie is the resurrected dinosaurs. When I saw this when I was 12 I was blown away by the CGI and animatronic special effects and was then equally terrified. Part of what is so brilliant about this film is how it combines the best elements of Steven Spielberg's films 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' and 'Jaws.' On one hand you marvel at what you're seeing on screen and then the next moment you're cowering in fear when Wayne Knight buys it at the claws of a spitter or when the raptors chase the kids through the kitchen. The sequels 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' and 'Jurassic Park III' offered their own fun parts but are mostly viewed as lesser entries. With some hope the sight of seeing Star Lord training raptors to hunt with him as he zips through the jungle will get the franchise back on track for more rampaging dinosaur fun in upcoming years. As much fun as the sequels are - it's the original film that still brings home the theme park terror in glorious fashion.
More Thrill Ride Horrors
'Westworld' 1973 & 'Futureworld' 1976
In addition to being a household name for writing numerous best selling novels - Michael Crichton was also a pretty decent screenwriter and director in his own right. He may have written and directed 'The Great Train Robbery' and the underrated 'Runaway' - but his principal cinematic achievement is the science fiction thriller 'Westworld.' A state of the art amusement park for well-to-do vacationers which allows people to live out their every fantasy through the use of technologically advanced robots. Two such vacationers happen to be wild west nuts. When a computer glitch causes the robots to go haywire James Brolin, Richard Benjamin and Alan Oppenheimer are stalked by Yul Brynner as the black clad Gunslinger. I've often wondered what happened to Brynner's character Chris from 'The Magnificent Seven' - now I know! Not only is this movie a great techno-thriller it also serves as the prototype for bigger and badder things to come in the form of Crichton's own 'Jurassic Park' novels and their film adaptations. 'Westworld' also spawned a sequel 'Futureworld' that takes place several years later at the same facility. It works as a nice little sequel, but it has the feeling of being unnecessary and doesn't quite live up to the original. It's still fun, but it suffers from a pronounced "been there, done that" vibe. Now with a miniseries on the 2016 TV horizon, this sort of theme park thrills and chills will hopefully find a new audience.
'Final Destination 3' 2006
One of my greatest theme park fears is getting stuck on top of a rollercoaster just as it's about to go down a two hundred foot drop. The chances of it happening are slim, but at least once a year it happens. With that, the third entry in the 'Final Destination' series hits me a bit harder than the pervious films. Directed by James Wong and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead - this third entry largely tosses story and character development out the window in favor of big spectacle gross-out kills, which for this particular franchise is all anyone could ask for! Originally this movie was planned to be shot and released in anaglyph 3D, but those plans were evidently scrapped for a cheaper production saving the 3D shenanigans for 'The Final Destination' and 'Final Destination 5.' Other than the amusement park setting, this movie is basically the first two films all over again without any of the returning cast.
Yeah, I know I said I wasn't going to include comedies, but this one is a "horror-comedy" so I'm bending the rule just a tad. Plus, as funny as it is, it has some pretty fantastic jump scares and enough zombie gore to make every genre fan happy. Starring Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin as a makeshift family of survivors, they take on hoards of the undead just so they can reach their favorite amusement park in LA - which is supposedly a "zombie-free" zone. Much like 'Final Destination 3' this one again plays on my fears of getting stuck on a ride, only this time there are zombies waiting to rip my flesh apart if I ever got down. Granted, most of this film plays like 'National Lampoon's Vacation' with zombies, but the fun of the road trip to the park and then the carnage that ensues once they get there makes the whole thing worthwhile. Sadly an ill-conceived TV show didn't get past the pilot stage. There is a rumored official sequel in the works and my only hope is our favorite group of gun-toting humans gets to go to Sea World. If it worked for 'Jaws' it can work here just as well!
'The Funhouse' 1981
Tobe Hooper had a heck of a run in the 80s. 'Invaders From Mars,' 'Poltergeist,' 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2' were all tons of fun, but one of my absolute favorites from when I was a kid watching horror movies edited for TV was 'The Funhouse.' A group of friends hang out at a carnival, smoking dope, necking, and riding the rides. They get the bright idea to sneak into the funhouse and spend the night inside the park. Only their plan for fun goes off the rails when they witness the murder of a fortune teller at the hands of a masked man. They flee out into the carnival hoping to escape the nightmare only to discover they're locked inside - with a murderous maniac. Basically this movie is 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' in a carnival. There isn't much more to say about it. The story is thin, the characters are kinda weak - but the kills are a blast!
'Ghoulies II' 1988
Armed with a bigger budget and better creature effects, this sequel to 'Ghoulies' is a riot from start to finish. Starring Damon Martin and the late great Royal Dano, the titular creatures are out to cause as much mayhem as they possibly can. Plot really doesn't matter here so long as our favorite toilet creatures get to inflict as much damage and destruction as they can loosening bolts on rides and running over people with bumper cars. After this one the franchise gets a bit weird, the Ghoulies even go to college at one point, so the series peaked with this entry.
This list could go on and on, but I think we've found ourselves the best of the best. There are a lot of great movies out there where rollercoasters and carnivals are the central setting for cinematic joy - if you have a favorite that didn't make the list, sound off in the forums! Happy movie watching and if you do find yourself at a theme park, just be careful - as we've seen from the above examples the fun can stop abruptly and with deliciously bloody results!
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