The movie Rollercoaster brings terrorism to America’s theme parks

I love theme parks… but I don’t ride rollercoasters.

There’s a lot of reasons… I don’t like heights, I’m not a thrill-seeker… but one of the main reasons is because, at the age of 10 years old, I watched the CBS Broadcast Television Premiere of a movie called Rollercoaster.

The premise of the movie is straightforward – a young man is planting bombs on amusement park rides (primarily rollercoasters) around the country. The film opens with his first act of terrorism, which sends cars filled with people flying into the air… with horrifying results.

So much for me every riding one of THOSE.

The movie is written by the creative team of Richard Levinson and William Link, who are more famously known as the creators of Columbo. The movie has its own version of Columbo, a theme park inspector named Harry Calder who is undergoing shock treatment to stop smoking (state of the art therapy in 1977, I’m sure). Calder is played by George Segal, who does a great job as the lead (though he is, effectively, a Columbo surrogate). He goes toe-to-toe with the young man who is committing the terror attaches, played by Timothy Bottoms. A supporting cast of strong character actors lent gravitas to the proceeding, including Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark.

The movie is another “child of Jaws”… a film that brings terror to the familiar (in this case, an amusement park). It’s better than most of the other films inspired by Spielberg’s classic (One of the lesser works, The Car, was covered in my last Neglected Cinema column).

The chase to find Bottom’s character before he kills again is quite thrilling, and there are some nice twists and turns to the proceedings. It’s not groundbreaking or breathtaking filmmaking, but it is a fun watch… and has a satisfying (and appropriate) conclusion.

Final thoughts: Look for a very young Helen Hunt as Calder’s daughter and a baby-faced Steve Guttenberg in his first (tiny) role. Also look for the 1970s rock band Sparks “performing” in the final segment of the film. Lalo Schifrin, of Mission Impossible fame, does a fine (though repetitive) score for the film. And be sure to pay close attention to some of the location used during filming: this movie is a great look at the top amusement parks of the 70s, and while tastes have obviously changed I have a real nostalgia for those polyester days of yore.

Except for the rollercoasters. Don’t much care for them.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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