Fun Turns Deadly at “Class Action Park” – The Fordham Ram

Renee Agostini, Contributing Writer

The 2020 Hulu documentary “Class Action Park” tells the story of a man who wanted to change the future of amusement parks in New Jersey and the incredible lengths he went to bring the country’s attention to the Garden State. The film also describes his creation of an amusement park notorious for its dangerous, sometimes deadly environment. Being born and raised in New Jersey, I was eager to learn about this slice of the state’s history. I was not disappointed in this documentary as it provides a prime example of American greed. 

The narrative centers around the antics and crimes of Gene Mulvihill, the founder of Action Park and the loudest supporter of its rule-free atmosphere. The film portrays him as a typical villain and begins by describing the roots of his greed and disregard for the law.  Occasionally taking on the essence of political corruption stories like “All the President’s Men,” the documentary details Mulvihill’s actions, which often resulted in injuries and deaths in the park. The founder also collaborated with town officials, owners of surrounding businesses and investors who helped him cover up his scandals.  

The film analyzes Mulvihill in many different lights, offering opinions from former employees, guests and victims of his ill-run operation. Their differing views offer a refreshing insight on the story of the park and give the film a balance between both the lighthearted and tragic aspects of Action Park. he commentary of former guests initially comes across as comical when they describe with nostalgia the poorly constructed water slides that sometimes left people bruised, scraped and with missing teeth and broken bones. Former employees  — teenagers at the time  — look back with fondness at their first job. However, there is a sinister undertone: The narration describes the atmosphere as resembling “Lord of the Flies” or “The Purge” due to the near nonexistence of adult supervisors or employees.

The balance of comedy and tragedy may cause you to laugh at times due to the sheer ridiculousness of Mulvihill and the sarcastic commentary of former guests, but it only thinly veils the chilling events that took place there. Some may view the script’s language as insensitive to those who suffered due to the negligence of park officials, but I felt much of this commentary was useful for understanding why so many people still visited the park while knowing its dangerous reputation. The documentary also offered a glance into how a visit would actually feel  — something foreign to current young adults, who have lived their childhood and adolescence with many more rules and regulations.

While “Class Action Park” brought comical insight to the daily activities and dangers of the park, the film did not avoid the horrific reality that many guests and their families experienced. It shares the story of George Larson, a young man who was the first to die at Action Park. The interviews with his family give the audience a clear picture of the seriousness of this supposedly fun experiment of wild rides and an absence of regulations. This segment of the film  also gives the audience a look into Mulvihill’s callousness as it describes his lies and efforts to avoid responsibility for Larson’s death. It gives a complete breakdown of how the park owner’s fun and games played a role not only in designing deadly rides, but also in bending the law to fit his needs.

After watching this film I was left with more questions than answers. It is hard to believe that Mulvihill could continue the operation of Action Park from 1978 to 1996, even after five deaths, for which there was little investigation and few repercussions within the years of 1980 to 1987. Even more confusing is the popularity of the park after so many deaths and injuries, a sign that many visitors were attracted to the danger. While questions remain, “Class Action Park” gives a detailed account of a seldom-discussed true crime story. I recommend the film to anyone who enjoys learning about the more incredible side of crime history in America. I assure you that you are in for a wild ride. 

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