13 Unamusement Park Attractions
Article By: Sean Abley
Sometimes they’re fun because they’re dangerous. Sometimes they’re fun because they’re creepy. Sometimes they’re fun because they’re low rent and grimy. Carnivals, theme parks, roadside attractions—we have a morbid curiosity with courting the weird, the twisted, the unbelievable, and near-death experiences while strapped into metal harnesses. Oh, and churros, too. We never believe we’ll really be harmed while pursuing these endorphin-inducing activities (especially the churros), but sometimes… If you want to live to see your next helping of overpriced cotton candy, avoid these thirteen rides and attractions.
1. The roller coaster from 'Final Destination 3' (2006)
After the plane crash of the original, and highway pile up in the sequel, the FD crew decided roller coaster peril was next for Death’s design. If you’re scared of roller coasters, this clip will definitely give you a grade-A quality panic attack, but the behind-the-scenes footage, where you see how much green screen is involved in killing a bunch of teenagers, will bring your blood pressure back down.
2. The Paratrooper from 'The Fury' (1978)
Most carnival rides are death machines on the best of days, but add an angry psychic to the mix and you’re guaranteed a body count. Andrew Stevens stars as the boy with something extra, lured into service by The Government until he discovers they killed his family. Before he finds out the truth, however, he’s lead to believe his father met his fate at the hands of men from the Middle East. So naturally, all men from the Middle East must pay, even those enjoying a nice evening at the local carnival.
3. The funhouse from 'The Funhouse' (1981)
A group of interestingly named, “Where are they now?” young actors from the 80s—Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, and Miles Chapin—decide to spend the night in the not-so-funhouse from this Tobe Hooper-directed slasher flick. After witnessing the murder of a fortune teller prostitute (Sylvia Miles at her Sylvia Milesiest) by a deformed carny, the quartet blow their cover and spend the rest of the film trying to escape the now-locked attraction with their lives. (The funhouse is apparently attached to the owner/operator’s living quarters, so there’s much more space within which to hide and be murdered than one might think.) An interesting side note—the novelization of Larry Block’s screenplay was written by Owen West, aka Dean Koontz.
4. The roller coaster from 'Rollercoaster' (1977)
Classic wooden roller coasters are fun for the exact reason Rollercoaster is fun—we’re always afraid the cars will fly off the tracks and kill everyone on board. And in Rollercoaster they do! Yay! Well, one does. The film starts out with a bang as a bomb set by Timothy Bottoms detonates, causing a coaster to take a flier into the crowd. Sadly after that great beginning, the rest of the film is just ride inspector George Segal making sure Bottoms doesn’t get the chance to repeat his bad behavior. To be fair, there is a decent amount of tension in the cat-and-mouse game Bottoms plays again and again at different parks, and it’s fun to watch Segal play this silly material as if the gig weren’t just a paycheck. But we wish they’d included at least one more amusement park deathpiece. Whac-a-Mole with hand grenades perhaps?
5. The Museum of Monsters & Madmen from 'House Of 1,000 Corpses' (2003)
Sure, they’re laughing now, but they won’t be when life imitates art and the patrons become part of the ride. Rob Zombie’s take on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre “they took a wrong turn” genre is an interesting misfire. The problem is the film’s derivative nature; Zombie is too slavishly devoted to the source material for this effort to feel new or original. But it’s pretty and fun with enough redeeming qualities to justify a rental.
6. The Gunslinger from 'Westworld' (1973)
“Have we got a vacation for you!” We imagine the pitch for this film being “In the future, Disneyland’s ‘Hall of Presidents’ robots will have sex with you.” West World is an adult theme park populated with fun-lovin’, and fun-givin’, robots. You can shoot and kill them in a duel, or even give them another kind of bang for $1,000 a day. (The same holds true for the neighboring Medieval and Roman Worlds.) Yul Brynner plays “The Gunslinger,” a robot cowboy (based on Brynner’s character from The Magnificent Seven) who malfunctions and starts killing the guests. Comic actor Richard Benjamin is inexplicably cast as the lead, which works for the beginning of the film, but not so much when the bullets in the guns turn out to be real. A huge success, the film spawned a sequel, Futureworld (featuring the return of The Gunslinger), and a TV series, Beyond Westworld. Keep an eye out for the upcoming HBO TV series produced by J.J. Abrams…
7. The Dark Ride from 'Dark Ride' (2006)
Much like the previously mention The Funhouse, a group of attractive young people decide to spend the night in a closed and presumably haunted dark ride. See, ten years ago twin sisters got themselves murdered in the ride, and it was closed down. Now Jamie-Lynn Sigler and her buddies who have much lower IMDB star ratings take it upon themselves to be stalked and murdered for our entertainment. (Can you guess which star of The Sopranos lives?) Dark Ride isn’t going to change the world, but there are a lot of fun kills done well, and sometimes you want grilled cheese instead of steak, right?
8. The Saltair Pavilion from 'Carnival of Souls' (1962)
Herk Harvey, educational filmmaker, made one feature film that shows a promise unfulfilled. After the car in which she’s riding hurtles off a bridge and plunges into the river below, Mary (Candace Hilligoss) emerges from the water as the soul survivor of the accident. From this point on Mary’s life becomes a series of unexplainable events, including becoming invisible to those around her, and being stalked by a mysterious, silent man. She’s drawn to the pavilion (unnamed in the film), only to find out what really happened in that car crash.
9. The haunted house from 'The Park' (2003)
There’s a whole lotta terrible at the park in The Park, but the haunted house is most definitely the attraction to avoid. Years ago a young girl fell from the ferris wheel, then the park’s owner hung himself from that same ride. Years later an investigative reporter checking out the park is sucked into the ground by some paranormal force. Cue the reporter’s sister and a group of her friends on the hunt for the missing sibling. A typical haunted location movie would follow the template used countless times before-- but this is a Hong Kong haunted location movie, so things get really weird.
10. The roller coaster from 'Fatal Attraction' (1987)
So you had an affair, and then you broke it off, and then she got a little…clingy, and then she boiled your pet and decided to kidnap your child and take her on a day trip to an amusement park. But totally worth it, am I right guys? Problematic both upon its initial release and in hindsight for what it says about women and mental illness, Fatal Attraction is still a great ride. Michael Douglas turns in yet another “affluent straight white guy put upon by a woman” performance (we’re meant to sympathize…sort of), but Glenn Close’s work, despite the role, is riveting.
11. Blast Off from 'Zombieland' (2009)
1. In the months after a strain of mad cow disease morphs into a zombie outbreak, four survivors—Columbus, Tallahassee, Witchita and Little Rock—drive across the country fueled by the rumor that a theme park in the Los Angeles area is free of the undead. Once they arrive at “Pacific Playland” (we’re assuming Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain all said, “Hell no…”) they fire up all the rides and settle in for a theme park nerd’s dream come true. Oh, wait, who likes theme parks more then nerds? Zombies, apparently. The noise calls all the ‘bies to the yard and sooner than you can say “You must be this tall” Witchita and Little Rock are trapped on the Blast Off.
12. The sideshow from 'Torture Garden' (1967)
Worst sideshow ever! A group of carnival goers visit a mediumly scary sideshow, then are lured into the by-invitation-only area by Burgess Meredith. There the quintet’s ultimate, twisted, bizarre fates are on display. The Brits do love their anthologies (a trend recently revived by filmmakers working on a budget), and this is a lot of fun. We’re not sure which segment we like best; the possessed piano exacting revenge, or the actress discovering all her costars are robots. Hmmm… In any case, Torture Garden was written by the legendary Robert Bloch and directed by the legendary Freddie Francis—two great tastes that taste great together.
13. Everything from 'Closed for the Season' (2010)
The premise for this low budget extravaganza from Jay Woelfel (Live Evil, Demonicus, Things) is so perfect, you wonder why you haven’t seen it before: Something bad happened at the now-abandoned theme park many years ago, and now two random 20-somethings must experience, and survive, every attraction to escape its deadly clutches. Considering carnival attractions are rigged for you to fail even when they aren’t evil should give you some indication of the task at hand in Closed for the Season.
Sean Abley is a playwright, screenwriter and horror film journalist. His latest book of interviews is Out in the Dark: Interviews with Gay Horror Filmmakers, Actors and Authors.