The Death of Ocean View Park (1979)

Welcome one and all to Ocean View Park, the gassiest place on Earth! You might think it’s called that because of the green cotton candy the awkwardly shy Jenny Flowers is spinning between bouts of self-loathing or because frazzled college student and popcorn machine expert Phil Brady, who is also saddled with a pregnant clairvoyant wife (this is a total 1970s TV movie, isn’t it?), is handing out boxes of popcorn to disgruntled customers angry at the machine being broken down.

And it very well could have been, but the film never indicated that star Mike Connors’ frequently pained facial expressions were caused by an inordinate amount of guest flatulence. The film does indicate, and this is very instructive for future theme park designers, that the gas main running through the park probably shouldn’t be right next to the old wooden roller coaster.

Connors plays Sam, the co-owner of the Virginia based amusement park, and a guy prone to worrying about every little thing. Whether it’s the bumper cars starting up on their own in the middle of the night, the emergency generator failing to kick in when the primary generator gets overloaded, or even a sandcastle at the nearby beach mysteriously caving in, Sam immediately sees this as a sign that something is wrong and results in his daily demand that the park be closed down.

Sam’s partner is Tom Flood (Martin Landau in a role that is surely the only time an Oscar winning actor fell off a Ferris wheel) and Tom has seen the future! It’s quite different from the future that Phil’s wife sees (hers is more of a Final Destination-type future) and involves the building of development called Paradise City. Paradise City will be housing and businesses all built around Ocean View Park, ensuring the park’s success for years to come. Despite the precognition mumbo jumbo and the barely explained hurricane that somehow left a subsurface current running around offshore causing problems, the idea that Ocean View Park was going to be the centerpiece of a successful planned community was the thing in the film that required the most suspension of disbelief.

The Ocean View Park in the movie is a dirty, decrepit park that doesn’t look like it could be centerpiece of anything other than a giant demolition job. And luckily for us fans of massive explosions, that’s what it turned out to be!

While The Death of Ocean View Park unsurprisingly follows that 70s disaster film template, the 95 minute run time its ABC Friday Movie origins required forces it to pick up the pace compared to its more longer and more sluggish feature film cousins. While there were still characters with their own personal crises playing out against the backdrop of impending disaster, they were pared down to just two outside of Sam’s story.

Phil has to contend with his wife constantly screaming about the visions she is having about the park being destroyed. While from a story standpoint, the introduction of the psychic angle and her trip to an institute where she has her psychic powers tested is a needless goofy distraction, from an action standpoint it was great because it gave the movie an excuse to show us the park blowing up a couple of times before it really happened at the end.

Jenny and Billy, a Navy guy who unfortunately looks like professional golfer/casino spokesman John Daly, are a pair of inexperienced misfits who find love on the midway. Nothing much comes of their story other than having to be rescued from the Ferris wheel, though Billy distinguished himself earlier when he couldn’t get it up for his skanky one night stand he picked up at a bar. He’s probably the only man in the history of the late 1970s to experience erectile dysfunction!

For his part, Sam is a widower with three kids which means that Paula, the sexy Navy weather expert who used to work for Sam at the park when she was teenager (nice grooming Sam!), better be ready for all hands on her deck! He keeps telling his kids he’s just consulting her about the weather, but they know better and can’t wait for him to marry her since they’re tired of frozen waffles for breakfast! Maybe she should think long and hard about whether she really wants him to rescue her from the collapsing coaster.

While unremarkable in its setup, The Death of Ocean View Park unexpectedly distinguishes itself with its impressive climax. Many disaster movies (especially TV movies like Flood!) have to rely on dated special effects that can’t help but fail to deliver the scale of mayhem promised all movie. Here though, the filmmakers were able to blow up Ocean View Park for real! Having closed the year before, the real life Ocean View Park and its rides were destroyed for the film resulting in an impressive fiery conclusion that makes the film worth a look all by itself. For fans of routine disaster movies and those with an interest in amusement parks of a bygone era, its a pretty fun ride.

© 2017 MonsterHunter

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