James Goldstone’s unconventional disaster movie casts George Segal as Harry Calder, a ride inspector on the tail of a serial bomber (Timothy Bottoms), who’s rigging rollercoasters with explosives.
We first meet our (never named) male antagonist during the opening credits, eyeing his target – The Rocket – through binoculars. This first explosion, which flattens several unsuspecting riders, comes after a nail-biting build-up.
In a state of relaxation familiar to the psychopath, the villain nibbles his cotton candy and tries his hand at the rifle range, fingering the red button on his radio-controlled detonator – until it’s not so much a question of when as who among the happy, high-coloured public will meet their ugly end.
The strain of tracking the bomber down prevents Calder from quitting smoking and makes Richard Widmark twitch uncontrollably.
Though a product of its time – a slice of 1970s America – Rollercoaster is unique in using and abusing our love of the loop-de-loop, turning our death-wish gratifications to face us and spinning the thrill-ride into a thriller.
The film was originally released in ‘Sensurround‘, a short-lived process that made cinema seats shake at appropriate moments.
Watch out for a 14-year-old Helen Hunt as George Segal’s daughter.
The rollercoaster featured in the climax of the movie is the Great American Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. It opened in 1976 and was the first roller coaster to feature a complete 360-degree vertical loop. The other amusement Parks featured in the film were Ocean View Park in Norfolk, Virginia, and Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia.