When you head out with friends to a theme park you expect to enjoy a day of well-regulated thrills and safety-approved spills. What you don't expect to do is die.
Sure, you may be silently praying to your deity of choice as you are strapped down into a brightly painted cart that's about to be hurled along a gravity-defying track at ridiculous speed or buckled tightly into a seat that's about to be dropped from a stomach-churning height, but deep down you know that in a couple of minutes the ride will come to a gentle stop and you'll wobble off with a big goofy grin on your windswept face.
It's the sense of danger that makes it fun. If there was actual danger involved then it wouldn't be fun. It'd be terrifying, no one would ever go and the theme park would quickly close down. Right?
As the ample archival footage in Neon's hugely entertaining new doco Class Action Park proves, the very real, occasionally fatal, danger at New Jersey's Action Park became as big an attraction as its wildly unsafe rides.
For all of the 80s and much of the 90s America's most dangerous theme park left its patrons battered, bruised, broken and, if you were disastrously unlucky, bereaved.
The park was divided into two distinct worlds separated by a roaring highway running straight through the middle. An instant red flag that things at Action Park may not all be above board.
On one side was Motorworld, where attractions included a brewery pub that'd been imported from Germany, little jetboats that were prone to capsizing when whizzing around the snake-infested, petrol-polluted lake and a racing track with dinky race cars that could be unlocked to reach speeds of over 100km/h.
On the other was Waterworld, the main draw for the rampaging hordes of mostly unsupervised youth each summer. Here you found the innocuous-looking but actually quite deadly Tidal Wave Pool, which claimed two lives. The Kayak Experience which simulated an advanced-level whitewater rafting course with all the hazards and risk that goes along with that. Someone died on this as well after being electrocuted when his paddle accidentally touched the wires of an underwater fan churning the ride's rapids.
But perhaps most terrifying - and legendary - of all was The Cannonball Loop. An enclosed vertical water slide that shot you down a hill at enough speed to successfully hurl you around its rollercoaster style loop at the bottom. Well, that was the idea. People lost teeth, skin and consciousness riding this insane looking thing. The sheer amount of injuries it caused was too much even for Action Park and it was shut down after only a month of operation.
You may be seeing a pattern here. The park was hugely unsafe. But, even as its fearsome reputation spread, people kept going because they thought it was safe because a theme park has to be safe. That's like the law or something.
What people didn't know was that Action Park's dubious and highly litigious owner Eugene Mulvihill was greasing the right palms and dragging out every lawsuit that came his way in his determined efforts to keep the park open and unregulated.
Staunchly anti-rules, the disgraced former stockbroker threw himself into his theme park with gusto. He was personally involved in making every ride more dangerous and also designed many of the park's crazier rides himself, despite having no engineering background or clue as to how things worked.
The extent of his safety measures before opening a new ride was to bribe his teen employees $100 to ride the thing.
Class Action Park brings this incredibly strange but true story to life with a huge amount of video footage and new interviews with former employees and park visitors. The recklessness is jaw-dropping and the gung-ho attitude of its guests admirable. Surviving a day at Action Park became a badge of honour for many of the then-teenaged guests.
Moving as fast as an Aqua Skoot - another hazardous park ride - the doco is frequently hilarious as the carefree days of ye-olde-1980s are warmly recounted with a sense of bemused disbelief at what they all survived.
Of course, not all guests survived Action Park and the documentary doesn't shy away from showing the fatal consequences of Mulvihill's brazen disregard for the safety of his visitors.
After all the jokey anecdotes the flip into more serious subject matter is like getting blindsided while riding a bumper boat. But it gives the documentary the gravitas it needs. It's all fun and games till someone loses their life. When six people lose theirs, well, there's nothing fun about that.
Overall, Class Action Park is very funny, thought-provoking, and just a really good time. In short, it's a hell of a ride.