Dir: James Goldstone
The 1970s were littered with melodramatic disaster films, where everything from Train crashes (Cassandra's Crossing 1976), Plane crashes (Airport 1970), Earthquakes (Earthquake 1974), Fire (The Towering Inferno 1974), over-turned ships (The Poseidon Adventure 1972), exploding Blimps (Black Sunday 1977), deadly meteors (Meteor 1979), Avalanches (Avalanche 1978), general terrorism (Two-Minute Warning 1976) and killer bees (The Swarm 1978) are featured. Basically, everything and anything that could make a person nervous and uncomfortable was pushed to the extreme were made into a terrifying experience with an all-star cast. Some have dated better than others, personally I like the ones that have dated badly the best, but all of them are a million times better than the deluge of remakes and 'inspired by' copies that were made decades later in woeful CGI. I think Jaws gets too much credit when people talk of the Hollywood Blockbuster, these were the big Saturday night films that got me excited as a child and I remember the adults in the room being just as thrilled, although they were probably a little bit drunk. I love them all but there is a certain something about Rollercoaster that is special. Made after many of the big disaster films, James Goldstone's action thriller isn't as formulaic as the others and takes place over time and in more than one location. It doesn't have the big all-star cast either but it does have richer, more distinct characters and it doesn't get bogged down by unnecessary sub-plots, romances and 'someone save the children' scenarios. It is more like The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 or Black Sunday than say Earthquake or Meteor but then it is the first film that plays on its title. Yes, an actual Rollercoaster is involved but the word Rollercoaster also relates to the ups and downs of the film's events. George Segal's Harry Calder is a brilliantly charismatic character, a safety inspector, with absolutely no want or desire to be a hero, is just the sort of hero the genre needed. His eventual involvement in the plot is quite cleverly orchestrated, and his partnership with the FBI, headed by Richard Widmark's Agent Hoyt is realistically complicated. The whole thing is eerily believable and the unnamed villain, played devilishly straight by Timothy Bottoms, seems terrifyingly real. The FBI stuff is incredibly technical and inventive, which is so great to watch back from the age of the internet, smartphones, facial recognition technology etc. It develops its characters, doesn't get bogged down with the who, what and why of the situation, is a great thriller, is funny in all the right places, dark in all the right places, full of suspense, is unpredictable, isn't completely ridiculous, features disaster footage and is filmed beautifully. I would hazard a guess that James Goldstone was hired thanks to his work on films such as 1969's Winning, that featured some amazing high-speed race car footage. The Rollercoaster footage is phenomenal, it's utterly hypnotic and it somehow fits perfectly between the more conventional thriller-style footage. If that isn't enough, eagle-eyed film fans will spot not just the debut performance from Helen Hunt but also the first feature film appearance from the mighty Steve Guttenberg (although it is brief, I think you see an arm). And if that wasn't enough (and it is enough, the film just keeps giving) the mighty post-punk, synth-pop, new wave Sparks have a musical cameo and perform not one, but two of their 1975 hits (Fill 'er Up and Big Boy). Apparently Kiss said no, which I'm quite glad about, Kiss would have been surreal but having Sparks pop up half way through the film is just brilliantly nuts! They may site it as their biggest career regret but it actually makes me love them more than I already did. So if, unlike me, you hated Rollercoaster, at least you can enjoy Ron Mael look directly at the camera 45 minutes into the film and basically say (through the power of scowl alone) just how awful the whole thing is. Everyone's happy.