America Screams

There’s nothing as awful or thrilling as sitting strapped in a roller coaster as it jerks and grinds up to its highest drop-off point. So exhilarating — until the tippy-top, where you realize you’ve made a horrible mistake. The experience deserves documentaries more exciting than these, but if you’re thinking of hitting an amusement park this summer, they might help you decide where to go.

Roller Coaster Thrills features nine rides, from the forbidding Colossus at Magic Mountain in California to the Twister in Denver (”One of the first-rate all-time chillers,” says the narrator), and purports to give us a feel for what they’re like to ride. Strapping a camera on the front of a roller coaster to thrill the audience is an old trick, but it sure works. Unfortunately, the video too often cuts away from the nauseatingly gratifying head-on plunges, and instead shows the screaming passengers — people we really don’t care about —with their hands in the air.

America Screams is hosted by Vincent Price, who pronounces it ”rolly coaster.” There is some overlap with Thrills, but Price gives an interesting, if sketchy, history of coasters, making note of their aesthetic virtues. Armed with a script by Gary Kyriazi and some great historical footage, he tells of the first coaster — one built in Coney Island in 1884, standing 30 feet high. Such ”thrill rides” sprang up like weeds until the craze peaked in the 1920s, when the country boasted about 1,500 of them (today there are just over 200). But where are the great roller-coaster disaster stories? Nobody could tell them better than Vinny, but you won’t find them here. B-

America Screams
  • Movie