Friday, October 9, 2020

Hubrisween 2020 :: D is for The Death of Ocean View Park (1979)

The sun is shining bright over Ocean View Park. All the rides are in motion, people are happily vent-screaming as the Tilt-a-Whirl whirls, the Ferris Wheel spins, and the Skyrocket roller coaster peaks and valleys at a high rate of speed. On the ground, a marching band is playing a merry tune as revelers move through the midway, playing games, munching on popcorn and cotton candy. 

And on the nearby beach, fireworks are going off to the gathered crowd’s delight. A raucous scene of pure Americana that seems to be reaching a fever pitch, when suddenly, the soundtrack goes way out of kilter followed by a rapid series of massive explosions that rock the whole park, causing mass panic.

And as the crowd stampedes, looking to flee from this calamitous turn of events, this chaos continues until we cut to the bedroom of a small apartment, where a woman frantically wakes up from a nightmare, screaming her dress is on fire.

Meet Sheila Brady (Canova), who just had a very lucid dream about a local amusement park blowing up, causing the deaths of hundreds of people. She then relates this dream to her husband, Phil (Stephens), who just so happens to work at Ocean View as a popcorn vendor on the weekends to make ends meet while he finishes up college, saying it seemed very real, including the fireworks that they only shoot-off every 4th of July -- a mere five days away, he typed ominously.

But Phil writes this off as a combination of the sausage and onion pizza they ate the night before, the lousy vampire movie they watched on The Late Late Show, and the elevated hormones of his wife, who is three months pregnant. But despite these logical assurances, Sheila is still overwhelmed with a sense of dread and paranoia that this dream wasn’t a dream at all and might’ve been some kind of prophetic vision.

Meanwhile, Sam Jackson (Connors), Ocean View’s co-owner and manager, has just received word that a massive hurricane has suddenly brewed-up from out of nowhere and is now on a direct collision course with Norfolk, Virginia, where the park is located on the beach of Chesapeake Bay -- right next to the massive Norfolk Naval Station, where one of their meteorologists, Paula Williams (McWilliams), is monitoring the rapidly deteriorating situation.

When Jackson breaks this bad news to his business partner, Tom Flood (Landau), and how they’ll have to close the park immediately and start locking things down until after the storm hits and subsides, Flood demands to know for how long and is none too happy with the term “indefinitely.” Seems Mr. Flood has some big plans brewing for Ocean View, including a massive expansion under the umbrella of his Paradise City Project, which will turn the area surrounding the amusement park into a planned residential area and civic center like no one has ever seen before -- and it all depends on impressing a certain group of investors during their annual July 4th hootenanny, including a booked concert by the Bee-Gees, according to Flood, which the unexpected storm just potentially threw a massive monkey-wrench into -- depending on when it hits and how much damage it does.

Unable to control the weather, and having heard this sales pitch before, Jackson moves on, rounds up his chief engineer, Herman Reece (Stewart), and begins shuttering the park as well as sending his employees home, including Phil Brady and young Jenny Flowers (Winningham), who works the cotton candy machine, just as the wind suddenly shifts and starts to pick-up.

Meanwhile, out at sea aboard a Navy frigate, where the storm is already raging, novice seaman Billy Robbins (Lang) is not doing so hot as the ship rocks about, leading to a lot of ribbing from his veteran shipmates. As his stomach roils, this poking continues when they ask what Billy is going to do on his pending liberty, quickly suss out the highly bashful and accident prone boy is still a virgin, and hatch a plan to rectify this with a certain *ahem* "well-seasoned" woman they know as soon as they all hit shore-leave at Norfolk.

When the hurricane finally makes landfall, Jackson and his eldest daughter, Jessica (Mathews), worriedly watch out the window as the radio reports damaging winds have reached up to 110mph. Asked if the park will be okay, Jackson says it has survived worse since his old man first built Ocean View back in 1906. Here, we learn Jackson is a widower with three children, who all miss their mom but think it's high time their dad got back on the playing field, romantically speaking. As for the amusement park, he inherited it when his folks passed away -- even met his late wife there, but some bad business loans required a bailout, which is where Tom Flood came into the picture. And so, while Jackson co-owns and still runs the park, Flood is the majority shareholder; and so, what he says goes as far as Ocean View and Paradise City is concerned.

We then cut to the park, where the howling wind rocks the foundation of the old wooden roller coaster, breaking several support beams loose, which start banging against an exposed gas pipeline with each massive gust -- damage that doesn’t show to the naked eye after the storm passes, which veered to the north, sparing Ocean View from the brunt of the hurricane. But, the damage has been done, which is then aggravated further each and every time the two sets of roller coaster carts pass over the broken section of trestle that no one notices during Flood’s push to get the park reopened and running as soon as possible -- over the ever-worried Jackson’s protests, whose worldview is not only is the glass half empty but could also be full of broken glass and strychnine.

Meantime, Sheila Brady awakens from another apocalyptic nightmare, and notes a crack in the wall caused by the hurricane and a shift in the apartment building’s foundation. She seeks out Phil, who had already left for school, finds him on campus, but before she can once more express her concerns over these terrible dreams she’s been having, the woman is suddenly overcome with another lucid premonition of the park exploding and being trampled to death by the panicked crowd before the overwhelmed woman collapses and faints right into her startled husband’s arms.

Later cleared by her doctor, who diagnosed her condition as nothing more than the mounting anxiety of a first time parent, Sheila grows more frustrated that no one will believe her -- even though she is now having “nightmares” while wide awake in the middle of the day, and how no one will take her seriously that what she is seeing is real, and will assuredly happen, until it is far, far too late...

What came to be known as The Ocean View Amusement Park actually began as 360-acres of beachfront property that was part of the Magnon Plantation, which was about ten miles north of Norfolk, Virginia. In 1854, the Norfolk and Peterson Railroad officially founded the township of Ocean View, and by 1880, the same railroad constructed a nine-mile long track to shuttle people from the city of Norfolk to the beaches at Ocean View, which had become quite popular for summer homes, weekend getaways, or Sunday outings. 

And as the location’s popularity continued to grow, a large picnic area and several bath houses and hotels were constructed to serve the tourists along with a boardwalk, which ran the length of the designated public beach area. A large dance hall and casino soon followed. And after the turn of the century, those steam trains running to and from the beach were replaced with electric trolley cars -- but the casino was shut down after Virginia outlawed gambling.

One of the earliest rides added to this menagerie was the Salt ‘n’ Pepper Shaker Ferris Wheel, which gave people an aerial view of the bay. This was followed by the massive Flying Aeroplane Tower; a simple mechanical wheel with plane-shaped gondolas suspended from it, spinning in a circle, which adapted as time passed with updated airplanes and jets, and finally, rocket ships, until it fell into permanent disrepair in the early 1960s.

But the centerpiece of this attraction was a large wooden roller coaster initially built in 1927 by Edward Vettel. Dubbed The Southern Belle, two trains of wooden carts would simultaneously run on the serpentine track, which sent passengers plummeting 60 to 70-feet at a time. “Shaking, rattling, and kicking up sparks over successive hills, drops, and tight radial turns, it often gave the riders a feeling that the cars would ‘skip the track’ and send them flying in all directions.” When it was redesigned and expanded upon later in the 1950s, it was re-dubbed Leap the Dips; and after one more overhaul in the 1960s she was rechristened as The Skyrocket.

All the while the rest of Ocean View Park kept expanding, too, adding the huge stainless steel SkySlide, the Tunnel of Fun, which was part Tunnel of Love and part Haunted House, and a Shooting Gallery and Penny Arcade, which featured Skee Ball and hand cranked Peep Show machines, along with a ton of concession stands, games of chance, and standard carnival rides, including bumper cars and a merry-go-round. Also added: Kiddieland, which featured a smaller roller coaster, a miniature train, and a concrete circular moat filled with boats to ride in a predestined perpetual circle.

And while all of these were added to enhance the fun, tragedy also struck the park several times over the decades, too. Extensively damaged in the massive Chesapeake–Potomac Hurricane of 1933, Ocean View never really recovered until the 1940s, when it was bought by Dr. Dudley Cooper in 1942 as part of a real estate deal, who had intended to demolish everything and set up lots for housing. But he was persuaded to keep the amusement park open by the US government so American sailors and servicemen would have a more wholesome alternative to the bars and whorehouses of Norfolk for the duration of World War II. Cooper complied and extensively renovated the area. And by the time the war ended, he had fallen in love with Ocean View Park and decided to keep it open indefinitely, which wasn’t easy.

Ocean View also survived two massive fires as well -- one in 1958, which consumed the derelict casino and destroyed part of the roller coaster. This was when it was rebuilt as Leap the Dips by Herbert Schmeck, who also designed The Comet at Hersheypark and The Wild One for Six Flags America among many others. A second fire in late 1964 was even worse and caused almost a half a million dollars in damages, destroying the Shooting Gallery, the park offices, the merry-go-round, several maintenance sheds, and most of the roller coaster again, leading to the birth of The Skyrocket, and sadly, the old dance hall, which was one of the last standing buildings from Ocean View’s original construction back in the late 1800s.

After, Cooper kept the park going as it limped through the 1960s and into the 1970s, adapting as best they could. But in 1975, after the grand opening of the newer and state of the art Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, Virginia, the writing was on the wall. Unable to compete, after almost a century of laughs and thrills, Ocean View Amusement Park proved too quaint and unsustainable and was officially closed for good on September 4, 1978. But she was destined to go out with a bang. And a really big one at that in the Made for TV Movie, The Death of Ocean View Park (1979).

Actually, Ocean View Park and the Skyrocket had already made it’s feature film debut a couple of years earlier in the James Goldstone thriller, Rollercoaster (1977), serving as an invocation to villain Timothy Bottoms’ pending reign of terror as he secretly plants a bomb on the wooden tracks, which he later remotely detonates, sending the carts careening off the track, causing the deaths of several passengers and bystanders, who is then doggedly pursued by safety inspector George Segal as he leaves a trail of destruction through several other theme parks.

Now, when it was announced that Cooper was closing Ocean View and it was once again slated for demolition, not one, but two, production companies approached them about using the facilities before they were put to the wrecking ball. Apparently, and not to get to spoilery yet, but, they chose to go with The Death of Ocean View Park because its climax called for the amusement park to be completely destroyed and the producers behind the production agreed to pay for and handle the demolition and clearing of the land, alleviating Cooper of that expense. And so, Ocean View Amusement Park was sold to the American Broadcasting Company and Playboy Productions lock, stock, and roller coaster.

Playboy Productions, of course, was an offshoot of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Magazine, which made its debut with the syndicated talk show / variety program, Playboy After Dark (1969-1970), which was hosted by Hefner and ran for two seasons. And while it would also back some theatrical productions like Roman Polanski’s version of Macbeth (1971) and Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack (1979), they mostly made movies for the small screen like Deliver Us from Evil (1973), which was an allegorical take on the D.B. Cooper plane robbery, Beyond the Bermuda Triangle (1975), where a retired businessman starts investigating a bunch of strange maritime disappearances, and Detour to Terror (1980), where a band of dune-buggy riding hooligans terrorize a passenger bus as it crosses the desert, and, of course, Playboy’s Roller Disco Pajama Party (1979).

Veteran episodic TV-writers Barry Oringer and John Furia would serve as both producers and screenwriters for The Death of Ocean View Park, which would also serve as the debut of Furia/Oringer Productions, which would go on to produce the outstanding telefilm, The Intruder Within (1981), where oil drillers in Antarctica uncover some prehistoric eggs. One hatches, mayhem ensues. To direct Ocean View, they turned to E.W. Slackhammer, another solid TV-vet, whose career spanned over three decades on shows ranging from I Dream of Jeannie, to The Flying Nun, to Jake and the Fatman, to early episodes of Law and Order.

But with all that TV-clout at their disposal, boy howdy, Boils and Ghouls, The Death of Ocean View Park is one intractable mess. Tangled up in too many subplots, it surely was, which covered the same budding romantic ground, making the majority of them redundant, and most of them not all that interesting. They then tried to spice things up by adding a half-assed supernatural angle, which felt tacked on at some point during the actual filming when they realized the straight-up disaster movie angle wasn’t really working.

From the clairvoyant mom-to-be and her visions of doom, to the unexplained phenomenon that plagued the park after the freak hurricane hits, they tried really hard to sell the viewer that something spooky was going on here. For despite getting the all clear from the State regulator, who gives Ocean View a clean bill of health to reopen after a lengthy inspection, at night, while the park is closed, a series of eerie things have been happening as equipment malfunctions, or rides start running unattended, including the bumper cars, which are found all piled into a heap the following morning, which Jackson can’t find a rational explanation for.

Meantime, out on the beach, Billy Robbins wakes up after passing out in the sand the night before. Seems young Billy “failed to launch” with the hooker his shipmates set him up with and fled shortly thereafter. He stumbles onto the midway, where he finds Jenny Flowers at the cotton candy stand, who just let another in a long line of blind dates her mother and sister have set up for her off the hook, who, like all the others, was disappointed that terminal wall-flower Jenny didn’t look like her prettier sister, torpedoing what little self-esteem the poor girl had left. And after a fairly adorable meet-cute, these two shy souls hit it off and agree to meet up later and go on some rides together.

Two concession booths over, Jackson runs into Paula Williams, who apparently used to work for him as a teenager running the Ferris Wheel before she joined the Navy. There on orders to unwind and have some fun after the stress of dealing with the hurricane, Jackson offers to be her guide.

But the tour is interrupted by a sudden park-wide power outage, bringing everything to a screeching halt. And while Jackson and Reece check on why the back-up generators malfunctioned and failed to kick in, Tom Flood spins it, saying it was all part of the show in service to announcing their big 4th of July celebration is now just three days away!

Before Flood leaves for a meeting in New York with those Paradise City investors, Jackson has it out with him, thinking they need to shut the park down again because too many weird and inexplicable things have been happening. Told not to give him any problems that don’t exist, Flood says the park will stay open. With that, Jackson goes for a walk on the beach to cool off, where he finds a giant sinkhole where a massive sand castle used to stand. Wanting to know if any lingering effects from the hurricane could be causing all of these shenanigans, he asks Paula to meet him at the park to get her opinion, which also gives him an excuse to see her again. For despite their May / October ages, I think the Jackson children might’ve just found their new mom.

Anyhoo, she agrees and listens as he lists off all the strange things that have been happening at Ocean View: the power failures, the rides acting up on their own, up to the sand castle sinking, which all started right after the hurricane hit. Paula admits it’s an odd coincidence and the hurricane itself was very strange; how the storm blew up from out of nowhere but then just as quickly disappeared. But Jackson always was a professional worrier, Paula says, even back when she worked for him. 

Still, she promises to follow up on a few things and will call if she finds out anything. In the parking lot, Paula runs into Sheila Brady, who came to the park looking for answers only to be hit with another vision of doom and disaster. When asked if she needs any help, a dazed Sheila says nothing, gets in her car and leaves.

The next day, Sheila seeks out her own answers at the college’s parapsychology department, where she volunteers to partake in a battery of tests in the Edgar Caycee lab to see if she has any extraordinary sensory perceptions (ESP), which she is told is very rare. In fact, the best anyone has ever done on the test is scoring a four out of 16. 

Well, Sheila scores a 12, which convinces her more than ever she is clairvoyant and her visions are a warning. And so, she begs her husband not to go to work on the 4th of July despite the fact it's the busiest day of the year and they desperately need the money. If not for her, then do it for their baby, says Sheila, which finally convinces a still skeptical Phil to comply with her wishes.

Then, on July 3rd, Paula contacts Jackson, saying she’s run a series of tests out in the bay but the only anomaly she can find is a sub-surface current that wasn’t there before. And so, while all this may be nothing more than metal fatigue and a series of freak accidents, Jackson is convinced the storm might’ve transplanted them all into The Bermuda Triangle. Jackson then runs into Tom Flood, who came back early from New York, fearing he would’ve closed the park during his absence. 

And to show his friend he is worrying over nothing, Flood takes the Skyrocket for a spin, pushing it well past the factory limits, which proves the final push in compromising its structural integrity, meaning a few more spins and the roller coaster will collapse into that gas-line. Again, no one notices this.

And so, on the 4th of July, Ocean View park is open and the sun is shining bright; the rides are in motion, people are happily vent-screaming as the Tilt-a-Whirl whirls and the Skyrocket rockets around. On the ground, a marching band plays a merry tune as revelers move through the midway, playing games, munching on popcorn and cotton candy, including Billy and Jenny, who hop on the Ferris Wheel. On the beach, fireworks are going off and a beauty pageant is just getting underway on the boardwalk. And when one of the judges fails to show up, Jackson must abandon his latest date with Paula to fill in.

Meantime, Phil is called into work when the popcorn popper breaks down, being the only one who knows how to fix it properly, who leaves a misleading note for his wife, saying he went to the library. Seeing right through this, Sheila angrily heads to the park to fetch him home before it's too late. Meanwhile, Paula decides to go for a ride on the Skyrocket, unaware it's on the verge of collapsing.

Here, Reece finally sees the compromised section of trestle that is about to give and is able to stop one set of carts and gets everyone off before the supports give, the carts slip free, move on, jump the track, and fly into the generator shack, which is filled with fuel, and promptly explodes, setting off a chain reaction of more explosions, culminating in the rupturing and detonation of that gas-line and the biggest boom yet!

As panic sweeps the area, Jackson does his best to herd everyone to the beach and away from the fires. And while Phil is able to reach Sheila and get her to safety, Billy and Jenny are stuck atop the stalled Ferris Wheel while Paula and several others are trapped atop the rapidly disintegrating roller coaster tracks in the second set of carts! 

As the fires worsen, Flood climbs the Ferris wheel with some rope to help the two young lovebirds, manages to get them safely to the ground, but then the concussion from another explosion rocks the Ferris Wheel, and Flood falls to his death.

Meanwhile, Jackson moves to scale the coaster scaffolding to get to Paula, who is frozen with fear, before the tracks burn away and collapse. And after a few harrowing beats, he is able to coax her into action, bridging the broken gap between them, and then slowly helps her down to the ground right before the burning Skyrocket implodes in a cascade of fire, falling timber and rending metal.

With everyone evacuated to the beach, the fire department moves in to bring those fires under control, where, by some miracle, it appears Tom Flood was the only casualty -- or at least the only confirmed casualty. And, wow, I sure hope those Bee-Gees got away safely.

The following day, Jackson takes in the damage with Paula. The park is a total loss, and he isn’t taking this very well, ruining his family legacy and all, feeling he should’ve done more to prevent this tragedy. But Paula is more pragmatic, saying it was a cumulative act of God and a million to one shot that no one could’ve prevented. Besides, she says, nothing lasts forever. To this Jackson disagrees, saying they will. She happily agrees as they embrace.

The Death of Ocean View Park made its broadcast debut on October 19, 1979, as a Movie of the Week for ABC. And after sitting through an hour and twenty-or-so-odd minutes of pretty insipid B, C, D and E-plots, the telefilm redeems itself somewhat when the shit hits the fan in the A-plot -- or in this case, the runaway carts plowing into a ton of volatile liquid, and the park starts blowing up; the centerpiece of which was the climactic total destruction of The Skyrocket, here reduced to The Rocket. And, well, turns out the old roller coaster would not go quietly.

On the day of scheduled demolition, special-effects engineer Wayne Beauchamp wired up several charges around the base of the roller coaster as the stuntmen and women got into position. And after several delays, when the cameras finally rolled, as the gathered press and a ton of onlookers watched, waiting to see the historic landmark meet its demise, director Swackhamer gave the signal and a series of huge fireballs erupted. The gathered crowd cheered as the explosions went off in sequence, but when the smoke cleared the tracks were still standing.

The next day, they tried again with a little more pop in the charges. Again, boom! Again, the structure stood defiant. And so, on the third day, Swackhammer hedged his bets and hooked several chains tethered to the structure to a waiting bulldozer. This time, when the explosions were triggered, the bulldozer trundled away, pulling the stubborn coaster down at last to a smattering of boos this time, as the gathered locals were sad to see it go after putting up such a valiant fight. However, this mini-disaster served the film well, giving editor Leon Carrere a lot of pyrotechnic cuts to choose from -- and by the looks of the finished film, he chose all of them. And from that first explosion until Paula is safely rescued, when the film actually gets kinda good, lasts all of eight minutes and change.

As I said before and will continue to hammer upon, this film has too many subplots. And the main problem is, they aren’t bad by any stretch and would probably work just fine in another movie. But when you intertwined them all together here? Woof. Okay, sure, the hooking-up between Jackson and Paula is creepy due to their history and age difference, but I kinda liked Sheila and Phil and wished the movie was more about them. As for Billy and Jenny, well, their thread was kinda sweet but turned saccharine as it dragged on and on while the viewer loses patience with the film as it fails everywhere else.

Look, there’s a reason I left out most of the details on these couples’ journeys as they would all ultimately prove irrelevant. As are the attempts to show the supernatural flare-ups at the park -- the most embarrassing being when a bunch of young hoodlums sneak in after closing, fire-up the Zero Gravity Wheel, and take it for a spin only for the ride to go faster than expected and then refuse to shut off. It isn’t scary, it’s silly, which is then compounded further when it takes way too long for the lone security guard to notice this massive machine is running when it's not supposed to be! 

Therefore, none of this has any weight. And when these people are in danger we’re still supposed to care? How?! And when Furia and Oringer try to add some gravitas -- Sheila and Paul broach the subject of an abortion, and I’m pretty sure Billy and Jenny have sex before they go on that Ferris Wheel ride, it only makes it worse because it is in service of absolutely nothing.

Thus, a lack of urgency absolutely kills The Death of Ocean View Park as it builds little to no tension before we reach the climax. Instead, we get a ton of melodrama shoved through a JAWS (1975) filter as Jackson and Flood essentially argue in a loop over whether they should “close the beaches” or not on one man’s superstitious hunch. But Tom Flood is no Mayor Vaughan. He trusts worry-wart Jackson. He agrees to have the rides tested, and when they pass inspection this type of humoring only goes so far. He is a man of ambition, sure, but his goal is to improve the park -- not destroy it. He even gets to die a hero.

Martin Landau helps sell this dichotomy, as does the rest of the cast, who try to make all of this half-baked nonsense work. Mike Connors is likeable and sincere, but has zero chemistry with Caroline McWilliams. I do kinda wanna see a Bewitched-like spin-off series with Diana Canova and James Stephens, where her psychic abilities at predicting impending disasters leads to all kinds of misadventures. And I even wouldn’t mind seeing Perry Lang and Mare Winningham’s characters in their own coming of age telefilm. I guess, the parts are passable, the machine they make does not work. And, of course, one mystery remains unresolved: just what in the hell was that enthusiastic extra in the black t-shirt trying to pull off back there?!?

Thus and so, The Death of Ocean View Park not only fails at being a disaster movie but it’s also a complete waste of time as a supernatural horror movie because, in the end, none of it matters and it’s all written off with a shrug and a pat happy ending. Well, at least until all those pending lawsuits start flying.

Well, if you don't know what Hubrisween is by now, Boils and Ghouls, I don't think I can help you. Anyhoo, that's FOUR films down with 22 yet to go. Up next, Self Aware Horror before Self Aware Horror was cool. 

The Death of Ocean View Park (1979) Furia/Oringer Productions :: Playboy Productions :: American Broadcasting Company (ABC) / P: John Furia. Barry Oringer / CP: Michael Trikilis / D: E.W. Swackhamer / W: John Furia. Barry Oringer / C: Travers Hill / E: Leon Carrere / M: Fred Werner / S: Mike Connors, Martin Landau, Diana Canova, James Stephens, Caroline McWilliams, Perry Lang, Mare Winningham, Mel Stewart

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