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Film / Rollercoaster

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No, this is not an Alfred Hitchcock movie, despite what the poster would have you believe.

Rollercoaster is a 1977 American thriller film directed by James Goldstone, written by Richard Levinson and William Link, and starring George Segal, Richard Widmark, Timothy Bottoms, and Henry Fonda.

An unnamed saboteur, simply called "Young Man" in the credits (Bottoms), sneaks into Ocean View Amusement Park and places a small radio-controlled bomb on the tracks of the Rocket, the park's wooden roller coaster. The bomb detonates and a coaster train derails, killing and injuring the riders. Safety inspector Harry Calder (Segal), who initially cleared the ride, is called to the park to investigate. It is soon discovered that the attack was just one of many taking place at amusement parks throughout the country, and it's up to Calder and FBI Agent Hoyt (Widmark) to stop the bomber.

Notable as one of the few films to be screened with the "Sensurround" process at select theaters, which caused those watching it to vibrate during certain "thrill scenes" involving the rides.

This film features examples of:

  • Advertised Extra: Henry Fonda plays Caulder's boss, and seems like he's going to be a key part of the story, but only appears for a couple of scenes.
  • Affably Evil: The Young Man, while sabotaging rides and trying to extort the theme park owners for $1 million to quit, is nevertheless portrayed as only in it for the money. He never gets enjoyment from killing people. He also has a respectful relationship with Caulder for the majority of the film, due to Caulder's intelligence. He only turns on him in the climax, when the FBI marks the money (that the Young Man specifically told them not to try) and believes Caulder knew about it (He didn't.)
  • All There in the Manual: The film never gives the Young Man a name. The tie-in novel, "Death Ride" by Burton Wohl, names him Eddie Parnassus.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: A series of terrorist bombings targets various amusement parks around the U.S.
  • And Starring: Two of the actors get an "And" credit. Timothy Bottoms among the three leads billed before the title, (Segal, Widmark, and Bottoms) and Henry Fonda as Davenport in the secondary credits.
  • Being Good Sucks: Because he forces himself into the initial ransom demand meeting due to the roller coaster he inspected being the first one targeted, Caulder gets drafted by the Young Man to bring the ransom money to the drop, which neither Caulder, nor Hoyt, want. It eventually leads to Caulder being dragged from ride to ride in an amusement park, as the Young Man tries to shake off the FBI agents shadowing Caulder, and he discovers that the radio the Young Man sent to communicate to Caulder with is wired with explosives, to Caulder's chagrin. Still, while he hates every minute of it, Caulder does what he needs to do.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The Young Man. Outwardly, he appears totally normal, and dresses well, but he's at least a borderline sociopath, and possibly even a full-on sociopath.
  • Book Ends: Harry Caulder is introduced at a stop smoking clinic taking part in conversion therapy, and having smoked several packs of cigarettes in an attempt to get him to quit smoking. He then, at various times in the film, gets stressed and asks for a cigarette, only to be told that the person he's asking is out, or doesn't smoke. At the end of the film, he finally bums a cigarette from a theme park patron but before he lights it, he drops it to the ground and walks away.
  • Bowdlerise: The ending was changed from the Young Man getting his foot stuck on the tracks and sliced by the Revolution's train to him getting hit and killed by the train, out of fear that the former would be too extreme for a PG rating and thus receive an R rating (this being made in the era prior to the introduction of PG-13).
  • The Cameo: AIP and "Count Yorga" star Robert Quarry has a cameo role as the mayor that takes part in the grand opening of the new roller coaster in the film's climax.
  • Confucian Confusion: Tracy Calder attributes a Biblical quote to Confucius, which her dad promptly lampshades. Justified in that she claims to have learned that from a fortune cookie.
    Tracy Calder: Confucius say, "With faith, man can move mountain."
    Harry Calder: I thought Jesus said that?
    Tracy Calder: Well, maybe he did. But according to that fortune cookie...
    Fran: Which is yours, by the way.
    Tracy Calder: ...Confucius said it, too.
    Harry Calder: Don't believe everything you read.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: The head of the health & safety agency that Harry works for once let a poorly designed building go up because his nephew was one of the builders.
  • Damsel in Distress: Averted. In the third act, we see Harry's girlfriend Fran and his daughter, Tracy, are present at the theme park the Young Man is targeting, and seemingly being set up to need to be rescued by Harry. However, he finds them well before the finale, tells them to leave the park, as it's unsafe, and tells them they can come back another time. They comply.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Caulder, especially to his boss, Simon Davenport.
    Davenport: I want you to go out there and represent the department. Find out if there was negligence involved.
    Calder: You go!
    Davenport: It happens to be my wedding anniversary.
    Caulder: So take your wife!
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Played straight. The Young Man is forced to get a ticket for the first ride of the new roller coaster in the climax to replace a bomb when his first bomb is discovered before he can trigger it. Afterwards, he's cornered by a reporter for comments on his experience. Caulder is nearby, hears the Young Man speak to the reporter, recognizes his voice, and is able to quickly figure out that the Young Man got a ride on the first trip and thus has put on a new bomb that he and the FBI have to deal with.
  • Failed a Spot Check: During the money drop at the park, the authorities find out that the bomber is using a 2-way radio. They also have people all over the park including where he's transmitting from. But the guy on the tower fails to spot the obvious ear-wig and that he's looking through binoculars in the direction where Caulder currently is.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Harry Caulder and Special Agent Thomas Hoyt start off heavily disliking each other, to the point where when Caulder makes a mistake during a money drop, Caulder and Hoyt are so incensed with each other that Caulder demands to leave. However, in the third act, he trusts Caulder's instinct that the bomber, who is now pissed at Caulder, will target a major roller coaster that Caulder personally inspected, and Caulder's instinct turns out to be right, and they work together to stop the bomber.
  • Got Volunteered: Caulder wants nothing to do with the efforts to stop the bomber, but since the bomber knows of Caulder's intelligence and has respect for Caulder, and because Caulder offered some respect to the bomber in return, he demands Caulder be a part of it. The FBI, in turn, volunteers Caulder to assist.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Young Man was intending to blow up the rails and crash the cars of a brand new roller coaster Caulder inspected when he believes Caulder wronged him. He ends up getting killed by those same roller coaster cars.
  • Hostage Situation: The Young Man is confronted by Caulder and a team of FBI agents at gunpoint, but the Young Man initially holds the upper hand, with his finger on a radio detonator to blow up the roller coaster ride currently on the rails. The Young Man demands a gun and says he's going to take Caulder as a hostage to get away from the park. As Caulder is handing him a gun, Hoyt announces that they have jammed the Young Man's radio frequency, and Caulder wounds the Young Man while they grapple for the gun. The Young Man takes off with FBI agents in hot pursuit.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Played with. The Young Man is able to plant the first batch of explosives which start the film by dressing as one of the theme park's maintenance men and having free reign to go up the tracks of the roller coaster.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Both Caulder and Agent Hoyt. Both have Type-A personalities and clash frequently, but they both eventually set aside their differences when they need to.
  • It's All About Me: Everything the bomber does is so he can get a million bucks and no longer have to worry about working for a living.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Caulder doesn't want to be involved in the payoff of the bomber, or the FBI investigation. Not only is he pissed that he's being forced to participate by the Young Man's demands, he loudly expresses his displeasure to lead Agent Hoyt, and clashes with Hoyt frequently.
  • Large Ham: Richard Widmark plays surly FBI Special Agent Thomas Hoyt. He hams it up on more than one occasion, to great effect.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Young Man targets and sabotages rollercoasters in his extortion scheme. At the end of the film, he ends up getting killed by a train of rollercoaster cars when he stops on the tracks, distracted by Caulder's presence, and they plow into him at full speed.
  • Mad Bomber: The Young Man, who doesn't seem to care about the victims that he causes and is very good with bombs.
  • No Indoor Voice: Agent Hoyt, often.
  • No Name Given: The bomber's name is never revealed, simply being called "Young Man" in the credits.
  • Non-Action Guy: Caulder is just a amusement park ride inspector. In the climax, he accidentally wounds the Young Man as they grapple for a gun, and when the FBI agents give chase when the Young Man runs away, Caulder just stands there. Caulder manages to defeat the bomber only because as he was running, he wasn't paying attention, ran in a circle, and ends up on the tracks of the roller coaster ride he was attempting to blow up, in front of Caulder, who still is holding the gun they grappled for earlier. The Young Man freezes, and ends up getting hit at full speed by the moving roller coaster, which kills him.
  • Oh, Crap!: A huge one. During the money drop, the Young Man uses a radio to communicate with Caulder as he orders him from ride to ride to frustrate Hoyt's tailing FBI agents. The Young Man finally tells Caulder where he can find the bomb. It's in the radio Caulder is holding.
    Young Man: First, Harry, I think I should tell you about the bomb. Would you like to know where it is?
    Calder: Sure!
    Young Man: You're holding it....Now...Do I have your full attention?
    Caulder: Screw you!
  • One-Word Title: It's just Rollercoaster.
  • Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: The Young Man is surprisingly soft-spoken and respectful of Caulder, while Caulder is consistently rude. In fairness, Caulder is involved in something well above his pay grade due to the Young Man's demands, and the Young Man HAS killed a number of people in a sabotaged amusement park ride by that point.
    Young Man: If they pay me and if they do what I say, I'll never bother them again.
    Caulder: Are you sure? Maybe you enjoy it.
    Young Man: Wrong psychological profile, Harry. I'm not in this for kicks.
    Calder: Oh yeah, right, it's only the money. You're a businessman. And in a corrupt society, you're no worse than anybody else. We all cheat on our taxes, Detroit makes defective cars.
    Young Man: I'm not enjoying this conversation, Harry.
    Caulder: Then get yourself another messenger boy!
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Special Agent Hoyt. While he and Caulder clash, it's largely due to the fact that Caulder is surly in general and doesn't like authority figures. However, when Caulder approaches Hoyt with a gut feeling that, since the Young Man knows the money was marked that he'll be pissed and target the newest and biggest roller coaster Caulder has inspected, Hoyt agrees to follow Caulder's gut instinct, and it's the right call. Even though Hoyt marked the money, which the Young Man adamantly told them not to do, Hoyt attempted to do so in a way that the Young Man wouldn't be able to tell. Unfortunately, it backfired badly.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Caulder is red, Agent Hoyt is blue.
  • Shoe Phone: The Young Man manages to trick out a radio into a bomb, which he then gives Calder.
  • The Sociopath: The only reason the Young Man gives for what he does? He's basically lazy, can't hold a 9-5 job, and has decided forcing the amusement parks to pay him a million dollar ransom so he doesn't have to work is the solution. While he claims he derives no enjoyment from the people he kills by sabotaging amusement park rides, (nor does the audience see him enjoying it) he has no real sympathy for his victims either, and treats them simply as a means to an end for his million dollar payoff.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: At the climax, Caulder starts to leave the theme park in a bit of a daze after witnessing the death of the Young Man. His Heroic BSoD behavior is offset by the cheery closing theme (Magic Carousel) and the excited park patrons who are happy to hear the park is reopening after the Young Man's dead body has been hauled away. Caulder leaves the film, still in a daze, as the cheery music drones on over the credits. We even hear the excited passengers on the roller coaster scream in the background as the credits finish.
  • The Stoic: Even when confronted by an army of FBI agents with guns drawn, the Young Man doesn't even raise his voice to make his demands.
    Young Man: Harry. Tell them I don't bluff.
  • Stoners Are Funny: Two hippie park guests debate about whether it was marijuana that made one of them see a dog (part of the bomb squad) on a rollercoaster track.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Caulder doesn't want to be involved in the FBI's efforts to stop the Young Man, and Agent Hoyt doesn't want him involved either, but due to the terms the Young Man has insisted on for the money drop, they're forced to team up.
  • Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack: The vast majority of the film's soundtrack is based off of the canned generic music you'd hear at theme parks of the time, to both happy, AND ominous effect.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The bomber is played by Timothy Bottoms, who's just a normal-looking young man. When he's in a bar watching the aftermath of one of his bombs on TV, a woman even flirts with him. There's nothing about his looks or demeanor at all that would indicate he's wiring amusement park rides to kill people for ransom money.
  • Uncertain Doom: It is never revealed whether the people who get the most focus while riding the rollercoaster that derails survive or not, save for two people whose car lands upside down, crushing everyone inside.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: After the Young Man witnesses his bomb in the third act being dismantled before he can trigger it, he hurries to his car, makes up a new bomb while sitting in the driver's seat, gives a wad of cash to one of the people who had a ticket for the first ride in order to take their place, and plants the new bomb under the seat before relaxing and enjoying the rest of the ride to its conclusion. He even SMILES.