I never actually went to Action Park — the infamously dangerous 80’s-era amusement park in Vernon Township, New Jersey. But the name alone conjures childhood memories because it was a perennial source of rumors and urban legends for kids at the time. (And we all lived a few hours away in Eastern Long Island.) I remember the commercials too.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name mentioned since that time. (The park closed in 1996, in part because of the same recession that was giving my generation so much anxiety in our first post-college job searches.)
So I was surprised when a friend in Britain, of all places, sent me the first video below. Not only does Action Park’s infamy live on, it extends across the Atlantic.
Anyway, it turns out that the park was one dangerous place. There was even a 2020 documentary about it on HBO Max.
I was skeptical about “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” (2017), and I’m not sure why — maybe because I assumed it would be a failed and shameless imitator of “Black Mirror” (2011). But I’m happy to be proven wrong — the first episode was damned good. It isn’t quite as good as “Black Mirror” (the success of which doubtlessly helped this series reach fruition), but it looks like it could be a great show in its own right. (None other than Ron Moore and Bryan Cranston are among the producers for “Electric Dreams,” so that should make us optimistic about the show’s quality.)
I’d rate the first episode a 9 out of 10. (The entry I’m referring to here is the “Episode 1” with which Amazon Video audiences will be familiar — the episodes appeared in a different order when this series first aired last year on Britain’s Channel 4.) It’s got a great cast, including Anna Paquin, Lara Pulver, and the incredible Terrence Howard. (His acting skills are among the best I’ve ever seen.) And its story is damned neat, even if it employs a Dick story device that we’ve already seen in some other adaptations. (Can I write “Dick story device” without my Facebook friends snickering?)
This was good. I recommend it.
Season 1 of Britain’s “Black Mirror” (2011) was absolutely terrific. (To be clear, this first “season” consists of only three episodes, although subsequent seasons have more.) This looks to be a truly superb dystopian science fiction anthology series — I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.
I’d point to two qualities that make this show stellar. First, it’s truly smart stuff. The story devices are thoughtfully invented and quite original. (These are “near-future” -type sci-fi tales depicting how new technology or cultural trends can have unforeseen consequences.) This show doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence, it relies on him or her to pay attention and think.
Second, the writers here have a firm grasp of genuine psychological horror. There are no radioactive monsters in the sewers here, or killer robots from the future — but “Black Mirror” manages to be scary without those things. It does just fine presenting the viewer with visions of human shame, fear, jealousy or existential loss. These are stories that deal primarily with the psychology of their characters — and they truly get under your skin.
This is great stuff — I’d recommend it.
Imperial War Museum, Britain.
Photo credit: By Kennington, Eric Henri (RA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons