James Jay Edwards reviews The Amusement Park, a psychological thriller film, thought to be lost, directed and edited by George A. Romero. (Shudder)
George A. Romero was one of the most influential filmmakers in horror history. He not only ushered in the modern zombie movie with his seminal Night of the Living Dead, but he cemented his legacy with the rest of that trilogy, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. He also offered fresh takes on vampires with Martin, pandemic movies with The Crazies, and anthology films with Creepshow. Quite a resume.
And apparently, it’s not over. When he passed away in 2017, Romero left some stuff in the vault, and this material is slowly being uncovered, remastered, and presented. The latest recovery is a strange little movie called The Amusement Park.
(The Amusement Park, theatrical release poster, courtesy Shudder)
The Amusement Park is about an elderly gentleman (Lincoln Maazel) who decides to spend a day at, yep, an amusement park. It doesn’t take long for the park to become a metaphor for the real world and how the elderly are treated in it. During his visit to the park, the man is constantly mistreated. The best people he meets are emotionally neglectful and verbally abusive. The worst are violent criminals and conniving conmen. The entire time, the poor old man is regarded with suspicion and mistrust, even though he is clearly the victim.
Back in 1973, Romero was commissioned to make this short television movie about elder abuse by The Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania. Romero had already made Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies by this point, but had also worked on sports documentaries and had even done a stint on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, so how bad of a choice could he have been?
(The Amusement Park, courtesy Shudder)
According to his investors, a very bad one. When The Lutheran Society saw the finished film, they deemed it too shocking to show on television, and promptly shelved the project. The Amusement Park was considered lost until 2018 when filmmaker Daniel Kraus stumbled upon a print. After a successful crowdfunding campaign by The George A. Romero Foundation, the print was restored and the good people over at Shudder are bringing it to the world.
So, what about the actual movie? It was probably shocking for 1973, but by today’s standards, The Amusement Park is pretty tame. It is very much a PSA, with introductory narration that makes its point before it even starts. It has the feel of a film that would be shown in grade schools after lunch when the projector is wheeled into the room, much to the delight of the wound-up children. It’s abstract and experimental, even for early Romero, owing more of a debt to his fantastical Season of the Witch than it does to Night of the Living Dead. And it betrays its low budget at every turn. It’s crystal clear that The Amusement Park was made on a shoestring budget with mostly volunteer cast and crew. Which is fine, because, hey, it WAS a George Romero production, wasn’t it?
(The Amusement Park, courtesy Shudder)
Made from a script that was credited to a “Wally Cook,” The Amusement Park definitely makes its case, though. The Lutheran Society wanted a movie about elder abuse, and that’s what they got. At every junction of his experience, the old man is treated poorly, with park institutions standing in as thin analogies for retirement homes, insurance companies, and even police departments. Creepiest of all is the fact that the man is constantly being followed by the specter of death, of course represented by a mysterious cloaked reaper with a scythe.
The Amusement Park holds up a mirror to society that reflects images that are just as applicable today as they were in 1973. So, in some ways, it’s the scariest movie that Romero has ever made. It not only serves as an important time capsule for a seminal filmmaker, but it can be viewed as an eye-opening expose on modern attitudes towards the elderly. And people say horror isn’t political.
The Amusement Park is now streaming on Shudder.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.