‘The Amusement Park’ Review: Educational Film, Romero Style
By Daniel Rester
Horror master George A. Romero sadly passed away in 2017. That same year, a 16 mm print of a lost film by him was found. The picture, titled The Amusement Park, was made by Romero in 1973 as an educational film about ageism commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania. Being a Romero film, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t come across as a straightforward PSA.
The Amusement Park follows actor Lincoln Maazel as an older gentleman who gets more than he bargained for when he explores a transformed version of West View Park. While he starts out having some fun on a rollercoaster ride, he comes to realize that many of the park’s sections treat elderly people horribly. Other aspects of society begin to blend with the amusement park attractions as the old man tries to receive help and respect from others.
While it’s only 54 minutes in length and is in rough shape still despite restoration, The Amusement Park is a fascinating Romero project. Only the opening scene feels like a regular PSA, with a host explaining the dangers of getting older and being rejected by American society. Other directors probably would have used more scenes with the host and obviously staged scenarios for each main point. Not Romero. He delivers a cascade of images and sounds as he fashions a darkly satirical and cynical look at elder abuse. It turns into a blend of horror film and educational film.
Maazel, who also played Cuda in Romero’s vampire film Martin (1978), is excellent as the older man. We feel empathy for him as he is consistently rejected by the others at the park. He is provided beans and white bread he must share with others at a restaurant while he watches an affluent old man get a cigar and lobster. He is also dismissed as a witness to a bumper car crash that is treated as a real car wreck, including a cop present and insurance talk. He even gets ignored when trying to read a little girl the “Three Little Pigs” story.
Romero treats all of this and more like a sweaty hallucination. In-your-face close-ups dominate the image framing (especially in a physical therapy scene) while myriad noises and voices surround the old man at the park. The character only gets a breather once in a brilliant scene where the park suddenly empties and the man faces the Grim Reaper and violent bikers. Another scene involving two young kids seeing their future is also great, providing a Darren Aronofsky-esque nightmare where a doctor refuses to assist an old woman.
After a 4K restoration by IndieCollect and some showings at festivals, The Amusement Park is now more widely available for Romero fans to see. It has made its home on the streaming platform Shudder, which prioritizes horror projects. While it isn’t a typical horror film, which one of Romero’s movies ever was?
My Grade: 8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B+)
Running Time: 54 min