An older gentleman finds himself trapped in a hellish nightmare
when he decides to spend the day at an amusement park.
The Amusement Park (1973)
Directed by George A. Romero
Written by Walton Cook
Starring Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker, Phyllis Casterwiler, Pete Chovan, Marion Cook, Sally Erwin, Michael Gornick, Jack Gottlob
George Romero always wanted to be behind a camera, creating. The production company that started with Night of the Living Dead, Laurel Productions, was a way for Romero to continue making films regardless of the size of the project. He famously made laundry soap commercials and other industrial films to continue to hone his talents as a filmmaker and led to his ability to tell a story on screen and not have anything that felt bloated or unnecessary. One of his commissioned pieces was a project that the Lutheran church tasked Romero with crafting: a PSA about ageism and the way we as a society treat the elderly. The resulting film was so offensive and poorly received by the Lutheran organization that The Amusement Park was shelved and considered lost for over 40 years. Though the prints that survived were damaged, they were carefully restored and horror fans have been given a treat now that this has been picked up by Shudder.
Lincoln Maazel (who would later co-star in Martin, Romero's vampire flick) plays the narrator and the main character of this film. The genius thing Romero does is set this up as a PSA almost pulling the wool over our eyes before throwing us into the deep end of his terrifying take on aging and just what society does with the elder parts of our population. The film starts in a stark white waiting room where a beaten, broken old man sits with labored breathing. He is greeted by a happy, well put together version of himself asking if he'd like to join him and he is warned by his weathered counterpart to stay away and that he won't like it out there. It is an ominous warning for sure but one that is ignored, almost as if this version of the character is in denial that this fate awaits him so he opens the door and is dropped into the amusement park.
This film has all the trademarks of a Romero film: it is ugly, unsettling, upsetting and relevant even today which is a testament to Romero's legacy and abilities as filmmaker and story teller. This film is not an industrial film in any sense, it is Romero taking the job and using it as an opportunity to expand his talents in film and refining his craft. It is an allegorical film that feels very experimental at times all the while it is hammering these ideas about ageism, classism, and the social commentary any fan of Romero comes for. The fact that we are getting a "new" George Romero film should be a cause for celebration; and the master continues to dazzle us and make us think. Six weeks before his death, George and his wife Suzanne watched the film and he just shrugged it off as something he did and nothing too special. On the contrary, this is yet another example of an artist using his medium to make us consider what we as a society do to one another and challenges us to face the reality of our choices before we experience the future that he is showing us on screen. Do yourself a favor, watch The Amusement Park and enjoy a "new" film from the mind of one of the greatest filmmakers in American cinema.
And, when it's over, call your grandmother. Send her a card for no reason other than to tell her you love her.