Review: The Amusement Park
George A. Romero will never be accused of subtly. His crystal clear themes and on-the-nose metaphors are exactly what makes him one of the masters of the horror genre. Unearthed recently and restored, The Amusement Park from 1973 was a lost film of Romero's. We are blessed that the fine folks over at Shudder will be streaming this gem to you starting tomorrow.
The story behind The Amusement Park is something odd in its own right. The 52-minute film was commissioned by the Lutheran Society in hopes of getting an educational piece on the needs of the elderly. For some bizarre reason, they hired Romero and what they got was a full-on horror film about the tough life of the elderly. Understandably, the Lutheran Society deemed the film too horrific to release it. While the film isn't full of standard horror elements such as monsters or ghosts, it is a disturbing film that finds Romero being blunt about the terrible reality of growing old in American society.
The film opens as any educational video would. Actor Lincoln Maazel walks around Pittsburgh talking about the plight of the elderly. He is placed in front of a closed amusement park in one shot. He mentions age discrimination, high costs of living, and inadequate healthcare. All of these become elements of the nightmare that Romero unleashes soon after.
From there the film follows Maazel as he wanders around an amusement park running into scenario after scenario in which society rejects the aging. In one scene, an elderly couple gets into a bumper-car accident with a younger man. The police officer believes the younger man and the couple are rejected. One can feel Romero testing out the use of a location as a metaphor, something that would be so crucial to his masterpiece Dawn of the Dead.
Featuring all the elements of the best of Romero's work, The Amusement Park is a slight if powerful nightmarish journey into the horrors of aging. The film's harsh sound design and claustrophobic camerawork created a distorted reality that adds to the film's unsettling tone. Sure, the film is on-the-nose with its point and metaphors, but it is tapped into a real fear in American society that still resonates today as powerful as it would in 1973.