Author Topic: The Amusement Park - zombie king George Romero's lost 'film'  (Read 80 times)

Offline perc2100

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In 1973, things weren't exactly going as planned for horror great George Romero.  After his debut masterpiece NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD literally defined a genre, his follow-up films didn't take-off (in fact, THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA and SEASON OF THE WTICH are incredibly hard to find/out-of-print).  For whatever reason, likely to pay the bills, Romero took one of his only (by my count his only, but I may be wrong) work-for-hire jobs to direct a PSA about Age Discrimination.  The Lutheran Society hired the man who created the modern zombie genre to make an educational film: something they could show to civic groups and in schools.  The Lutheran Society quickly shelved the film, finding it either too dark or at least not what they expected.  There's no negative, and only a few 16 mm prints: one of which was found not long before Romero died.  Romero disliked the film, and never considered it one of "his" films.

IMO Romero was wrong.

THE AMUSEMENT PARK runs "only" a little over 50 mins long but the film easily falls w/in the canon of Romero's best horror films.  It feels a bit nihilistic, horrifying, and is a kind of free-form film that feels like an incredibly bad trip.  The film feels like some combination between an art film mixed with a (really well done) student film: complete with some stock music (a few times the music sounds incredibly similar to some of the mall music in Romero's masterpiece DAWN OF THE DEAD), funky post production audio dubbing and sound effects.  We get an actor introducing the PSA and talking about the importance of respecting the elderly and not dismissing or abusing them.  This is key, as it gives the audience what we need in order to keep the rest of the free form acts in perspective and context.
The film starts with an older gentleman looking battered and weary, wearing a dirty white suit and sitting in an all white room.  The door opens, and the same man enters the room: fresh-faced (ie not bruised) with a nice clean white suit.  He tries to strike up conversation with his battered self, only to be given the cold shoulder.  When the clean man man invites the bloodied man to go out in the world with him, the bloody man warns him: “There’s nothing out there. Nothing!”  The fresh man ignores the warnings and steps out the door.

He's an an amusement park, and goes from place-to-place experience various forms of discrimination, abuse, or is just flat-out ignored: along with other peers of his age demographic.  At first he's excited to be in the amusement park, to partake in the fun we all do when we go to somesuch places.  The park quickly turns into a hellscape for the old man.  He experiences degradation, humiliation, with each new stop (a ride, food stand, rollercoaster, etc.) a progressively worse experience for the old man.  All of these experiences, connected via stream-of-consciousness/dream-esque paths as the man walks around the park, demonstrate different negative experiences of the elderly throughout the community.  We see elderly struggle to carry stuff, get excited when peers are getting visits from younger loved ones and realizing no one is there to visit him, getting berated merely for being "too old to drive" in the opinion of a reckless younger guy at the bumper cars, etc.  There's even one experience where the old man observes a young couple go to a fortune teller, asking to see their future, and the future shows an elderly couple living in a slummy apartment that the owner refuses to maintain.

The park itself becomes a metaphor for life: the bumper cars are the problems seniors face on the roads, the house of horrors elder care facilities, the food court a restaurant that’s unfriendly to poverty-stricken elderly.  THE AMUSEMENT PARK is a slow build: just like the best horror films.  We get an introduction that sets up the premise and main character, are introduced to various 'supporting characters' as they come in and out of the main character's story, and each instance of horror the old man faces gets more and more frightening/depressing.  And like the best horror films, THE AMUSEMENT PARK never really lets up: unless to lull us into calm before hitting us with the next dastardly deed(s).  The movie isn't graphic or gory, but it felt a bit disturbing.  I'm still a young(ish) mid-40 year old but I've seen some of these types of things happen: heck, when I was younger I might've passively committed some of these same bad things (complaining about an elderly person driving slowly and erratic-esque in front of me, ala the end of FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF when parents are rushing home).  Now that I'm a bid older, with friends who are old enough to be retired and co-workers who are technically old enough to be members of AARP, maybe this film hits home a bit more.

I'm a fan of horror films, and especially the late great George Romero.  When this film was found around 5 years ago, it was digitally remastered for 4K and I was ecstatic at the news of a "new Romero film!"  As a Public Service Announcement film, I think this is incredibly effective.  It's obviously low budget (or, rather, the budget of a PSA film: I read it cost a little over $30k in 1973), and utilizes only one actor (the gentleman that does the introduction and post-story wrap-up says he's the only actor w/the rst of the featured folks non-acting "volunteers").  Reading the credits there are familiar names; Romero was loyal to his Pittsburgh filmmaking friends.  The one name that popped out and made me grin like a horror movie nerd is William Hinzman as the cinematographer: he was the cemetery zombie from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, aka Romero's very first zombie (also, FWIW, the very first RUNNING zombie though that's another discussion  :P ).  The main character is played by Lincoln Maazel, whom Romer utilized as co-star of his masterpiece MARTIN. 

And yeah, I've used that word ('masterpiece') to describe other Romero films, but it's apt to underscore just how many truly great horror films Romero did: not just his zombie quadrilogy of NIGHT, DAWN, DAY and LAND but also the outside-the-box vampire film MARTIN.  Romero had his ups & downs like most great writer/directors and obviously tastes vary (for example, I mostly enjoy his Stephen King adaptation of THE DARK HALF, though you may not).  But its inarguable that Romero has been one of the most influential horror directors of his time.  Obviously all of the zombie 'rules' that are standard place now (destroy the brains, mostly slow-moving, mostly unknown origins, zombies-used-as-social-commentary, etc.) were all developed by Romero.  I personally haven't seen a George Romero movie I at least didn't admire, if not adore.  THE AMUSEMENT PARK is not only a horrifying, unsettling vision of age discrimination, but also an interesting look into the young mind of George Romero, and IMO it fits wonderfully with his general vision and style as a horror director.  If you a fan of the late horror director, this will act as at least a fascinating footnote to his career. 

THE AMUSEMENT PARK is available on the horror movie streaming site Shudder.