The Amusement Park
by Hope Madden and George Wolf
This long-lost film from the legendary George A. Romero is an awkward, clumsily-assembled metaphor with a glaring lack of subtlety.
And armed with the proper context, you should probably see it anyway.
In 1973, Romero was far from a legend. He had lost the copyright to Night of the Living Dead, and he was a nearly broke filmmaker that needed work. So he was more than happy to accept a commission from right in his own hometown. Pittsburgh-based Lutheran Services wanted a film to explore societal discrimination of the elderly, and turned to the local boy who’d hit it big a few years back.
But they weren’t at all interested in the Twilight Zone treatment that Romero and first time (only time) screenwriter Wally Cook gave the subject, so they passed. Each party put the film behind them, and it sat unreleased for nearly fifty years.
The 52-minute feature stars Lincoln Maazel (who would co-star in Romero’s classic Martin four years later) as an affable, white-suited man who greets a beaten down and disheveled version of himself in an empty waiting room. The out-of-breath Maazel advises the energetic one not to go outside.
“There’s nothing out there. You won’t like it!”
The warnings go unheeded, and the nattily-clad Maazel begins his day at the amusement park, where he is subjected to nothing but torment, ridicule and abuse.
Some of the vignettes are rooted in solid ideas. The grim reaper wandering the park and riding coasters is a striking juxtaposition, and a fortune teller’s unpleasant premonition for a couple of young lovers manages to deliver confrontational cynicism with a somewhat lighter touch.
The elderly gentleman’s metaphorical trip through the carnival of agism is flanked by footage of Maazel, as himself, explaining what we are about to see, and later, what we have seen. No doubt someone thought a late-addition prologue/epilogue would help an audience make sense of the narrative’s structureless string of abuses, but the Serling-on-steroids material is so lengthy and so at odds with the otherwise experimental nature of the core content that it only serves to make the entire film even less enjoyable.
For completists, The Amusement Park is available in select theaters and on Shudder, and merits consideration. For anyone thrilled by the idea of George A. Romero siccing amusement park horror on unsuspecting old people, be warned: you will be sorely disappointed.