Amusement Park is a long-lost George A. Romero film, one that hasn’t been seen in 40+ years. Made in 1973, it was financed by the Pittsburgh Lutheran Society and it is actually a PSA film. That was the same year Romero made The Crazies.
Romero was always a regional filmmaker, and he had a background in industrial films and TV commercials in the Pittsburgh area. People often don’t know that one of Romero’s first films was a segment for Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood… Amusement Park is one of the last of his works for hire. Although Night of the Living Dead certainly caused quite the stir when it was re-released in 1969—as a kiddie matinee!—and become a staple of the midnight movie circuit, Romero had not copyrighted it, so he and his crew made no money out of it.
His films were not yet successful as far as Romero’s wallet was concerned, so basically when the Lutheran Society asked him, of all people, to make a film about elder abuse, Romero said yes. They were not a fan of the movie that resulted, because it is a horror movie.
It’s all centred around a character played by actor Lincoln Maazel, who also worked with Romero on Martin a few years later. The story about elder abuse is bookended by this section where the lead talks about his age. The film is 52 minutes long, and pretty soon it becomes increasingly surreal. The action is centred around an amusement park and, given that Romero was one of the more radical filmmakers of his era, it’s pretty savage in its critique of the abuse of older people. Maazel goes to the park thinking it will be a nice day, and it turns out to be a complete nightmare. There is a vision of an elderly woman whose doctor won’t let her see her dying husband, being ignored because you’re old and senile, and so on.
The film doesn’t quite work, it’s more of a curiosity. If you’re a fan of Romero, that makes it something to see. And I still can’t figure out why the Lutheran Society thought he was the guy to do it…
Unfortunately, the audio is very poor, and sometimes out of sync. It’s quite rough around the edges, but Amusement Park has a lot of ambition. If you’ve seen Romero’s films from in-between Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies—Seasons of the Witch and There’s Always Vanilla—you know that those are not particularly good films. This is more in tune with those, but it has some horrific sequences that show the tilt coming towards horror.
Amusement Park is available now on Shudder.