In The Amusement Park, written by Walton Cook and directed by George A. Romero, an elderly man (Lincoln Maazel) is eager for a day of fun after he gains admission to an unsuspecting amusement park… but as the day wears on and he becomes increasingly battered, fatigued, and disoriented, the supposedly sweet sojourn sours.
Be advised that The Amusement Park, which will be available for streaming on Shudder on June 8th, 2021, is not your conventional horror movie. Nevertheless, it comes highly recommended.
The Amusement Park
Commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania and produced in 1973, Romero worked on the film the same year that The Crazies was released – in other words, between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978). Filmed at West View Park and produced by Communications Pittsburgh for a cost of $34,320, the film runs roughly fifty minutes and was apparently originally shown at locations like community centers before largely fading into obscurity.
Now, the film has been reissued thanks to the George A. Romero Foundation (GARF). Produced by Romero’s widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, and restored in 4k by IndieCollect from two “badly-faded” 16 mm prints, the once-lost film will soon be available for streaming.
You might think, given all this, that The Amusement Park plays less like a feature and more like a documentary, but in truth, the tone and overall feel of the movie is distinctly Romero’s style. In September 2019, Adam Hart, who is currently the visiting librarian at the University of Pittsburgh Library Sysetem Horror Studies Collection, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that while no record of the Lutheran Society’s reaction exists, it is safe to assume that they had expected a more straightforward educational film from Romero, but, so much the better for us.
Age is Coming to Get You, Barbara
In spite of the lack of zombies, The Amusement Park has more in common with Romero’s Cycle of the Dead than it doesn’t. As viewers of those movies are already aware, the Cycle of the Dead has less to do with the titular ghouls and more to do with exposing social inequities.
This is goal at the heart of The Amusement Park, too, with the societal struggles of aging being specifically foregrounded. This being a Romero film, there are also scenes that highlight how this experience varies based on one’s income bracket, with a sequence featuring a wealthy elderly man who is too personally disgusted by the “hungry poor” to bother to finish his luxurious meal… highlighting the importance of programs like Meals on Wheels, which according to Cook was closely related to Luthern Services at this time.
Last Stop Before Slowville
In his essential afterword for The Living Dead, Romero’s ultimate zombie novel, co-author Daniel Kraus notes how important the short film was for unifying his perspective with that of the late visionary.
In fact, the enthusiasm Kraus had for the film is part of why you’ll be able to see it at all. As recounted by the afterword, Kraus had been made aware of the industrial film thanks to a mention in The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead, a 2003 scholarly text by Tony Williams, and after mentioning it to Desrocher-Romero, she revealed that it had actually been found.
Kraus proceeded to Tweet his reaction while watching the film, which helped garner distributor interest, eventually contributing to the premiere of the restored version of the film in Pittsburgh at the Romero Lives! tribute in October 2019.
Romero: Known for his Frames
In the opening frame scene, the narrator (also Maazel) states that the actors who appear in the film were all volunteers, and that according to many of the elderly who participated, it was the most enjoyable day they had experienced in a long time. In spite of the unsettling nature of the events depicted in The Amusement Park, this particular observation haunted me throughout my viewings.
So much of Romero’s work is about the collapse of dichotomies, and the realization that the delineation between “us” and “them” is less indelible that we might have thought it to be. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to aging, which – provided we should be so lucky so as to live so long – is inevitable for each and every one of us.
As the narrator explains in the conclusive frame scene that follows The Amusement Park, improving social conditions for the elderly isn’t just helping THEM, it’s helping US.
Watch The Amusement Park, stay scared of the way we treat the elderly, and remember: the passage of time is coming to get you, and there’s no way to defeat this steadily shambling inevitability.
The Amusement Park will be available for streaming on Shudder beginning June 8th, 2021.