Review by Jonathan W. Hickman=
The movie that disturbed the Lutheran Society in 1973 finally gets released.
“The Amusement Park,” an extended allegorical public service announcement commissioned by the Society, is regarded as director George A. Romero’s lost film.
In 2017, researchers discovered a 16mm print, and the completed 52-minute project became part of a retrospective of the director’s work. Romero is the father of the zombie picture, having started the genre in 1968 with the groundbreaking “Night of the Living Dead.” No undead stalkers appear in “The Amusement Park,” but the monsters featured in the movie might rank as his most frightening.
The story follows a day in the life of an older man (played by Lincoln Maazel) as he visits an amusement park. Maazel introduces the movie with a direct address informing viewers that the project reveals how badly we treat the aged. Unfortunately, the message is timeless, and the problems encountered by the man persist to this day.
From a script by Wally Cook (his only IMDB credit), Romero opens the narrative in an empty void, where the man shares the screen with himself. One version of the character is clean and standing upright dressed in a white suit, while the other is beaten, bleeding, bruised, and disheveled. Finally, a door in the void opens, and the man ventures out into an amusement park bustling with activity.
Ordinary events, such as ordering food, buying ride tickets, or merely walking in a crowd, become instantly ominous, as the man is increasingly challenged and disregarded. It’s a striking series of images that should resonate with viewers. But is this how we treat our older citizens?
The production makes use of actors and non-actors, blending the styles well. Through focusing on the older man’s weakening perspective, some scenes dip into magical realism. But Romero captures this dreadful visual scope without the use of distracting special effects. The man is shown attempting to eat and interact with the dismissive and abusing public. Economic disparities and ageism are colorfully depicted. The man is continually beaten down and disrespected. Because of his age, he becomes invisible.
While not an explicit horror film, “The Amusement Park” reminds us of authentic terrors. Its real-time style seamlessly flows over the brief running time. While the movie might not scare you while watching it, the effect of the metaphor lingers—no wonder the Lutherans were disturbed because that is precisely the intended effect of the project.
After all, they hired a master of horror to helm this production; what did they expect they’d receive? Romero and his team told the tale their way, making “The Amusement Park” is one of the most horrific PSAs ever made. What’s utterly fascinating is that the Lutheran Society produced the movie in the first place. The visionary or visionaries who pitched the idea only to see his plan shelved had to be devastated.
It’s hard to believe that Romero, who died in 2017, didn’t mention this film over the years. His wife, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, the president and founder of the George A. Romero Foundation, has said that he never told her about it. Thankfully, everyone can now see the movie.
It’s important that “The Amusement Park” is released some 48 years after it was made. Had it been shown as part of a public service program in 1973, it might have faded into obscurity. But given Romero’s now iconic status and passing, interest in his work is culturally significant. Hopefully, the thought-provoking message about how poorly we treat the elderly will be heard loud and clear.
The 4K restoration of “The Amusement Park” will be released exclusively on the Shudder video on-demand streaming service on June 8th.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman, is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan, visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com