An elderly man decides to take a nice stroll around an amusement park but is met with anger, abuse, and indifference.
George Romero can be a divisive filmmaker. While horror fans will credit him with bringing the modern zombie film to the forefront of horror cinema some of his later work is not as highly regarded. The complexity and examination of social morals in his early work hooked audiences. Digging into the meaning of the first few Dead films spawned discussions about how we treat each other and what we really latch onto in life.
When it was announced that a “lost” George Romero film had been found fans rejoiced. The Amusement Park was made five years before his masterpiece Dawn Of The Dead. What sort of early filmmaking techniques would we see Romero working on in this film? Turns out he was hired by the Luthern Society to create an educational film about elder abuse and ageism. Apparently, they didn’t realize that giving money to the filmmaker that created Night Of The Living Dead would deliver something that had all the moral trappings they asked for along with a more harsh look at what society has to offer than they were ready for. They decided they couldn’t release it as the content was too violent and disturbing. It was shelved until a copy of the film was found in 2018. It has been restored and will be making its streaming debut through Shudder on June 8th.
The film stars Lincoln Maazel, from Romero’s film Martin, as the elderly man who hopes for a fun day at the park. At the beginning, we see a beat-up and harrowed man (Maazel) sitting in an all-white room. A door opens and a clean-cut old man (also Maazel) shows up asking the other gentleman if he wants to go out into the park with him. The man answers no and that there is nothing out there for them. The clean-cut gentleman says he’s going out anyway and heads out to enjoy himself.
Once in the park, we see the man encounter throngs of people but when he tries to talk to anyone on staff they seem to dismiss him. If someone of his same age seems in distress the staff moves them along or dismisses them completely. During the next fifty minutes, the old man gets taken advantage of, physically assaulted, and becomes an afterthought for anyone younger than him.
The film is for sure an example of Romero’s more experimental filmmaking side. His thoughts on religion, society, and consumerism are right at the forefront. During one scene we see two priests carrying a bible that could easily be held by one of them. They are on either side of it lifting it as if it weighs a ton. In the same vicinity, an old woman sits with a giant coffin. No one offers to help her move it while numerous people help the priests to carry the bible. This had to make the Luthern society sit up right away and wonder what they had gotten themselves into.
While the elderly line up to get tickets we see that the tickets are not bought with money. Most of the people in line are trading clocks, watches, and jewelry. This park takes payment in time rather than cash. People are cashing in their time just to spend a few happy moments together. The ticket taker seems less than impressed with what everyone is bringing in and undervalues what they offer. Romero is saying we don’t pay for things with actual money but with our time. While $20 in tickets doesn’t seem like a lot of money how much time will it take for you to earn that $20? Is that time worth what you’re buying?
During one segment a young couple asks a fortune teller what their life is going to be like when they are older. Will they still be together? What she ends up showing them is a world where the man lies dying in a bed while the wife constantly runs to a payphone to call his doctor. When the doctor answers he tells her there is nothing he can do while he then turns his attention to the younger women in his office that surround him. Eventually, the wife runs out of money for the payphone. While asking for help the people walking down the street ignore her. The couple is shocked after leaving the fortune teller and we believe they may even split up after seeing such a future together.
The old man ends up going to see a Freak Show at one point. As he sits down it’s revealed that the Freak Show is actually bringing out older people onto the stage. The audience laughs and yells at how the people are dressed. Look at how silly they are in their out-of-date style! The old man gets upset at this and tries to stand up for the old folks on the stage. The audience is having none of that and chases the old man out of the seats only to end up beating him.
While the violence is disturbing, the make-up effects are minimal and we don’t get much visually other than some cuts and scrapes. If you’re looking for high-end special effects this is not going to be the movie for you. The violence here is mental and societal. His body may be bruised but his stature in society will forever be tarnished due to his aging. This type of scarring will never heal as the world moves on around him, leaving him behind to be forgotten by the current generation.
The Amusement Park does play as an education film but does have that Romero sensibility to it. While the film won’t be life-changing in any way, it will be a must-see for Romero completists. It’s interesting to see a lost piece of this filmmaker’s history find its way back into view. It won’t be heralded as a major mark in his filmography but seeing him work on his craft to perfect his filmmaking style is a big draw for any film fans. Don’t go in looking for perfection but instead an attempt to round the jagged edges of a filmmaker in progress.
I am a lover of comics, books, movies, and television. This led to working in the television industry for 20+ years. Now I spend my time writing for such publications as JoBlo.Com, Comic Book Resources, and other freelance opportunities. I have been a podcaster since 2006 and am a published author.