NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on June 1, 2021
What is The Amusement Park about?
The Amusement Park is the story of an elderly man with no name (Lincoln Maazel) who goes out for a simple day at an amusement park. At first all seems well, but as the day goes on and on the elderly man is met with indignity after indignity, ranging from being treated vastly different due to his age or just a mess of unthinkable physical abuse by gangs that roam the park. Slowly the man goes from a lively happy old man with a zest for life to a broken down man who only feels the hurt from the abuse he suffers at the Amusement Park.
The Movie Ride
The story behind The Amusement Park is probably the most interesting element of the movie. See, this film was made in 1973 when the Lutheran Society (yes, seriously) hired noted filmmaker George A Romero to make a film about elder abuse. Now, at this point George was known at the Night of the Living Dead guy and was probably just finishing work on The Crazies (It may have been released by the time work on The Amusement Park started, I can’t find exact dates on that).
Either way, somehow the Lutheran Society was shocked that the man who was known for reviving the Zombie genre turned in a strange and disturbing film and so they decided they weren’t going to bother releasing it, The Amusement Park was presumed lost until a print was found in 2018 and went through a heavy restoration process which leads to the film that will soon be put up on Shudder for all to witness.
Due to this being meant mostly as an educational film, The Amusement Park is an hour long mood piece that mostly focuses on heavy handed visual metaphors to hammer home the point about the prevalence of elder abuse in society. It leans heavily on the warmth and natural charm that Lincoln Maazel brings, so much so that he has an out of character speech to the audience at the start and end of the picture. His performance is honestly the best thing about the film, just watching this man go from the sweetest and jolliest guy you’ve ever met to a complete emotional wreck sells the core concept better than anything else.
To say The Amusement Park is heavy handed with its metaphors feels like a gross understatement. It’s practically trying to beat you over the head with what it’s trying to say, which is something one should expect from a man who turned Zombie movies into metaphors for racism, consumerism, the military and the illusion of safety to name just a few of his biggest hits. This time though George is not even looking in the general direction of subtle, he’s flipping off subtle and just throwing whatever he can think of on screen for 60 minutes to emphasize the idea that elder abuse is awful.
It’s undeniable that some of this film has not exactly aged well, it’s an almost 50 year old educational film funded by the Lutheran Society and made by a horror film icon so I’m not sure it was ever going to age well. Some parts are just flat out silly, an entire sequence where our main character and another man are both eating lunches that’re extraordinarily different in scale needs a mild change in music in order to turn into pure farce, but a lot of it just has this eerie off putting feeling that still kind of works.
The Amusement Park is less of a narrative film and more of an experience, one that intentionally loops around to show that elder abuse is an ongoing cycle that people don’t really want to deal with. Every new scene is another chance to really hammer in the problems facing the elderly in that strange way that you really can only get from the mind that would eventually bring a killer capuchin monkey into the world.
Now, the real question is just how shocking this film is. After all it was the disturbing content of the film that would end up getting it put on a shelf for half a century so surely it’s got to be pretty bad, right? Well… no, it’s probably the least violent and shocking thing that George Romero ever made. It’s shocking by the standards of the Lutheran Society, but not by the standards of anyone alive today and I’m kinda stunned anyone back then had a problem with this content. At best it’s just really weird and upsetting, but hardly disturbing.
The Amusement Park is certainly a fascinating curiosity, getting to see a lost film from the early years of Romero’s career is certainly something special. You can see a lot of the ideas that he would hone to perfection with the remaining parts of his ‘of the Dead’ trilogy and that flair for the visually odd that would serve him well. It’s fascinating, it’s weird and it’s off putting, might not be the scariest thing you’ll see (Unless you’re a part of the Lutheran society) but it’s definitely an interesting part of film history that’ll give you an interesting hour.