The Amusement Park: Geriatric Kingdom, by Chase Beck
George A. Romero is synonymous with zombie films. By igniting the zombie craze in 1968 with the classic horror film Night of The Living Dead, Romero has firmly cemented his place in cinematic history. Yes, “zombies” existed before Romero, but his interpretation and depiction defined what a zombie could and could not do for generations of horror movie-goers. While Romero went on to make several sequels, each with their own subversive message on American culture, many people, like me, are not as familiar with Romero’s non-zombie film endeavors.
What makes George A. Romero’s filmography unique and interesting is that many of his films defined or redefined the genres in which they inhabited. As such, they often sit outside the sometimes all-to-narrow confines of genre horror today. They can be zany, madcap, uncomfortable, or even unsettling, often in ways for which audiences are unprepared. Many of Romero’s earlier films were made on tiny budgets and succeeded only through pure enthusiasm and determination of all individuals involved. As such, many of these films can feel haphazardly thrown-together and amateurish by modern standards.
The Amusement Park fits this description perfectly. The film states its purpose in two scenes (book-ending the main film), where Lincoln Maazel, in a soothing and friendly baritone, directly addresses the audience. Maazel states the film’s message: aging brings with it a large number of problems. With that premise, the film begins as a man (Lincoln Maazel again) enters a room and has a discussion with a bloody, dirty, and exhausted version of himself. The destroyed Maazel warns his clean and dapper counterpart not to go out into the park but the fresh Maazel disregards his own advice and heads out the door.
For the next hour or so we see Maazel subjected to a series of injustices all against the backdrop of the amusement park. We are also subjected to many worried and dead-eyed senior citizens. Through Maazel’s experiences we come to understand how the beaten-down version of himself came to be that way. It comes as no surprise that each of these experiences references the various issues facing the elderly at the time the film was made (1973). Perhaps most distressingly for us today is how little things have changed.
It is hard to imagine any scenario in which The Amusement Park was ever meant to be a horror film, let alone a feature film. At a mere fifty-three minutes The Amusement Park comes off more as a public service announcement. Funded by the Lutheran Society, Romero’s completed film was never widely released. The version Romero delivered was deemed far too disturbing by the organization and shelved shortly after Romero finished it
The tone and message of The Amusement Park can sometimes feel painfully obvious and direct. Also, the few props and costumes used in the film look comically cartoonish and low-budget. Still, there are many elements in the film that foreshadow George A. Romero’s later works. The dead-eyed shambling crowds could just as easily have been zombies from many of his future films. Also, some abusive bikers (à la Dawn of the Dead) make an appearance .
The film is low-budget and amateurish, but thankfully short. The Amusement Park, streaming on Shudder June 8th (2021) would be a great option for anyone who is a Romero completionist, anyone looking for a window into the lives of the elderly in America in the early ‘70’s, or anyone who needs to be reminded that one day you too will be old.