The Amusement Park, 1973.
Directed by George A. Romero.
Starring Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker, Phyllis Casterwiler, and Pete Chovan.
A seemingly ordinary day at an amusement park turns into a living nightmare for an older man.
Even after his passing, George A. Romero is still saying more in one film than most will ever in their entire career. From Night of the Living Dead to Monkey Shines, the director always wanted to make his viewers think while entertaining. The latest release from Romero is The Amusement Park, a film from early in his career that’s now seeing a new 4K restoration.
The George A. Romero Foundation and producer Suzanne Desrocher-Rome have unearthed this previously unreleased film and brought it to life as a way to celebrate the legacy of the iconic filmmaker. Fans of his work will be happy to know that The Amusement Park is just as strong as his more iconic releases. Honestly, this might rank as one of my favorites from Romero as the dizzying and surreal stylings of this make it such a delight.
To sound like the people I promised my younger self I’d never become, they genuinely don’t make films like this anymore, and seeing this 46 years after its completion feels like a treat for vintage film fans.
Starring Lincoln Maazel, seen in Romero’s iconic film Martin, we follow Maazel’s character as he experiences the worst day at a theme park ever. He opens the movie with a straight-to-camera monologue about aging and the place for older members of our society. It does borderline on a PSA at times, but it does set up the rest of the film. Look at this opener as the pre-show announcements before the big show begins.
Once this show does begin, you are instantly thrust into a surreal and strange world. The theme park feels familiar enough on the surface, but digging a layer deeper reveals that it’s a terrifying place for Lincoln Maazel’s character. The moment he enters the park, it’s a non-stop carousel of some of the most paranoid filmmaking. Romero crafts some intense moments here without even trying too hard. This is an excellent example of sometimes the simplest things are the most effective.
Before we start seeing monsters in masks and disgusting cops, Maazel’s character passes some pretty out-there things. But all of these incidents have a familiar theme, and it’s elderly abuse. George A. Romero was only 33 at the time of this film, but he showed maturity about a complex topic very early on. It feels like we’re just starting to dive into the horrors of elder abuse, but Romero was shining a light on it decades ago.
The Amusement Park deals with topics like a ticket-taker scamming older patrons out of their goods to enter the park. They are willing to offer up their most valued possessions, and this man is low-balling to take advantage of them. We see this often in the real world, and it hurts; the film also adds another layer of commentary as the people we see being scammed here are mostly older Black folks. Romero spoke about race in many of his works, but even his less obvious moments really say a lot.
Things are pretty bizarre early, but it only gets worse; it feels like we are falling deeper into a dark pit the longer we are in this park. At one point, Maazel is forced to turn away from people as the younger people don’t want to see someone poor eat their food. It gets worse when he’s left alone in the park, and a biker gang comes to harass and beat him.
Earlier in the film, our main character saw an older man beaten and bruised in a sterile white room. This scene comes right before Maazel enters the park and the older man offers him a warning. It seems like that warning needed to be heed as this trip to the park is nothing but pain. It’s quite a bleak story, but you can’t help but keep watching.
Maybe that says a lot about us as viewers that we’d willingly watch this poor helpless older man get lost. Romero always knew how to make his audience feel guilty for enjoying one of his movies.
Romero was an expert at crafting stories like this, but he could also make the most of a budget. It’s evident to anyone that the film is low-budget and has some very early 70s filmmaking qualities. But as previously mentioned, The Amusement Park feels like a treat we don’t get often. Loved seeing long zooms done in-camera, loved that the actors were basically just real people thrust into this madness, and there’s a charm in the production design. From oversized utensils to the park’s look, you have to admire the work that went into making this feel so unique.
The Amusement Park is surreal, overwhelming, and paranoid. You feel like you are having a panic attack by the end of the piece, which is quite the compliment when discussing horror.
The talents of George A. Romero are sorely missed, and we are lucky to be in a time where his previously un-seen work can now be enjoyed. Buckle up for the wildest ride of your life when you sit down to watch this retro trippy masterpiece.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Amusement Park will be available exclusively on Shudder on June 8th for Shudder US, Shudder CA, Shudder UKI, and Shudder ANZ.