The Amusement Park, 2021.
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Lincoln Maazel.
An elderly gentlemen sets out for what he thinks will be a normal day at an amusement park and is soon embroiled in a waking nightmare. [Produced in 1973, The Amusement Park was shelved after the Lutheran Society, which had commissioned it as an educational film about elder abuse and ageism, refused to release it due to its disturbing content. It was believed lost until a print was discovered in 2018 and subsequently given a 4K restoration by IndieCollect. It finally premiered in 2019, two years after Romero’s death
If you’re wondering why The Amusement Park, a never-released film from pioneering horror legend George A. Romero, doesn’t even run an hour-long and has the framing of a PSA, that’s because it is. How anyone could watch a terrifying but scathing indictment of capitalism such as Night of the Living Dead (which, from what I understand, was released before this was put into production) and hire Mr. Romero and not expect something equally disturbing bluntly commentating on elder abuse and ageism should be beyond anyone.
Nevertheless, The Amusement Park starts in a white room where a distressed and bruised elderly man is encouraged to reenter the park and have fun. The man is reluctant and insistent that there is nothing out there for him as the door opens, revealing a rather claustrophobic setting of patrons young and old.
Without getting into the horrifying implications and purpose of the white room, I will say the chief among these visitors is an older gentleman played by Lincoln Maazel (who would go on to work with George A. Romero again in 1977’s Martin) enters the park relatively enthused and happy to be there for all of about two seconds. Naturally, one of his first moves at the park is to go on a rollercoaster which, while offering scares of its own, turns out to be the brightest spot of the day, if it can even be considered that.
What ensues is a stylistically harrowing depiction of elder abuse from America’s youth, cleverly using situations such as a bumper car incident for real-world parallels to younger people essentially not taking accountability for their own actions and blaming accidents on older people they feel should even be behind the wheel. It doesn’t matter if someone else saw the accident and can confirm who was at fault; he’s also old and didn’t have his glasses on, so how can he be trusted. Of course, that’s just one example of the film relentlessly going from one dread-induced sequence of paranoia and prejudice to the next, with affecting directorial touches playing with sound and perception. There’s also not much dialogue here, and there doesn’t need to be. It’s also worth pointing out that Lincoln Maezel is the only trained actor here, which adds a layer of authenticity to the treatment on display.
Other creative segments include fortune-telling went wrong, acts of physical violence, eyesight testing, and a trip to the concessions area that is anything but just. Still, none of it compares to a devastating scene towards the end where the man finds a brief moment of solace and companionship in the form of a young girl eating some chicken strips that is happy to let him read to her the book sitting at her side. That is until the girl’s mother is done taking a snack break and ready to venture into the park further, once again leaving this man tossed aside, lonely, and potentially broken.
The scariest aspect of The Amusement Park, aside from its suspenseful and infuriating execution, is the reality that everyone will be this elderly man someday and face the same prejudices. The film was made in the early 70s, shelved due to its disturbing content, and here it is today, finally released and still horrifically relevant. It may be light on an actual story, but The Amusement Park is imaginative and haunting, mining its unforgettable images from real-life horror.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com