“Remember, as you watch the film. One day, YOU will be old.”
We have so few American auteurs.
So few Americans have attained that “master” status in filmmaking, but it wouldn’t take much convincing to argue for George A. Romero’s name in that roster. Aside from wholesale inventing an entire sub-genre, Romero’s contributions to cinema are unimpeachable. Which makes 1973’s The Amusement Park, recently rediscovered and restored in 4K, all the more fascinating.
Made to call attention to elder abuse and nestled between ’73’s The Crazies and 1977’s Martin, The Amusement Park Romero at his most starkly surreal.
After a grim but informative cold open monologue from the film’s star, veteran character actor Lincoln Maazel, we meet an old man; sitting alone, beaten and bloody. After a moment, the same man (Maazel in a dual role) approaches sunnily. He asks why he’s alone, why he hasn’t ventured outside. The first Maazel feigns him away, saying it’s not what he thinks. But the second cheerily states that “he’s going outside anyways.” What follows is a nightmarish journey that could have only been made in the 1970s.
One part PSA, and one part hazy psychodrama on the human condition, The Amusement Park is never what you expect it to be. Right away, things seem theatrically amiss. Maazel’s unnamed protagonist floats from tableau to tableau, all hinged around some sort of plight that affects the elderly directly. Like the bartering of priceless family treasures for pocket money and the casual way families drop their older members (shut-in heavy pine boxes) into the throngs of the park.
And it just gets fuckin’ weirder from there. It’s less of a movie and more of a tone poem. However, all the hallmarks of Romero’s filmography are still there. There is a creeping, consistent dread to the whole affair. Sudden shocks. And even a few wonderful practical effects gags to boot!
Standing at the definition of a “left-handed movie,” I think The Amusement Park will appeal to both Romero die-hards and those curious about what Shudder has to offer alike. It’s sketchy, unpredictable, and wholly unquiet. Feelings that you appreciate once you start to look into the fascinating history behind its genesis and rediscovery. Would you believe the Lutheran Church commissioned this movie? BECAUSE I SURE AS HELL DIDN’T!
But even without the cult status and interesting trivia, The Amusement Park offers a unique look into the early works of an American master. Someone who revolutionized horror and, in turn, film as a whole, but then started making weirdo, barely narrative public service announcements about how you need to be nice to old people. Aren’t movies just the BEST?