In 1973, legendary horror director, George A. Romero was set to release his short movie, The Amusement Park. The film – shot within the grounds of the now defunct West View Park in Pennsylvania – was to tell the story of an elderly gentleman, who experiences a nightmarish day at the fun fair.
Part funded by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania, the movie was intended to be a public service film, detailing significant issues that impact the older generation. The movie was supposed to show how older people can often get ignored or side-lined by youngsters.
But before the film saw the light of day, it was shelved. After watching a finished cut of the movie, The Lutheran Service Society was unhappy with the content of the picture, finding it far too shocking for public consumption.
Over the years that followed, and finding itself without a purpose, The Amusement Park disappeared into the aether and became a largely forgotten film. That was until 2017, when a print of the movie was used in a Romero retrospective.
This generated renewed interest in the picture, and with support from The George A. Romero Foundation, The Amusement Park was given a 4K digital restoration by IndieCollect – the organisation that specialises in preserving independent movies.
Shudder then picked up the distribution rights for The Amusement Park in early 2021, and now, depending on where you live in the world, you can watch the movie as part of your Shudder subscription. The film was added to the service on June 8th, and finally after all these years, Romero enthusiasts have access to a movie they never expected to watch – and a bloody weird movie to boot!
It is fair to say that The Amusement Park is a bizarre little picture. It is bizarre because this was (and kind of still is) a public service film that is quite clearly far too creepy to provide any kind of service to the public.
Remember those adverts from the 1970s that scared the living daylights out of everyone? The ones where children got electrocuted from climbing up electricity pylons, or died from drinking a toxic liquid found in a lemonade bottle under the sink? Well, The Amusement Park is like that, only far worse.
It is a 50(ish) minute movie, which focuses on an old man, wandering around an amusement park becoming more and more dazed, confused, and dishevelled by the minute. The old man – played by Lincoln Maazel – experiences hardship, inequality, and discrimination, and by the end of the day he is effectively reduced to a quivering mess, with only death to look forward to.
His time in the amusement park (of life) has done him in. Riding the rollercoaster has proved troublesome, time spent on the bumper cars has turned problematic, and a trip through the fun house has brought about a state of depression.
In short, everything in this film is intended to be a metaphor. The old man represents the old folk of the US (and beyond), while the amusement park is effectively a stand-in for the hustle and bustle of every-day life, which mistreats elderly people and leaves them on the scrap heap.
The funders of the film had hoped that a movie filled with metaphors would make audiences stop and think about what the future might hold for them, and encourage younger folks to be more considerate of the veterans of society. But after viewing the movie, these funders no doubt came to the conclusion that anyone watching the picture would become irreparably scarred by the thought of growing old, and would probably want to end their life there and then.
Without doubt this is a movie clearly directed by someone who boasts serious horror credentials. It is a deeply disturbing picture and has the fingerprints of George A. Romero all over it.
The energy, the chaos, the confusion, the quick cuts in the editing room – they are all here and they are all classic Romero. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put this director in charge of this project, was clearly not very familiar with his style.
But I am very thankful that he was chosen, because while it may not have served its intended purpose back in 1973, The Amusement Park proves to be a fascinating watch all these years later. It is a real treat from a bygone time, and something which deserves restoration and reappraisal, because it is so damn good.
The Amusement Park is a dizzying, mesmerising picture, filled with unsettling imagery. It is a perplexing horror-thriller, which asks the audience to engage with the material on a psychological level, through sequences that are designed to create discussion and discomfort.
This is not a gore-filled scare-fest by any stretch of the imagination, so don’t think for one moment that it is; it is instead a movie that instils terror through its subject matter. It takes the concept of growing old, and all of the problems this entails, and juxtaposes this against a backdrop of imagery associated with youth and playfulness.
Is it subtle in its approach? Not at all. This movie and its use of metaphors is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. But then, this picture was conceived as a way to convey a specific message to its audience, so it was never going to skirt around ideas.
Going into this picture, I knew very little about the movie’s content, so despite the lack of subtlety, I found myself transfixed by everything it served up. It was an interesting experience, and one which gave me much to think about post-screening.
As mentioned above, it is not a scary movie, but that doesn’t stop it from being a strong horror. The subject matter gets in your head, while the imagery offers up an uncomfortable ride.
But I should warn anyone thinking about watching this movie that you might not necessarily have the same experience. The Amusement Park is not a film that will work for all audiences – and this needs to be made clear now.
It was never intended to be a feature film, screened on an entertainment-based subscription service. It merely found its way here by circumstances, and as such, this isn’t the sort of film you watch on a Saturday night expecting huge spectacle.
The Amusement Park is the sort of movie you would expect to study at university. A picture that is used as an example of how to use metaphors and symbolism on film, and is a little rough around the edges with an experimental feel to it.
If you are considering watching this film expecting it to be on equal footing with Halloween (1978) or The Conjuring (2013), then you need to think again – this is simply not that kind of movie. It is an oddity, an anomaly, and something which is more of a curio than anything else.
But boy, what a curio this is – an unseen Romero picture, that has been misplaced for decades! A picture that was supposed to be one thing, but because of the person involved, it became something far more interesting and far more sinister.
In my humble opinion, this movie should be dissected, discussed, and debated endlessly for years to come. It is a fine example of how the vision of one person can completely alter the outcome of a project and give it life far beyond its original intentions.
Had this been a simple public service film, by a run-of-the-mill director, The Amusement Park would have come and gone in 1973 without a second thought. But because of Romero’s involvement, here we are almost 50 years later, and this little picture is getting a lot of attention and won’t be forgotten about any time soon.
For me, this movie is a real gem. I wouldn’t recommend it to audiences after quick entertainment, but for those who like delving into something a little bit quirky there is much to like.
If you are a Romero fan, a die-hard film enthusiast, or you simply adore independent movies, then you should certainly check this out. Give it a watch, consider the circumstances of its existence and the message it conveys, and expect to feel very uneasy about how the story is presented.