While horror maestro George A. Romero is certainly best known for his zombie classics such as his most renowned and iconic work Dawn of the Dead (1978), his scariest film deals with something far more real – getting old. Originally commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania as an educational PSA film about elder abuse, the hauntingly imaginative The Amusement Park – shot in 1973 – was shelved shortly after completion and thought lost for many years…until 2017.
This 4K restoration comes from the rediscovered 16mm print, and is a truly haunting experience. Shot over the course of three days on a miniscule budget, the film – although often surreal – has a chilling, gritty realism. We follow an elderly man (Lincoln Maazel) stuck in a nightmarish time loop as he must endure metaphorical depictions of truly uncomfortable ageism at the hands of the park’s staff and other guests. Maazel also introduces the film and explains its intent, while his haunting sign-off “I’ll see you in the park…someday.” lingers long in the memory.
The Amusement Park is a genuinely upsetting and harrowing film that clearly has the artistic eye of a horror auteur behind the lens. The timeless subject matter means the film remains relevant to this day, and Lincoln Maazel’s superb portrayal of confusion, isolation, fear, and ultimately sadness is one that makes the film difficult to endure. This is an important film that should be required viewing for anyone who has ever been accused of not respecting their elders.
The film remains the only film Romero made on a work-for-hire basis, which is disappointing as the potential for further PSAs like this is huge. Romero’s Suzanne Desrocher-Romero stated that “I suspect that they thought it was a little edgier than they would have liked” in response to the original commissioning group’s shelving of the project – and she’s probably right. The film is undeniably very upsetting and difficult to watch. But for fans of Romero – and indeed horror filmmaking in general – this is a fascinating curioso ripe for discovery thanks to Acorn Media’s digital, DVD, and Blu-ray release following the restoration’s availability on the Shudder platform.
At a brief 54 minutes, there’s no excuse to not fit The Amusement Park into your schedule and experience this terrifying treat this Halloween. Not all horror has to be built around beasts and demons. Sometimes, the monster is us.
The film looks and sounds great thanks to IndieCollect’s marvellous restoration, and the fact we can experience it at all – let alone in this quality – is truly a miracle. Film preservation is incredibly important, and everyone involved in making sure The Amusement Park is this accessible for us and future generations alike deserve the utmost praise and gratitude. When a long-lost PSA from the early 1970s warrants a full 4K restoration and a release across digital and physical formats, we can remain thankful that there are still many out there passionate about film.
The Amusement Park further cements Romero’s legacy as one of horror’s greatest masters, tackling something much scarier than zombies and gore.