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- The Amusement Park
- Directed by George A. Romero
- Written by Wally Cook
- Starring Lincoln Maazel
- Classification N/A; 58 minutes
In the infamous pantheon of “lost films,” George A. Romero’s The Amusement Park rests somewhere between Roger Avary’s Glitterati and Jerry Lewis’s The Day the Clown Cried: whispered about for years, but with no one exactly sure as to whether the thing is actually worth hunting down.
Filmed in 1973, Romero’s barely feature-length movie was an experiment of sorts. After birthing the contemporary zombie movie with 1968′s Night of the Living Dead, which threaded fantastical horror with the very real social terror of racism, Romero was commissioned by the Lutheran Society to make an educational film tackling a different kind of nightmare: ageism. But the end product was so disturbing and so (intentionally) ugly to experience that the organization refused to release it, and the surviving prints were lost to the sands of time.
Until 2018, when a copy was discovered, and film preservation society IndieCollect went to work on a 4K restoration. Now, finally, Romeo’s The Amusement Park is open to the general public – 48 years after it was filmed and four years after its director’s death. And it is as fascinating a cultural artifact as it is an example of why Romero was both the best and most blunt filmmakers of his generation.
Opening with a sober introduction by actor Lincoln Maazel (who would later co-star in Romero’s 1977 psychological horror film Martin), The Amusement Park makes its intentions clear from the get-go. “Remember as you watch the film,” Maazel says to the camera, “one day, you will be old.”
Following a group of senior citizens as they get terrorized during a surreal trip to a Pittsburgh theme park – where ride tickets are gained through the bartering of precious family heirlooms and carnival barkers are scam artists ready to pick your pocket – The Amusement Park is one of Romero’s trademark hammer-over-the-head metaphors. It is blunt in its message, and repetitive in its stylistic execution. But it is also a genuinely horrifying thing to watch – the director’s most pure-blooded offering of stomach-churning dread since 1985′s Day of the Dead.
Crucial to the film’s overwhelming sense of anxiety is Romero’s decision to cast amateur performers. Aside from Maazel, who enters the park with a sense of youthful enthusiasm that’s quickly melted down, every senior onscreen is a regular Pittsburgh citizen, here to offer a supersized portrait of their depressing day-to-day reality. When Maazel mentions at the beginning that the elderly cast had more fun filming the movie than almost any other experience over their past few years, it is a believable enough line that you’ll want to break down and cry.
As with every summer – even this supremely strange one – there are a ton of horror movies coming down the pike. But no matter how scary the new Conjuring or how disgusting the new Saw may be, I can guarantee that you won’t see as soul-shaking a film this season as The Amusement Park.
The Amusement Park is available to stream starting June 8 on Shudder
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.