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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

‘The Amusement Park’: George A. Romero’s Long Lost Educational Film Is an Unsettling Historical Achievement [Review]

The George A. Romero Foundation dedicates itself to preserving the filmmaker’s legacy and archiving his extensive work collection at the University of Pittsburgh University Library System. Their efforts reveal Romero as a prolific writer, amassing an impressive number of unproduced or unfinished works. One of the most prominent of the foundation’s preservation efforts is the restoration of Romero’s once lost PSA, The Amusement Park. It’s not horror in the conventional sense, nor is it even a feature film. That doesn’t make The Amusement Park any less unnerving, which makes this restoration all the more impressive.

Clocking in at just under an hour, The Amusement Park, written by Walton Cook, was initially commissioned by the Lutheran Society to raise awareness about elder abuse and ageism. It begins with an intro explaining that this is a PSA aiming to drive its point home with a cast of non-actors. Lincoln Maazel (Martin) serves as the focal point, as an older man that ignores vague warnings by a battered version of himself. He embarks on what he expects will be a pleasant day at an amusement park. Instead, he finds himself plunged into a nightmarish hellscape in which senior citizens are scammed, ignored, and worse.  

Romero creates an unsettling portrait of surrealism by inserting depictions of ageism into the amusement park setting. A bumper car collision escalates due to the older driver at the wheel. A long line of senior citizens barters their valuables for tickets, getting overlooked and undersold at every turn. A jolly train ride results in a death, yet no one bats an eye at the coffin being carried to and from the ride. Our poor lead finds himself ostracized and starved for attention. The longer his stay, the worse and more bizarre it grows. Making it even stranger is that there’s no tangible driving plot outside of the central figure navigating a grotesque journey as if entering a personalized purgatory for the aged.

The carnival backdrop only exacerbates the psychological horror; it’s far too easy to cast this setting in a sinister light. Romero, who also cameos in a scene, hides foreboding imagery in plain sight. Specters of death continuously lurk in the background, on the prowl for their next target, in broad daylight. The juxtaposition between the bright, cheery joy of theme park goers and the quiet misery of the abused out in the open is as nightmarish as it sounds.

It’s societal indifference at its most egregious, and Romero highlights that through the use of psychological horror. It proved so effective that the Lutheran Church, who commissioned the educational film in the first place, shelved it for being too disturbing. Produced in 1973, The Amusement Park was considered lost for almost five decades. The combined efforts of the George A. Romero Foundation, IndieCollect, and Suzanne Romero culminated in a stunning 4k restoration of a historical footprint in the horror master’s career. The significance of this release has less to do with content, though it is relevant as insight into Romero’s early career, but rather as a perpetuation of a legacy. Its existence is a bit of a miracle and a remarkable achievement in film preservation.

The Amusement Park premieres on Shudder on June 8.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3667244/review-george-romeros-the-amusement-park-unsettling-educational-film-historical-achievement/

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