On October 1, 1968, the seminal zombie film, “Night of the Living Dead,” premiered at the Fulton Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The film was directed by George Romero. Furthermore, Romero co-wrote the screenplay with writer, director and actor John A. Russo. Unfortunately for Romero, due to his lack of business savvy at the time, he signed a one-sided contract with distributors. The contract he signed gave the bulk of the profits to the distributors, and during his lifetime, Romero made a minuscule amount of money from the movie. Five years later in 1973, Romero was in need of money, and was taking whatever jobs he could get. He was hired by The Lutheran Society for a specific project. The organization wanted Romero to film something which showcased the problem of elder abuse. In addition, they wanted his work to send a message to people that they should treat senior citizens with more respect. The film that Romero would produce for The Lutheran Society was called “The Amusement Park.”
There might be some of you, who are reading this, who are familiar with Romero’s work, thinking to yourself that you’ve never heard of the film. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that. The Lutheran Society found the film to be too shocking and wanted nothing to do with it, after it was made. “The Amusement Park” was thought to have been lost, but in 2018, author Daniel Kraus (The Living Dead) found a print and it was given a 4K restoration. In February of 2021, The Shudder streaming service announced that at some point in the future the film would be streamed on their service. On June 8, 2021, Shudder made the movie available to viewers.
Before the film begins, actor Lincoln Maazel, who would later appear in the Romero film “Martin,” directly addresses the audience. The day is overcast as Maazel walks through an empty West View Park in West View, Pennsylvania that serves as the location for the movie. (As an aside: The park in the film is no longer in operation. Furthermore, Lincoln Maazel, who was 72 at the time of filming, lived to the age of 106).
Maazel’s character is not given a name in the film. I’ll refer to him from this point forward as Maazel. When the movie begins he enters a room that is devoid of anything except for a few chairs. Maazel is well dressed and seems to have a friendly disposition. He attempts to speak to the room’s only occupant, a hunched over figure, who is short of breath and bleeding. The man is another version of Maazel’s character, but that fact is not acknowledged. When Maazel tries to talk to this other version of himself, he is for the most part ignored. Leaving the man to sit in the room, Maazel enters the park.
The park is populated by non-professional actors; many who are shown on screen or have minor speaking roles are people from the nearby senior center. Once Maazel enters the park, a series of nightmarish events unfold. The incidents, which grow increasingly more intense as the movie progresses, focus on specific problems faced by the elderly. The scenarios presented in the film are all too real for seniors, especially for those who don’t have people who care about them in their lives and are looking out for their best interests.
“The Amusement Park” as aforementioned was directed by George Romero. The screenplay was written by Wally Cook. Parts drama, horror, and thriller, the film has a runtime of 54 minutes.
At the end of the film, Maazel returns to address the audience once more. The line he leaves people with: “see you in the park, someday,” I am of the opinion, is meant to serve as a cautionary warning. Even the youngest person watching the film, if fortunate enough to live, will one day grow old. If we ignore the plight of the elderly and don’t address their needs, why do we think when we get to be of a certain age, it will be any different for us?
Overall it is an interesting cautionary tale. I did, however, find it to be a bit on the depressing side because of its realism. I imagine anyone who has older people in their lives, who they care about, might have similar feelings. Fans of Romero who are interested in seeing a film he made before he had a career resurgence with 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” should attempt to see the movie.