It’s often equated that George A. Romero’s legacy is zombie movies – and yes, from his debut feature Night of the Living Dead until his final film Survival of the Dead, he made some of the most influential films about the living dead, but Romero did so much work outside of them. Thanks to Shudder and the George Romero Foundation his Lutheran Society commissioned educational film The Amusement Park offers us a reminder of his work outside of zombies.
At a lean 54 minutes, this barely passes as a feature, and does not conform to a traditional narrative nor an educational film. Instead, Romero opts to try and put us in the mind and situation of an older person and their experiences. It’s metaphor is clear, if life is one big amusement park what must it be like for the elderly? Despite being bookended by star Lincoln Maazel explaining the meaning of the film, the actual narrative itself owes more to expressionist and silent cinema than it does hard hitting dramas.
Maazel is superb in the central role as an old man lost at sea in the amusement park – the now defunct West View Park in Romero’s beloved Pittsburgh. Maazel comes on screen in his crisp white suit as one part KFC colonel, one part Ustinov’s Poirot and one part your granddad on even the most basic of nice occasions.
The film’s lack of release until recently comes down to the Lutheran Society finding the film too disturbing – and it’s not hard to see why. Romero employs every trick he has to really nail down the horror getting old and being left behind by society. Juxtaposing the joy of being at an amusement park with the horror of people not understanding you, the mass of a crowd shuffling from one place to another. This could easily be Theme Park of the Dead, and it owes a great debt to Romero’s horror films.
That said, The Amusement Park does have a point, as much as Radha Bharadwaj’s Amnesty International backed Closet Land did but the raw power of the film’s haunting images and impressive use of sound and minimal dialogue is undone by the bookended speeches given by Maazel, it’s clear that these were mandates by the Lutheran Society given that Romero’s film could easily be seen as an independent experimental film and not a cry to respect our elderly.
It might not change the way people look at Romero’s back catalogue, but what The Amusement Park offers is not only a dizzying, and at times disturbing look at the world through the eyes of our most vulnerable but a reminder that Romero was one of the best when it came to mixing genre and message. Shudder’s decision to restore the film stands as a tribute to a man who was more than just zombies, he was a man of substance.
The Amusement Park streams on Shudder from June 8.