The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - THE AMUSEMENT PARK | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - THE AMUSEMENT PARK

The Amusement Park review
An elderly man spends a nightmarish day at an amusement park.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: George A. Romero

Starring: Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker, Phyllis Casterwiler, Pete Chovan, Sally Erwin

The Amusement Park poster

Today, an indie filmmaker just has to make a barely competent and mildly successful horror movie before Hollywood comes calling. That wasn't always the case, and in the decades bridging the death of Universal Horror and the success of The Exorcist, Hollywood didn't see the genre as commercially viable. The late George A. Romero was cursed with bad luck, and in the case of Night of the Living Dead, bad timing. Had he made his debut a decade later, when the likes of John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper were bringing American horror back to the mainstream, he would likely have been offered the sort of budgets those filmmakers were afforded after their indie breakouts. But while Night of the Living Dead proved a huge hit on its release in '68, Romero didn't see a penny of its profits thanks to a copyright oversight.

This meant that until Dario Argento arrived with a suitcase full of lira to fund 1978's Dawn of the Dead, Romero was the very definition of a jobbing blue collar filmmaker, taking work where he could find it. In 1973 he found it via the unlikely source of Pittsburgh's branch of the Lutheran Church, who commissioned him to make an hour long movie highlighting the struggles of the elderly. The result, The Amusement Park, horrified the Lutherans so much that the movie was instantly shelved. Now, thanks to the George A. Romero Foundation, the film has been restored and released through horror streaming site Shudder.

The Amusement Park review

Romero was always known for loading his films with political allegory, but here the message is front and centre. America is failing its elders, who at this period were the very people who had fought in World War II. Their reward, it seems, is to be cast aside from an uncaring society, viewed as a nuisance. The metaphor of Logan's Run is itself the text here. Life ends at 60. The rest is a prelude to Hell.

The movie begins with its leading man, Lincoln Maazel (whom Romero fans will know from his later role as the grandfather in Martin), delivering a speech to camera outlining the point of the movie we're about to watch. He's walking through a closed amusement park, soaked with rain and grimly unappealing in that distinct 1970s way.

The Amusement Park review

Then we're into the narrative section of the film as Maazel, dressed up in a white linen suit, enters a stark white room where another version of himself, beaten and bruised, sits sobbing on a chair. "Won't you come out into the world?" the freshly pressed Maazel asks his battered alter-ego. "No, you won’t like it our there," is the reply. Maazel ignores the warnings and opens the door, emerging into a bustling fairground.

It's from here on in that Romero's film turns into the stuff of nightmares. Immediately we see old people being ripped off by a ticket salesman, who cheats them out of their prized possessions for the price of a few tokens. Ignorant youngsters barge into brittle old folks, knocking them to the ground. A snob asks waiters to turn his table around so he doesn't have to look a group of pensioners in the eye. Maazel is accused of being a "degenerate" for daring to talk to a child. He witnesses a dodgem crash but his testimony is discounted because he wasn't wearing his glasses. In a precursor to the climax of Dawn of the Dead, Maazel is set upon by three bikers and beaten to a pulp. In the cruellest act of all, a mother pulls her child away from Maazel, who was happily reading from a storybook. He's left a thoroughly broken man.

The Amusement Park review

The Amusement Park is as angry and upsetting as any of the American horror movies of the Vietnam/Watergate era. The Lutherans may not have appreciated Romero's approach, but the message they wanted to get across is certainly clear. Seeing Maazel's kindly face tear up when the little girl, the one person willing to give him the time of day, is pulled away from him, is one of the most distressing images you could witness. Any viewers with aging family members will find this a tough watch, and perhaps a little guilt will set in.

What's most striking is that the issues raised by Romero here have only gotten worse. If old people were feeling left out in 1973, imagine how they feel today, in a society that's almost exclusively tailored to the young with its reliance on ever evolving technology to keep the wheel of commerce turning. Visit an amusement park today and you'll likely note a complete absence of the elderly, who have now been banished entirely to the white room. Just as Hollywood failed Romero, we've failed the elderly, which ironically means we've failed our future selves.

The Amusement Park is on Shudder from June 8th.

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