Never appreciated enough in his time, George A. Romero has been gone for almost four years but proves that he was always ahead of the curve in his latest film, a newly restored lost film from 1973 titled The Amusement Park. Functionally identical to an episode of The Twilight Zone, and as subtle as zombies pounding on the entrance to a shopping mall, the film has a clear motive, making us consider the treatment of the elderly in society and how the entire apparatus of civilization has ironically been shifted toward a means of ignoring them. Romero's film clocks in at under an hour but, in that time, he throws down the gauntlet again; no one knows the dark heart of man better than George did.
The Amusement Park begins with actor Lincoln Maazel, who would work with Romero years later on Martin, introducing the entire thesis of the film in a Rod Serling-like manner. Unlike the host of The Twilight Zone, however, Maazel goes on to be the wrap-around narrator and also its leads actor, stumbling throughout the many areas of the titular amusement park wherein his old age frequently causes him frustration and makes him a source of mockery and trivialization by the other park goers.
It's clear from the entire work that Romero had more than just elder abuse on his mind when making the film, which was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania as a PSA to explore that topic, but shelved it because of Romero's disturbing visuals. At the center of the entire film is Romero's clear vision that the entire American machine, better yet, civilization as a whole, has been designed to belittle and destroy the elderly. This becomes clear as Maazel attempts to navigate simple activities like driving or eating, and encounters obstacles that cannot take his age into account in any way.
Romero had a bone to pick with the world while making this, something he did when he was just 33, yet he could already see where things were headed in the world. Romero could tell already that corporate influence and the expansion of capitalism into every fiber of reality would have a negative effect on life, but that these things, in particular, would lead to a rise in indifference toward the elderly as everyone is forced to fend for and distract themselves. To really hammer it home, he makes sure you realize how cyclical this act is, that it has never stopped and will only continue unless interference forces a change.
That's the only downside to The Amusement Park, beyond its less-than-an-hour run time which is mostly just segments pieced together, that you can tell entirely where this thing is headed from frame one. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, because even when the end is in sight, it's still a fun ride to get there.
It might sound like a lot for a movie about an old guy going on a bunch of old theme park rides, getting confused, and getting pushed around to actually be about how the machinations of society will grind us into dust, but it's there. Typical of other Romero films, there is no subtlety, but to have one last vindication for his mind and societal satire to display, it's a joy to see George take a swipe at us one more time.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Amusement Park will stream exclusively on Shudder starting Tuesday, June 8th.