George A Romero’s “The Amusement Park” Blu-ray Review

Between “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 and “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), the famous horror director and specialist in zombie films George A Romero directed “The Amusement Park”. The 54-minute 1973 image, which premiered at the 1975 American Film Festival, then disappeared without a trace. It remained missing presumed lost until a 16mm print was recovered in 2017 – the year Romero died. Since then, it has been digitally restored so that it can finally enjoy a commercial release.

Credit: Acorn Media

“The Amusement Park” offers Romero fans an amuse-bouche to go along with his famous zombie movies, though it’s a disturbing psychological horror film in its own right and contains plenty of trademarks of Romero trade. In common with much of Romero’s canon, “The Amusement Park” is covered in social commentary, but it’s also far more obviously allegorical than some of his other work.

The film is introduced by an elderly man (Lincoln Maazel), who, against the backdrop of the seedy West View Park in Pennsylvania, advises viewers to find ways to support the elderly. It cuts to Maazel in a white suit, sitting in a white room, bloodied and bandaged. An identical Maazel, in a pristine white suit, appears and tries to make conversation with his doppelganger, too traumatized to leave the room. Undeterred, the Immaculate Maazel opens the door and walks out – into the amusement park.

The amusement park
Credit: Acorn Media

Once there, he first approaches the dangers and risks of life with a sense of joy and adventure, riding the roller coaster with an experience of childlike fun. Some of the other attractions have less appeal. He is given basic food and is forced to watch a much richer man receive more attention and finer cuisine, an allegory of inequality. The bumper cars become an arena where the slightest jolt is treated as a collision with a vehicle (watch out for the director’s cameo). In another attraction, the broken bodies of the elderly are manipulated by evil physiotherapists. Maazel is dismayed, but things go from bad to worse. A young man, having glimpsed through a fortune teller the tragedy of his future as an old man, attacks the nearest pensioner within reach, knocking Maazel to the ground. He is, after all, a reminder of his future and his mortality. In one of the final sequences, Maazel cries uncontrollably as his attempts to read a story to a young girl are rebuffed.

The amusement park
Credit: Acorn Media

Shot in just three days entirely on location (the funfair was already out of breath, and was finally demolished in 1980), and using mostly non-professional actors, “The Amusement Park” is the very definition of guerrilla cinema. . In the hands of a lesser director, the end result would be a mess. A master storyteller like George A Romero, however, puts together a short that is haunting, sinister, and often uncomfortable yet gripping. Bikers, who would cause so much damage to the zombie-free mall so hard-earned by the heroes of “Dawn of the Dead”, also feature here. They rev their engines and taunt Maazel, pushing him to the ground. Perhaps the success of filming this sequence gave Romero the idea for Tom Savini’s gang in his latest masterpiece?

The amusement park
Credit: Acorn Media

“The Amusement Park” has been significantly remastered for this Blu-ray release. However, expectations need to be managed. Restoring from 16mm prints in poor condition means the image quality isn’t as sharp as it would be if you were working from a 35mm print, and there are some scratches. The colors are satisfyingly rich. There are additional features on the disc that delve into its background, rediscovery, and restoration. There is an audio commentary by Michael Gornick, who has collaborated with Romero many times. Romero’s widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, explains her late husband’s reaction to discovering the film and how she worked so hard to restore it and give it an audience after his death. Artist Ryan Carr talks about drawing Lincoln Maazel and others for a graphic novel version of the film. There is also a panel discussion with many talents involved to breathe new life into the film.

The amusement park
Credit: Acorn Media

“The Amusement Park” transcends its low budget and rushed production. The story and its pacing are cohesive and the allegory, though heavy at times, is effective. More importantly, it’s a psychologically unsettling, thought-provoking, thought-provoking film that haunts the imagination long after. It will endure repeated viewing as the kind of tale that resonates in different ways, revealing its secrets slowly, each time it is experienced. Fans of his work can rest assured that “The Amusement Park” bears the indelible stamp of George A Romero.

Cast: Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker, Phyllis Casterwiler, Pete Chovan, Sally Erwin, George A Romero Director: George A Romero Writer: Wally Cook Certificate: 12 Duration: 54 minutes Produced by: Acorn International Media Release date: October 17, 2022 Buy ‘Le Parc d’Attractions’

The amusement park
Credit: Acorn Media

Harold B. McConnell