Although The amusement park is not the first movie that comes to mind when George A. Romerois mentioned, it is a disturbing work, which transports the audience to a nightmarish dystopian world. Originally conceived as an educational film about elder abuse and neglect, Romero directed and edited the project and approached it with a dark nervousness that brought it closer to the horror genre it was so fond of. used to. As a result, the movie had a bumpy ride before its release. It was shot in just three days in 1973, but was shelved over fears it would be too dark for a film made for educational purposes. In 1975 it was shown for the first time in some film festivals before being considered lost. Then in 2017 it was miraculously rediscovered and screened at other festivals in 2018, but it reached a wider audience when it was made available to stream on Shudder in 2021. Sadly, Romero died in 2017 and never got to see the film’s critical acclaim received upon its re-release.
The amusement park opens with main actor Lincoln Mazel speak directly to the public about how the elderly are neglected by a youth-obsessed American society. He’s not in character at this point and describes old age as “the saddest cause of denial and rejection”. This line in particular is very emotional, and even though the audience was aware of the film’s story, it still sparks the revival to come. Maazel goes on to play an anonymous old gentleman who unsuspectingly visits a deceptively pleasant amusement park that really is the stuff of nightmares. Aside from Maazel’s personal prologue and epilogue, the tone of the film is dark and mean-spirited. While this might be a turn off for some viewers, it was clearly a deliberate choice and Romero knew exactly how to deliver the film’s message with real agony and intelligence. The metaphorical, surreal trip to the park is almost mesmerizing in its unusualness. The amusement park setting is a chilling contrast to its true nature.
Romero made the film on a budget of $37,000, and the gritty, low-budget feel adds to the daunting and dizzying journey he sends audiences with Maazel. Its constant abuse and victimization mirrors the real world in a terrifying way, and the film’s time-loop aspect ensures it resonates with viewers of all ages. The film begins and ends with a broken, bruised, and bloodied Maazel warning a cleaner, more presentable version of himself not to enter the amusement park despite his desire. At first, this scene is rather confusing, but when it comes across the exact same situation in the conclusion, it’s truly heartbreaking. Romero manages to amplify the distress and the emotion by repeating this moment. When the scene returns at the end, it also comes across as a stark, dark reflection of dementia.
The real-life devastating disease is certainly present in The amusement parkand as the film draws to a close, it gets stronger and stronger. When Maazel finally breaks down after all the pain he had to endure, it’s a truly heartbreaking moment. It’s not just the bad treatment inflicted on old Maazel that is disturbing. At points in the film, a grim reaper-like figure stares at him from afar, making it seem like death is always near, and although the figure’s screen time is limited, Romero is able to capture the paranoia of his omnipresent presence. This only adds to the nihilistic fate that awaits Maazel. In the film’s epilogue, he delivers the deep final line, “I’ll see you in the park…one day” and lets the audience reflect on all that the film threw at them as the credits begin to roll.
Romero is considered an influential figure in the horror genre for his iconic dead series, which began in 1968 with night of the living dead. Its 1968 feature debut is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, even receiving praise from Roger Ebert who notoriously disliked graphic violence. night of the living dead features a low-budget, gritty aesthetic similar to The amusement park, which in turn also increases its effectiveness. Every movie of Dead series offered critiques of society and made equally profound statements The amusement park Is. While his contribution to the zombie movie can’t be understated, Romero has also enjoyed success far from the subgenre. Some of Romero’s most popular films outside of dead the series were Crazypeople and Martin, the latter reunited him with Maazel. Romero’s exploration of social breakdown and disorder in Crazypeople and Martin did not go unnoticed and became known for the social commentary of his horror films. Romero found a way to express himself and make bold political statements in the horror genre, and he admitted that he found films without a social conscience unappealing. His ability to disturb audiences while addressing social issues made him an ideal director for The amusement park and, although he didn’t reach more of an audience until after his death, it feels like he managed to make the film exactly as he himself intended.
Although it only lasts 54 minutes, The amusement park is a mentally draining experience. Its absurd tone is disorienting, but its message is never lost. It works as an educational movie, but it works better as a psychological horror movie. It stirs paranoid feelings the moment Maazel sets foot in the park and leaves a strong impression once he leaves. The film’s repetitive and experimental nature may not work for everyone, and it’s not always easy to watch, but it’s an intentionally harrowing hidden gem that captures brutal reality in horrifying fantasy. The amusement park is a film made with a clear purpose, and despite its convoluted story, the “Godfather of the Dead” has created a truly disturbing work of art.