An elderly man in an all-white suit sits in an all-white room. He is broken, beaten, and bloody. What happened to him, we know not. We don’t even know his name. Nor do we know the name of the second elderly man, also in an all-white suit, in the all-white room. The second man tries to convince the first to get out there and live. But the second man has not been assaulted and discarded, and his sparkling white suit has not been soiled. His words of encouragement fall on deaf ears. So, he shrugs, opens the door, and walks out into the amusement park.
Playing like a Twilight Zone episode, The Amusement Park is a 52-minute abstraction exploring the social horrors of growing old. Written by Wally Cook and directed by George A. Romero—he of the Living Dead fame—The Amusement Park was commissioned in 1973 by the Lutheran Society as an educational film to depict the reality of ageism and elder abuse in contemporary society. Who knows what they expected Romero to deliver, but I doubt it was a surrealistic horror story in the vein of Franz Kafka with a touch of Luis Buñuel sprinkled on top.
Lincoln Maazel plays the man in the all-white suit, and West View Park plays the amusement park. It’s an amusement park like any other with roller coasters, fortunetellers, concession stands, ticket takers, and bumper cars. Well, the bumper cars aren’t what they seem. When a 67-year-old woman rear-ends another driver, the two get into an argument. A cop walks up and starts filling out a report. So does an insurance agent. The woman is beside herself—this will cost her license.
Other indignities befall the elderly of the park, but our man in the all-white suit bears the brunt until indignities give way to aggression. A biker gang attacks the man in the all-white suit, but not in a conventional manner—ditto for the priests who wander the park carrying an oversized Bible like it’s a heavy table. Then there’s the woman sitting on a coffin outside one of the rides and the Grim Reaper wandering unseen between guests.
There are more, but to go on listing them would spoil the fun. Besides, you can probably guess where this is heading. And if you don’t, The Amusement Park opens and closes with a narration underlining anything you may have missed. It’s a PSA with an avant-garde approach.
And it’s not what the Lutherans were looking for. Finding The Amusement Park too gruesome for their liking, the project was put on mothballs, never to receive a public screening. Many assumed it was lost—those who even knew of its existence, that is—until 2018, when author Daniel Kraus discovered a copy. IndieCollect gave the grainy, saturated film a 4K restoration, and on Oct. 12, 2019, Romero’s long-lost Amusement Park finally had a public premiere. And on June 8, 2021, anyone with access to a Shudder account will be able to discover another of Romero’s horrifying visions of American society.
The Amusement Park (1973/2019)
Directed by George A. Romero
Written by Wally Cook
Starring: Lincoln Maazel
Shudder, Not rated, Running time 52 minutes, Streams June 8, 2021, on Shudder.