Resembling an episode of “The Twilight Zone” this long-lost film from George A. Romero was recently discovered after it was buried by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania in 1973. But just like a zombie in many of the horror master’s films, “The Amusement Park” has risen from its resting place, and it’s coming to get you in theaters this week and exclusively on Shudder on June 8th.
THE AMUSEMENT PARK (1973)
Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker, Phyllis Casterwiler, Pete Chovan, Marion Cook, Sally Erwin, Michael Gornick, Jack Gottlob, Halem Joseph
Directed by George A. Romero
Obviously, the Lutherans hadn’t seen “Night of the Living Dead” released five years earlier when they hired Romero to write and direct a public service announcement (PSA) about elderly abuse. The group, which is still around offering a variety of services to promote wellness and safety for the senior population, deemed Romero’s film too disturbing and so they shelved it. 47 years later the print was discovered by New York Times bestselling author Daniel Kraus — a Guillermo del Toro and Romero collaborator — and under the supervision of producer Suzanne Desrocher-Romero and The George A. Romero Foundation, the film was digitally restored in 4K by IndieCollect.
Lincoln Maazel, best known for starring in Romero’s 1978 vampire film “Martin,” serves as both the host and star of the recovered film which begins with a Rod Serling-like introduction by the actor, “One of these times, the door will open in your life, and you will step into the amusement park” he cautions before reminding us that one day we too will grow old. The theme park serves as a metaphor for ageism and as the white suit-wearing Maazel navigates the fairgrounds he begins to witness elderly abuse firsthand until he also becomes a victim resembling a beatdown Colonel Sanders.
Romero maintains an ominous tone ripe with tension as the audience begins to experience the protagonist’s confusion and paranoia thanks to the director’s masterful use of pacing and edits. The Grim Reaper lurks in the background, rats infest the fairgrounds, and hellbent bikers make an appearance (minus Tom Savini who the Lutheran Service Society should feel relieved for not hiring to supervise the special effects).
“The Amusement Park” marks the halfway point between “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” and one of Romero’s few pay-for-hire gigs — he also shot a couple of short films for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” — and while the PSA is not a traditional movie, it is an important George A. Romero work of art that bears his signature. You can stop a zombie by shooting it in the head. There is nothing you can do to stop the aging process, and that my friend is absolutely frightening.
Available exclusively on Shudder on June 8th.