Originally produced in 1973 and re-discovered and restored in 2017, The Amusement Park was commissioned by the Lutheran Society, which had commissioned it as an educational film about elder abuse and ageism. However, they had issues with the content of the film and it wasn’t seen until 2019 (and now it’s running on Shudder).
People seem to be falling over themselves to proclaim this a lost classic and a definitive artistic statement instead of what it really is — an interesting curio from a director who has a celebrated run of films. It has more interest to Pittsburghers yearning to see West View Park one more time, as well as celebrate the weird fact that a film about an amusement park being used to show the perils of ageism would soon be destroyed for retail stores and now is a mainly empty parking lot where a K-Mart once stood.
In fact, I once did a marketing survey at a beer distributor out there and the bubbly account expert I was working with asked an older man if he drank Iron City Beer. He answered, “Oh, I used to. My friends and I all used to drink Iron City.” She asked back, “Why don’t they drink it anymore?” The reply still haunts me as much as her horrified reaction amused me: “Oh, honey. All of my friends are dead.”
The lead in this, Lincoln Maazel, would play Tata Cuda in Romero’s best-realized film — in my opinion — Martin. Other than him, most of the cast are volunteers and not professionals. This — and the reasons for the making of this movie — make it unfair to rate against Romero’s other films.
Go into this with the intent to see a curiosity and the opportunity to see lost parts of Western Pennsylvania. That’s really what it is, not a lost film per se. It feels very much like the parts of Romero’s films I dislike, like There’s Always Vanilla and, well, everything after Creepshow. But as someone who respects the director as someone who helped create modern horror and put Pittsburgh on the map (well, until he didn’t film Land of the Dead here, but sour grapes and that was probably more due to the city’s film office no longer offering tax breaks), this was still worth watching. I just kind of refuse to blindly accept any artists’ work as universal genius, even people whose work I adore such as Argento, Fulci and, yes, George Romero.
Also, as a denouement, this RogerEbert.com review makes it sound like Romero was living hand to mouth until Dawn of the Dead was made. To wit: “Broke and hungry, he shot low-budget features in the early ’70s and directed eight episodes of a sports documentary series called “The Winners,” profiling the likes of OJ Simpson and Reggie Jackson at the height of their popularity.” Now, I wasn’t around and can’t speak to that, but Romero was shooting tons of commercial work for companies like Calgon, got movies made and The Winners was a pretty big show. I’ve spent twenty-five years or more in Pittsburgh’s marketing community and know that directors back then — from other people in the industry and those with similar roles — were working steadily and hardly starving. Perhaps artistically he was hungry, but this review makes Romero’s life into a great tragedy when I see it as a success. Then again, this same review refers to “Rob Zombie’s marvelously outré Americana” as an actual thing, so there you go.
That said — even after pretty much saying I didn’t enjoy this — I recommend supporting The George A. Romero Foundation and their mission of preserving and promoting Romero’s legacy, as well as creativity within the horror genre and independent filmmaking in general. Here’s hoping that they can help us discover new heroes and not just comb through the past for bits and pieces of what once was, or Romero’s message in The Amusement Park truly will be lost.