The feature on The Amusement Park was first broadcasted on Shudder. It has been updated for the cinemas' digital rental and home video release.
Few things send a cinephile's heart racing like the discovery of a lost film. Discoveries like the missing reels of Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis, which were unveiled in 2010, give hope that one day the missing Lon Chaney film London After Midnight, or any of the thousands of truly lost films, will be discovered, safely stored in their tins, patiently waiting to be shown to hungry film lovers. Thanks to studios' sarcastic early attitudes about cinema, and the
The Amusement Park, a quasi-lost 1973 film, should be commemorated. It's also an identifiable early step into George A. Romero's career as a master of horror, but there's also no shame in admitting that it isnt a holy grail, a secret masterpiece from an early horror genius. At worst, its a cult item and a novelty, ultimately rejected by the religious organization that requested it.
While Romero is rightly hailed as the father of modern zombie cinema, he did not necessarily set out to build the undead or as he called them, ghouls into his daily routine. Like most mortals, the guy had to eat, and to sustain that, he started his film career as an industrial and commercial producer and director.
Night of the Living Dead was initially panned by American critics, and it did not receive much critical acclaim until after it was released in France, despite its merits. The fact that Romero messed up the copyright on the film and never earned any money from it did not help. The following year, it was re-released stateside, and Romero then began directing narrative feature films outside of his day job.
The Amusement Park was commissioned and financed by the Lutheran Society as a PSA for promoting elder abuse and mistreatment. The film was put on hold until IndieCollects' 4K restoration because they were dissatisfied with it.
It's hard to argue that the film was lost in the traditional way. The Amusement Park was never intended for widespread release, or even theatrical release. It's never been adored by viewers, only to disappear from catalogs and art galleries, only to haunt our collective memories. Nope. The Amusement Park was paid for by some well-meaning, but perhaps somewhat confused Lutherans, who decided it would not suit their needs. They hid it away.
The Amusement Park's existence was always known to horror writers and theorists, yet they had no way of seeing it. Williams' 2003 book The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead gives some background information about the film, but for anyone with a basic working knowledge of Romeos' history in commercial productions, its funding and existence make sense.
And yet, the unavailability of films in an age of availability grew a mystique. And that might result in some serious letdowns for those expecting it to be another Dawn of the Dead or even a Season of the Witch: It's simply not that great.
In the prologue, a kind-voiced guy walks through an empty amusement park and warns us what we will soon see. This introduction and a similarly presented epilogue were added after a request for a fresh start.
The Amusement Park is a collection of short clips that are grouped together to illustrate metaphorical and satirical versions of how seniors are pushed aside or ignored by society. Every attraction or booth is a microcosm of something amiss in the way we treat the elderly, from financial issues to medical or physical ones. Romero depicts hucksters, first-aid tents, and bumper cars as examples of systemic abuse toward the older generations.
The Amusement Park's overburdened, repetitive nature is tiresome. It's mean-spirited, but never draws to a conclusion or elevates the discussion beyond that. It's irrelevant, and makes no contribution to its own conversation.
The film is also non-decently packaged. It has fairly minor sound difficulties, and often the handheld cameras are pointing in the wrong direction, or the camera is out of focus. The film isn't polished and packaged in the manner fans would expect from a soon-to-be famous filmmaker.
The Amusement Park is extremely important as an artifact of Romeros' career. There are nuggets that hint at his more social and political themes, which would later develop throughout his entire zombie saga. It's the bridge between his commercial and industrial films and his horror-centric feature-film directing. It's not that it's unimportant to overlook.
The Amusement Park on Shudder is expected to despise this feature-length horror film, which is largely due to a lack of knowledge of Romeros' previous life and some notion of where the film came from. This dissatisfaction has the potential to at least evolve into historical appreciation.
The Amusement Park is now available for digital rental on Amazon and Vudu. It's available on DVD and Blu-ray with behind-the-scenes footage.