Movie Review: Romero's Recently Unearthed 'The Amusement Park'
Over the years, I’ve come to place less importance on subtlety in art. There was a time when I saw it almost as a virtue unto itself-- I felt like if you were entirely explicit about your message, that was somehow less good than if you found an elegant way to get your idea across without making it totally obvious.
That’s not to say both approaches don’t have value, just that I was wrong about one being more valuable. I’ve always loved the movies of George Romero—he’s of course the creator of the modern zombie movie, but he’s also a lot more than that, and my appreciation of the director has only grown. Because Romero was not interested in being subtle about what he was saying, and while I never held that against him, my prior misguided views did probably keep me from admiring his films as fully as I should have. Romero had society’s ills on his mind, and he correctly understood that these things were too important to get cute with. Sometimes people just need to get the dang message, you know?
Romero died in 2017, but remarkably one of his early, unreleased films was recently unearthed. It’s called The Amusement Park, and it was made in 1973 as a sort of PSA about elder abuse and age discrimination for the Lutheran Society of Western Pennsylvania. It’s safe to say the organization got something more than they’d expected, and they stuck the movie on a shelf, where it was forgotten. In true Romero fashion, he’s very up front about what the film is about, with star Lincoln Maazel addressing the camera to tell us exactly what the issue is, before Romero launches us into a deeply unsettling world that involves the 70-year-old Maazel out for a nice day at a theme park when he’s beset by all manner of nightmarish incidents. Romero’s ability to induce anxiety and agitation is astounding, especially considering he doesn’t really even do anything extreme. It’s not the blood and guts you might expect, it’s just smart filmmaking, and by the end, our heads are spinning—and, Romero hopes, maybe now we’ll get the idea. Here’s the problem, he says. Do something about it.