WHEN the Lutherans in Pennsylvania decided in the 1970s to commission a movie about the awful ways in which the elderly are often treated, they chose a promising young filmmaker called George A Romero to direct what was intended to be a public service announcement (PSA) movie.
Choosing Romero, above, was a blunder of biblical proportions. Clearly they had no idea that the director, who died in 2017 aged 77, was on a path to become a prolific and much-admired maker of horror films, and when they viewed The Amusement Park they were not at all amused.
In fact, the Lutherans were so horrified that they buried it, believing it would never, ever see the light of day. But, as we all know from watching Romero’s numerous zombie movies, what gets buried never stays buried for long.
But it took almost 50 years for someone to resurrect The Amusement Park, and this week the painstakingly restored film began streaming on Shudder.
Yesterday, John Serba, writing for Decider, said:
One can’t help but wonder if the Lutheran Service Society of West Pennsylvania knew what they were getting into.
Romero gave them The Amusement Park, a surreal and experimental 53-minute film that never saw the light of day after he made it in 1973 because it was, well, surreal and experimental. And creepy and weird and more than a little distressing, which is why it makes sense that the film was snatched up by horror streamer Shudder.
Diving deeper onto the film, Serba writes:
The Amusement Park isn’t a typical horror movie with blood and guts and shock value, but it’s easy to see why the Lutheran Society likely wasn’t, y’know, amused with what Romero gave them, and therefore shoved the film into an attic and forgot about it.
The film is rife with heavy-handed metaphors about society’s cruel indifference to the struggles of the elderly. It’s not conventionally gruesome, but psychologically gruesome, a reminder that people who are closer to the great unknown of death are most deserving of our empathy.
We can only assume the Lutherans agreed more with the message than the method, which is deeply unsettling. Romero crafts a nightmare: A disjointed, episodic narrative; harsh, abrupt edits; the constant audio and visual noise of people, people, people everywhere, frequently walking between the subject and the camera, breaking our focus.
[Lead actor Lincoln Maazel] is consistently pushed into the background. Any moments of absurdist comedy … quickly evolve into displays of judgmental discrimination. It’s maddening and upsetting.
Romero’s intent clearly wasn’t gentle admonishment – he’s showing how ugly human behavior can be, and he wasn’t being subtle.
Being a great admirer of Romero’s work, I’m about to sign up for a Shudder free trial – and who knows, I may stay with it to catch up on some long forgotten classics.