Tuesday, June 1, 2021


Playing at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday, June 6 only at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Chandler; streams starting June 8 on Shudder

The Amusement Park--Scary movie buffs around the world revere the name of George A. Romero, the Pittsburgh-based auteur who directed the original 1968 Night of the Living Dead and its 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead, two of the more influential horror pictures ever. So the release of a "lost" movie by Romero is no little thing. But moviegoers will have their chance to see just that at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Chandler this weekend: Romero's 53-minute opus The Amusement Park, made in 1973 but shelved and thought lost until a print was discovered and restored a few years ago.

Romero's widow has been quoted as calling it his "most terrifying film." Having seen it, I'm not sure she's wrong, although it's not, in the usual sense of the term, a horror movie. It's an "industrial" that Romero made for hire for the Lutheran Society, a social service agency for the aged, about a terrifying subject: Aging and ageism. But it is atmospheric and haunting, even shocking at times, to the extent that the Lutheran Society declined to use it.

The star is Lincoln Maazel, who later played the elderly vampire killer in Romero's 1978 chiller Martin (and was also the real-life father of conductor Lorin Maazel). Here he's a sweet old guy in a white suit wandering around a rather seedy-looking old-school amusement park. But this is an allegorical amusement park: The rides and other attractions depict the economic, racial, medical and other abuses and humiliations suffered by the elderly.

The quality of The Amusement Park is bleakly dreamlike. There are some touches that have an unfortunate student-film quality, but they don't lessen the overall emotional impact. As the poor man's miseries and torments increase, culminating in a scene involving him trying to read The Three Little Pigs to a child, Maazel's performance becomes heartbreaking.

Maazel also appears, out of character, in a prologue in which he notes that the other elderly people in the film were from area homes, and their time at the park, working on the film, was the first fun outing that some of them had had in years. He addresses us again in an epilogue, asking us to consider volunteering for services helping seniors.

The setting, by the way, was West View Park, near Pittsburgh; Romero's film is also a vivid time capsule for the attraction. I grew up in western Pennsylvania, and while I don't remember ever visiting this particular park, the movie quickly brought back the nostalgic sense memories of parks of that sort, and that period. It was founded in 1906, and closed in 1977, just four years after the film was made. Turns out it was a victim of aging, too.

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