Review by Sean Boelman
Recent years have seen the lost films of master filmmakers being rediscovered: Orson Welles, Sydney Pollack, and more. The late George A. Romero can now be added to that list with The Amusement Park, a characteristically unnerving psychological horror picture despite its propagandized origins.
Commissioned as a public service announcement about elderly abuse and ageism but going unreleased for decades as a result of its disturbing nature, the movie follows an elderly man whose seemingly idyllic day at an amusement park soon turns into a waking nightmare. It’s probably the most intricate PSA ever made, but one would expect no less from Romero.
As always, Romero does an amazing job of creating a sense of overwhelming dread within the film. From the first moments, the audience will be taken over by anxiety, not so much from what they see, but what they feel. This is definitely more of a mood and atmosphere piece than something based around visual scares, and it’s very effective as such.
Admittedly, there isn’t much subtlety when it comes to the movie’s themes. Since this is a commissioned piece, it’s made clear from the beginning what the message of the film is. Introduction and epilogue speeches basically spell out to the audience the meaning of what they are about to watch or just witnessed, respectively, but that doesn’t make it any less horrifying in the moment.
The script by Wally Cook does some very interesting things with characterization, and even though they can’t all be fully explored in the movie’s mere fifty-two minute runtime, it leaves some intriguing questions to linger in the viewer’s mind. It definitely would have been nice to see these concepts explored in a longer form, but horror fans will be overjoyed to get the opportunity to see it in any state.
The cast is made up mostly of non-professional actors or actors who have limited experience at best, and yet the quality of performances is much greater than that of most modern horror flicks. Had this film been released as intended, lead actor Lincoln Maazel may have had a massive breakout, as his turn is absolutely brilliant and horrifying.
Romero uses the amusement park setting to his advantage, creating some wonderful juxtaposition between the supposedly fun environment and the terror of what is happening. And of course, when Romero goes all-in on the surrealist aspects of the world, it creates a brilliant nightmare-like state.
The Amusement Park is an absolute must-see for anyone who calls themselves a fan of the horror genre. Many likely thought that they would never get to experience another movie from the great filmmaker, and this is an excellent post script to his storied filmography.
The Amusement Park streams on Shudder beginning June 8.