GORE IN THE STORE
THE AMUSEMENT PARK ****
Directed by George A. Romero.
Starring Lincoln Maazel.
Horror, US, 53 minutes, certificate 15.
Streaming on Shudder on from 8th June 2021.
There is a certain pleasure to see the scratchy, bleached out credit screen for THE LATENT IMAGE, George A. Romero’s production company, one more and probable last time. There is the degree of familiarity for long-time fans, particularly for those of his non-zombie films; the early seventies run between NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD that contained the manic pandemic thriller THE CRAZIES and the chilling portrayal of possible vampire MARTIN. That pleasure to see the production company that gave us those tales of American madness is accompanied here by the thrill of seeing it in front of an entirely unseen movie hailing from that period. There is also a bitter sweet feeling at play as it is also a reminder of the much-missed auteur that Romero was and his scathing social commentary.
When the news surfaced last year that a newly discovered and entirely unseen film of Romero’s had been unearthed, speculation was rife as to what exactly it was. Excitement might have been tempered somewhat when reports that THE AMUSEMENT PARK was a documentary commissioned by The Lutheran Society about the plight of the elderly in America. However, expectations were raised once more when the reason for why the film had gone unseen for so long came to light; mainly that the religious society was completely blind sided and disturbed by Romero’s unflinching, downbeat vision in all its surrealist, nightmarish glory. What exactly the Lutheran’s expected when they hired the man who redefined zombies forever to make a documentary about the elderly is up for question but for fans of Pittsburgh’s favourite auteur it is a happy accident and a little miracle that we get to see the results nearly fifty years later. That it fits in so seamlessly with the rest of his cinematic output is a bonus that serves as welcome reminder of his ability to blend social commentary with horror storytelling.
This look at how the elderly were treated and discarded by society in the early 1970’s takes the form of an educational film introduced by the film’s main player Lincoln Maazel, familiar to Romero fans as the elderly Cuda from MARTIN. Lincoln plays a white suited gentleman who enters a busy amusement park where amongst the usual background of roller coasters the elderly queue up to trade their belongings for tickets to trade for rides and to wander around the park. As the elderly gentleman wanders the fairground, he bears witness to several indignities inflicted on his fellow seniors and then more and more against himself. His pristine white suit becomes dishevelled as he is beaten and hounded as he stumbles through the attractions which come to resemble a warped microcosm of the chaotic atmosphere of late 60’s and early 70’s America with its lawlessness and societal upheaval.
Low in budget and fleet of length it still comes across as pure, undistilled Romero. DAWN OF THE DEAD is recalled with the appearance of a motorcycle gang who threaten the gentleman and it carries the energetic, shoot from the hip style as well as the cinema verité quality that the director made his own in the 1970’s. It probably qualifies as the most surreal film in his career. While its critique of the health and welfare systems is hardly subtle it also displays his knack for looking at the banal and every day and turning it into a bizarre nightmare. It is a vision from a personality that we are unlikely to see again and will be missed always.