By David Dent
Commissioned by two Pittsburgh based philanthropic organisations to highlight the plight of older people in the state of Pennsylvania and attract volunteers, this 1973 curio, directed by horror legend George A. Romero, was reportedly never shown because its distressing images were thought to be too much for the good folk of the state. It was restored this year for screening on the Shudder channel.
Romero chose a state fairground, West View Park, as the location for his 53-minute film (it closed in 1977). Bookended by a direct to camera piece by the actor Lincoln Maazel, 71 at the time (he also starred in Romero’s ‘Martin’ and died at the impressive age of 106) which frames what we are about to see, Maazel plays two versions of himself; in a white room, a sprightly, dressed in white Lincoln meets a beaten up, bloodied older version who, when asked, refuses to go outside.
Maazel ventures into the fairground, and pretty soon we get the measure of what this is all about: the younger attendees all but ignore the old folk, who are refused access to the rides because they don’t have enough income and have to sell their goods to raise money; one group of elderly people gather round to listen to a huckster selling retirement homes as other younger people pick their pockets; and on the bumper cars, an incident involving an older couple and a younger man (Romero himself) results in the police siding against the innocent oldies.
Perhaps the cruellest section involves people gathering for the fair’s freakshow: the exhibits? A group of old and infirm people paraded for the youngsters to gawp at. A beaten up, bloodied Maazel returns to the white room, and the whole thing starts again, to demonstrate the cycle of poverty and neglect facing the client group.
The film is clearly the work of Romero: his beloved Pennsylvania settings are harsh and unloving; a biker gang turns up to mete out some punishment; and at one point a group of older, bedraggled people look suspiciously like shambling zombies. ‘The Amusement Park’ is anything but subtle but its point is made clearly and consistently; if it was actually shown back in 1973, it’s a fair bet that the good people of Pennsylvania would have rallied to Maazel’s final call for action and support.
The Amusement Park is streaming now on Shudder.