DirectorGeorge A. Romero
Release Date(s)1975 (September 13, 2022)
Studio(s)Communicators Pittsburgh/Yellow Veil Pictures (RLJ Entertainment/Shudder)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: C
- Audio Grade: C
- Extras Grade: A-
George A. Romero and his team at The Latent Image were artists of many talents when it came to filmmaking. They could make anything, from commercials to short films to documentaries, all with minuscule budgets and time, but a wealth of collaboration and enthusiasm at their disposal. Once they began making feature films, it was clear that they had to continue making material for local businesses in order to keep the company and each other afloat. They had gained notoriety because of Night of the Living Dead, their debut feature, but their subsequent films There’s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch (aka Jack’s Wife) didn’t do much to further any of their careers. In between The Crazies and Martin, George and his dedicated crew were getting future projects underway, while also taking on work-for-hire jobs. One of those projects was the public television film The Amusement Park, which was financed by the Lutheran Service Society of Pittsburgh as a way of bringing awareness to the mistreatment of the elderly.
The premise is fairly straightforward: an elderly man of limited means visits an amusement park and finds constant adversity from everyone there. In this case, the amusement park is meant to represent modern society, and everything from affording food to transportation to simple connections with other human beings is examined. Initially, this man seems to have it together, but as he continues on his trek from one event to the next, he unravels, never failing to encounter the unkind and the uncaring among the other patrons.
The Amusement Park is definitely a challenging film, even haunting. It’s not the kind of horror that fans hoping for vampires and zombies are going to be looking for. Instead, it’s a reflection of the real world, and it must have been even more hard-hitting in its day because there wasn’t as much support for the elderly as there is today. Granted that it’s unfortunately not enough and we’ve been exposed to a gargantuan amount of elderly abuse on the evening news since this film was made, but the concept and very real nature of what the story is putting forth is still relevant.
The film also has many of the hallmarks of a Romero film from this era, including many different camera angles, fast cutting, and haunting images. Our lead, after a long day of being bombarded by unsympathetic people, drags his cane in utter exhaustion and despair, walking away from the camera with his fellow old people. A simple read of this visual might spring to mind the images of zombies, which Romero was intimately familiar with, but the image itself is haunting enough. One even expects smoke to roll into the frame to signify the eventual demise of these poor individuals, but even without it, it’s an atmospheric and effective image.
Fans of Romero’s work and the Pittsburgh filmmaking community of this era will certainly recognize a few things. For starters, the film stars Lincoln Maazel, who many will remember as Tateh Cuda from Martin. One might also identify a rare acting role by Michael Gornick, who would go on to perform cinematography duties on Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow, as well as S. William Hinzman, who shot The Amusement Park and is known primarily as the first zombie ever in a George Romero film, which was Night of the Living Dead. George himself even pops up for a role, but you can also hear him in several overdubs throughout the film. Keen ears will even hear a piece of library music used in Dawn of the Dead in one scene.
The Amusement Park was known as a lost film for a couple of decades, although George Romero’s widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, insists that it was more of a misplaced film. And according to Michael Gornick, despite popular opinion that the film was shelved and deemed too edgy for the Lutherans, it was well received and helped the organization raise a lot of money for elderly awareness, which is wonderful because that’s what the film’s main purpose was in the first place. Prints of the film were made to order, but it disappeared for a while before re-appearing at a film festival in 2001. Shortly before George’s passing, two battered 16 mm prints and a DVD of the film were sent to he and his wife, whereupon they watched it and plans were immediately made to restore it and get it out there for people to see. Unfortunately, George didn’t live long enough to see the film’s rebirth in screenings, on the streaming service Shudder, and now, on home video.
The Amusement Park was shot by S. William Hinzman on 16 mm film with Arriflex cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. RLJ Entertainment and Shudder bring the film to Blu-ray for the first time, utilizing a 4K restoration of those aforementioned 16 mm prints, which were in very poor condition, even faded to magenta. Considering this, as well as the fact that the original negative is likely lost forever, one must be a little kinder to this presentation and not simply slag on it for its deficiencies. It’s a natural presentation of its sources, with heavy grain and damage of all sorts that’s been cleaned up as much as possible. Minor lines and speckling remain, as well as occasional instability. Some sections of the film are really rough in terms of color. A sequence in which Lincoln Maazel rides a train is almost monochromatic, despite efforts to color correct it and bring natural hues back into it. The color is much better elsewhere with decent swatches of green and blue, though the skyline tends to appear gray for the most part despite there being sunny days while filming. Subtle digital fades have been added in a few places, likely due to major damage that couldn’t be repaired, but the overall aesthetic is a natural representation of poor materials, of which no other source exists.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It too has its share of issues. Audio can almost disappear in a couple of scenes, remaining very narrow throughout with minor hiss, but considering what the restoration team had to work with, which was audio straight off of these two prints, it’s a miracle that it’s mostly audible at all.
The Amusement Park on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case with artwork by Ryan Carr. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Michael Gornick and Michael Felsher
- Re-Opening the “Park” with Suzanne Desrocher-Romero (12:02)
- Bill & Bonnie’s Excellent Adventure with Bonnie Hinzman (10:00)
- For Your Amusement with Artist Ryan Carr (11:05)
- Panel Interview (23:12)
- The Amusement Park Official Brochure Gallery (3 in all)
- The Amusement Park Script Gallery (10 in all)
- Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (26 in all)
- Shudder Promo (1:07)
Audio commentary duties are performed by Michael Gornick with Michael Felsher serving as a moderator. It’s a fun chat as the two watch the film together, with Felsher asking questions and Gornick offering his remembrances of the experience. As per usual with Felsher’s commentaries, it evolves mostly into a conversation instead of a straight Q&A, and Gornick is more than game to offer his thoughts and memories. Re-Opening the “Park” features George’s widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, detailing the re-discovery and eventual distribution of the film. Bill & Bonnie’s Excellent Adventure contains an interview with script supervisor and actress Bonnie Hinzman about her involvement with the film. For Your Amusement features artist Ryan Carr speaking about his work with George before and after his passing. The Panel Interview features a roundtable discussion via Zoom with Shudder’s Samuel Zimmerman, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, IndieCollect’s Sandra Schulberg, Greg Nicotero, and author Daniel Kraus. The Brochure Gallery is interesting. It was sent out to potential buyers, and not only does it include a still from a moment that wasn’t in the final film, but the brochure also offers a 27-minute version, meaning that there’s actually two versions of this film out there. The Script Gallery offers the 19-page screenplay while the Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery contains 26 stills. A Shudder Promo opens the disc.
As Suzanne Desrocher-Romero mentions in the extras, The Amusement Park is certainly not going to be for everybody. Some might not be open to a film with a clear message that’s delivered in an effectively disturbing way, nor might they appreciate a film presented in a lower grade fashion than usual. But for those who want to consume more of what the Pittsburgh filmmakers of the 1970s and 1980s had to offer, The Amusement Park is a revelation of sorts. And this Blu-ray release offers a healthy dose of bonus materials for further appreciation. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons