★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by THE George Romero.
Everyone gets old. It’s no more complicated than this little horrifying truism. The world of horror is filled with ghosts, homicidal nutcases, Pazzuzu, creepies, crawlies, and robot-monsters. But, nothing, repeat, nothing, is more frightening at the prospect of losing your mental and physical faculties and facing the sad and potential finite end of life.
Unearthed after many years, George Romero’s the Amusement Park, comes back to life and discusses the very real and melancholy impacts of age. Romero hailing from a commercial and corporate film production world, was hired by Lutheran Services to develop a film that looked at the darker and often underreported nature of senior citizen discrimination. What Romero handed in was a far more dark treatment, of this already dark subject, that no one was ready to contemplate. And it was subsequently parked in neutral for nearly 50 years.
Amusement Park begins with a PSA-like dialogue from lead actor Lincoln Maazal who spends the better part of ten minutes listing off the horrors of aging: fixed budgets, loneliness, health conditions, access to health care, and generally being cast aside at the whims of a fickle and frightened society. Ironically, Maazal would go on to live a very robust life dying at 106 years old in 2009. Immediately following Maazal’s public health soliloquy, Romero takes the helm and the psychedelic ruminations on the elderly begin in earnest.
Maazal immediately confronts, well, himself. A peppy and spry version of himself asks a bloodied and downtrodden version himself if he’d like to go “outside” and experience everything that there is no offer. The answer is a defeated, no.
Maazal, never referred to by a “name” during the film or in the credits, heads out to take in the glory of the world as a dapper 71 year old. His encounters are hurried, chaotic, and sad. He and his fellow elders at the amusement park are victims of pickpockets, parents falsely accusing them of pedophilia, swindlers, and a general disdain for the elderly.
All the vignettes are ON. THE. NOSE. These aren’t so much metaphors as they are a direct interpretation of societies real feelings towards the aging process. Each experience is a different one, but all end with the frustrating realization that the aging process is unforgiving. In one particular event Maazal joins other seniors on a bumper car ride and when a younger driver makes an incorrect hand signal the younger driver is immediately rear-ended. The police intervene and question the senior’s story, an insurance agent arrives and indicates that their policy will increase beyond their budget, and Maazal, who witnessed the event, is called in to question for not wearing his glasses.
Romero has a great eye for manufacturing the real and palpable frustrations and anxieties of aging. Whether it’s the blur of people constantly walking in front of the camera creating confusion and visual disparity, or the use of actual seniors from Pittsburg-area assisted living facility, he clearly shows what’s in store for each and every one of us. Spoiler alert: it’s not a pretty sight.
Gorehounds be forewarned, this is not Day, Dawn, or Night of the Living Dead. It’s not even really horror, per se. It is scary in the true sense of the word, but it’s an entirely different kind of scare. You can clearly see strands of Season of the Witch and Martin (which also included Maazal), but the real genius of the film is Romero’s willingness to tackle such a suppressed and taboo topic. These are introverted frights that everyone will deal with at some point in their life — whether the want to or not.