Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 19, 2022)
Legendary filmmakers gotta eat too, so in 1973, Night of the Living Dead director George Romero took a project “for hire” in 1973. The Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania wanted a flick to highlight social issues that impact the elderly and gave Romero a tiny budget and three days to shoot the film.
Romero created The Amusement Park, a tale that leaned more heavily into the realm of psychological thriller rather than the educational project the Lutherans wanted. Park received little exhibition for years but eventually found broader release on home video.
2022 brings the film’s first Blu-ray issue. Not coincidentally, this becomes my initial screening of the obscure flick.
Then-septuagenarian actor Lincoln Maazel opens the film with a discussion of how society ignores and neglects older folks. We then meet Maazel as an unnamed battered/bloody elderly man who sits alone in a white room.
A tidier version of himself enters and tries to get the abused guy to leave the location and go outside. Bloody Maazel refuses and warns Clean Maazel that he won’t like what he encounters, but Clean Maazel goes anyway.
Clean Maazel winds up in a bustling amusement park packed with much younger people. Although he initially seems delighted, Clean Maazel soon runs into a myriad of challenges and difficulties.
Man, I’d love to know what made the Lutherans think Romero was the right guy for a straight educational film. Hey, I respect their desire to shed some light on the topic, but the notion that a director best known for horror would make a conventional story seemed like a stretch.
While the dark, nightmarish tone of Park comes as no surprise, the movie’s general incoherence does catch me off-guard. Granted, maybe I expect too much from Romero given the brief production schedule and the lack of funds involved.
Nonetheless, Park delivers a heavy-handed mess. A good movie can be made to highlight poor treatment of the elderly, but Romero can’t find a sensible through-line here.
I assume that the jerky manner in which Romero tells the tale attempts to put the viewer off-balance in a way that theoretically represents the way old folks feel on a daily basis. I would contest that POV, though, especially given the age of the characters.
Park appears to depict people in their 60s and 70s – technically “elderly” but not exactly helpless. Granted, I get that 71 years old in 1973 was different than 71 years old in 2022, as people simply age better now.
Nonetheless, it feels like a stretch to view people in their late 60s/early 70s as so unable to fend for themselves. Park treats folks in that range more like they’re in their 90s, and this just seems odd.
It doesn’t help that a lot of what Park depicts as “elder abuse” could apply to anyone. For instance, at one point a man “befriends” Maazel just to pick his pocket, and that could affect folks of any age.
Yeah, I get the symbolism: the elderly tend to feel lonely and will fall for financial swindles from those who treat them kindly. Nonetheless, the movie’s literal depiction comes across as forced.
Other scenes feel like they imply wrongdoing when none occurs. For instance, an elderly man fails a vision test and loses his driver’s license.
I guess Romero wants us to view this as a crime, but I prefer that people who can’t see stay off the road. Similarly, a cop treats Maazel as a poor witness to an accident because he doesn’t wear glasses he needs.
The officer doesn’t discredit Maazel due to age, as he finds flaws in Maazel’s testimony solely because of vision issues. As an audience, we know he saw the event correctly, so Romero intends for us to sympathize.
Again, the cop does nothing wrong. Maazel offers a flawed witness not due to age but due to iffy vision.
Park occasionally hits some impactful notes, but too much of it just makes no sense. Other scenes paint the elderly as victims for reasons that simply don’t have anything to do with age.
For a glimpse of where a better movie would have gone, we get a scene in which a young couple asks a fortune teller to convey their future. This shows them various issues that impact the elderly.
Had Romero used that motif for the entire movie, we would get a more coherent and impactful production. We could see progression and how society changes toward us as we age.
Instead, we wind up with a flawed collection of scenarios that only occasionally make any sense in terms of the movie’s themes. Amusement Park ends up as too pretentious and too silly to hit the mark.