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The Amusement Park

Dundead

This newly restored film by the great George A Romero was originally commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society, who hired the director to make a PSA film about ageism. What they got was a chaotic, disturbing existential nightmare. The film was never released, the Lutherans apparently unhappy with the film’s disturbing atmosphere, and it was thought lost to the annals of history until 2017, when a 16mm print was discovered. Originally shot in 1973, five years after he revolutionised the horror genre with Night of the Living Dead, this is, (despite being relatively brief in length, and Romero’s only work for hire), no mere footnote in the director’s illustrious career, but a deeply moving, genuinely frightening, bitterly impassioned howl of a film, and one which is overflowing with Romero’s customary compassion and wit. 

“a chaotic, disturbing existential nightmare”

The film follows an unnamed elderly protagonist played by Lincoln Maazel (who would reappear in Romero’s 1977 film Martin) as he visits the titular amusement park, and finds it to be a site of metaphysical torment. The jarring, cacophonous soundtrack and parade of distressing images (rats feasting on discarded fast food; a grim reaper atop a carousel horse) invoke a sort of sensory delirium as our protagonist encounters a series of vignettes, each one representing society’s indifference or open hostility to the elderly; each one boasting a brutally efficient punchline. 

With inventive editing and following its own sense of dream logic, the film comes across almost like Romero’s shot at Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. While they were right about it being disturbing, perhaps what the Lutherans of 1973 overlooked was Romero’s deep streak of humanism which runs through every frame, culminating in a final image of almost unbearable poignancy and uncertainty. 


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