Few issues make a cinephile’s coronary heart flutter just like the emergence of a “misplaced” movie. Discoveries just like the lacking reels of Fritz Lang’s 1927 movie Metropolis, which have been unveiled in 2010, give hope that sooner or later the lacking Lon Chaney movie London After Midnight, or any of the hundreds of really misplaced movies, will magically be found, safely preserved of their tins, patiently ready to be proven to hungry movie followers. Due to studios’ flippant early attitudes about cinema, and the flammability of older film applied sciences, being a movie-lover can typically imply realizing that sure films not exist, however nonetheless hanging onto hope.
That’s why Shudder’s launch of the lately restored and quasi-lost 1973 George A. Romero movie The Amusement Park ought to be celebrated. The film is an artifact, and an identifiable early step into his profession as a grasp of horror. However there’s additionally no disgrace in admitting that it isn’t a holy grail, a secret masterpiece from an early horror maestro. At finest, it’s mainly a heavy-handed, inelegant Twilight Zone episode that was in the end rejected by the non secular group that commissioned it.
Whereas Romero is rightly worshipped because the godfather of contemporary zombie cinema, he didn’t essentially got down to make the undead — or as he referred to as them, “ghouls” — into his life’s work. Like most mortals, the man needed to eat, and to maintain that, he began his movie profession as an industrial and industrial producer and director. A cursory look at his filmography over time would possibly give the impression that his rise to horror auteurdom was swift after he made Evening of the Residing Lifeless in 1968, however the trajectory was far bumpier. Evening of the Residing Dead was initially panned by critics within the U.S. (famously by Roger Ebert), and it didn’t earn audiences or essential acclaim till after its launch in France, to nice appreciation. The truth that he tousled the copyright on the movie and by no means earned any cash from it didn’t assist. The yr after its preliminary launch, it was re-released stateside, and Romero then started moving into narrative feature-film directing, and away from his day job.
However films are costly to make, and Romero nonetheless wanted to earn a residing, so the industrial work carried on. That is the place The Amusement Park neatly nestles itself into his filmography. It was commissioned and financed by the Lutheran Society as a PSA of kinds for elevating consciousness for elder abuse and mistreatment. They in the end shelved the movie as a result of they weren’t proud of it, even after reshoots, and on a shelf it sat till IndieCollect’s 4K restoration.
It’s robust to argue that the movie was “misplaced” within the conventional means. The Amusement Park was by no means meant for extensive launch, and even theatrical launch. It was by no means adored by audiences, solely to mysteriously disappear from catalogues and artwork cinemas, solely to hang-out our collective recollections. Nope. The Amusement Park was paid for by some well-intentioned, however maybe barely confused Lutherans, who determined it wasn’t going to serve their functions. In order that they tucked it away, and that was that.
However whereas horror writers and theorists all the time knew concerning the existence of The Amusement Park, that they had no means of watching it. Tony Williams’ 2003 e book The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Residing Lifeless” briefly discusses the movie, although Williams hadn’t seen it himself. The peculiar nature of the movie’s manufacturing is a footnote of curiosity for film followers, however for anybody with a primary working information of Romeo’s historical past in industrial productions, its financing and existence make plain sense.
And nonetheless, the movie’s unavailability in an age of availability constructed a mystique. And that may result in some main letdowns for folks anticipating it to be one other Daybreak of the Lifeless, or perhaps a Season of the Witch. As a result of ultimately, it’s simple to see why The Amusement Park spent many years in cinematic limbo: it simply just isn’t that good.
The Amusement Park basically explains its anti-elder-abuse agenda within the prologue, the place a kind-voiced man walks by way of an empty amusement park and warns us what we’re about to see. This introduction, and a equally introduced epilogue have been tacked on after a requested reshoot to make the movie’s objective clearer.
The Amusement Park largely consists of vignettes which can be loosely strung collectively to point out metaphorical and satirical variations of the methods seniors battle and are forgotten by society. It’s framed inside an amusement park, the place every attraction or sales space is a microcosm of one thing flawed with the way in which we deal with the aged, from monetary issues to medical or bodily ones. Romero exhibits hucksters, first-aid tents, and bumper vehicles as examples of the systemic abuse towards the older generations. The parable is apt, however the remedy of it’s clunky.
Nobody will ever accuse Romero of being delicate, however the heavy-handed, repetitive nature of The Amusement Park is tedious. It presents one instance after one other of the methods we mistreat seniors with out nuance, perception, or hope. It’s mean-spirited, however by no means builds to any conclusion or raises the dialog past that. Seeing one incident or seven incidents makes no distinction within the message it’s getting throughout. It provides nothing to its personal dialog.
The movie can also be technically unsophisticated. It suffers from pretty critical sound points, and sometimes the hand-held camerawork is ineffectively pointed within the flawed path, or the digicam is out of focus. The movie isn’t polished and packaged in the way in which followers would possibly count on from a soon-to-be well-known filmmaker.
However The Amusement Park has appreciable worth, when it’s taken in context. As an artifact of Romero’s profession, it’s tremendously vital. There are nuggets in there that trace at his extra political and social themes, which might later emerge in the remainder of his zombie saga. The Amusement Park can also be a transparent gateway for him from one profession to the subsequent. It’s the bridge between his industrial and industrial filmmaking and his horror-centric feature-film directing. It straddles each of these worlds, with out a lot success, however that doesn’t make that step any much less vital to acknowledge.
Horror followers are apart from themselves to find a new-to-them movie by one of many grandaddies of their beloved style. However anybody who queues up The Amusement Park on Shudder this week anticipating a feature-length, lovingly crafted horror movie is more likely to be disillusioned by this lackluster PSA. With a bit consciousness of Romero’s earlier life, although, and a few thought of the place this movie got here from, that disappointment has the possibility to at the least morph into historic appreciation.
The Amusement Park is now streaming on Shudder.