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A Forgotten Horror Classic: Romero’s Aging The Amusement Park

As a movie buff, I was delighted to learn that a 1973 film directed by the late horror master George A. Romero—the “Godfather of the Dead”—has been brought back to life and is streaming on the fright channel Shudder.

Romero has haunted our dreams since the 1968 release of Night of the Living Dead, which sparked a never-ending fascination with zombies that continues to this day with “The Walking Dead” and God knows what other shows and movies that feature these rotting dead people running amok in our society like political cultists.

Romero’s The Amusement Park was thought to be lost. But his foundation and some dedicated filmmakers pieced together two scratched 16 mm prints, touched up the color and the sound, and released it in triumph.

The trailer describes it as “the scariest film Romero ever made… A circle of hell… Our most deeply cynical artist at the height of his ferocity.”

The subject of this terror? This circle of hell? Getting old. That’s it. 

This old guy in a white suit is the star of the film. He wanders into an amusement park and demonstrates what happens to all of us as we age, like getting shamed, humiliated, ignored, robbed and stomped by bikers. Even his glasses were stomped as he was left bleeding and untreated. You know, the everyday horrors of growing old in our society. Like the road-rage guy who tailgated me into the Georgia Square Mall recycling lot the other day but drove off because there were too many witnesses.

I watched The Amusement Park on Shudder, because I’m old. I’m 74. I can dig it. This week I’m getting an infusion at Piedmont Athens Regional of a “biologic” drug that heals bleeding intestinal ulcers. On Friday, I get injections in both eyes to forestall the deterioration of Age-Related Macular Degeneration, a genetic disease that blinded my father. Do you remember the scene in A Clockwork Orange when Alex gets clamps in his eyes to force them open? It’s like that, but my doctor sticks needles into my eyes. Alex just got drops. He was young—then. The actor Malcolm McDowell will turn 79 in June.

Also this week, I have a session of physical therapy on my spine, because I took prednisone so long for the bleeding ulcers that I developed “steroid-induced osteoporosis” and suffered five compression fractures. Now they want me to take a new bone drug that could possibly cause my femur to snap or my jaw to die. Hard to believe they snuck that one past the FDA.

The crazy thing about The Amusement Park is that it was funded by a well-meaning Lutheran group in Pennsylvania as A Film on the Problems of Aging in Our Society. They were looking for a director and hired Romero, a hometown boy from Pittsburgh. In a three-day shoot, he turned their nice church film into a surrealistic vision of the amoral future in a society catering only to the rich—a tour de force creating, in only 51 minutes, the very real hell that every last one of us will experience if we live long enough.

Complaints poured in from traumatized viewers, so the church group shelved it, and the film rotted like a corpse for nearly 50 years until it arose from the dead to haunt us. One of the scariest parts of the movie is when a young couple has their fortune read by an amusement park psychic, who reveals a future of poverty, sickness and abandonment. Oh, the horror.

I’m having lunch this week with an old friend who was a radio-TV-film major at UGA like me.  We’ll talk about how our ambitious dreams turned to crap and what we would have done if someone told us in 1970 what America would be like in 2022. I shudder to think.

One of our more innocent dreams back then was to dress up like the two main characters in Midnight Cowboy, whom we sort of resembled. I was going to be Joe Buck, and my friend was going to be Ratso Rizzo. We would carry a tape player with the theme song, “Everybody’s Talking.” We were going to walk around campus like that just to be funny. We never got around to it, and now all of a sudden we’re in our 70s.

So, like the old guy says in the movie: “See you in the park—someday.”

Doug Monroe was a newspaper reporter, an IBM speechwriter and a special education teacher in Brooklyn. He lives in Athens.