Rediscovering George A. Romero’s Long Lost ‘The Amusement Park’ With Suzanne Desrocher-Romero
George A. Romero’s The Amusement Park is a poignant film about an elderly man who finds himself at the titular ‘amusement park’, only to discover that it’s a nightmarish realm for the elderly. Even in this early work, yet again Romero proved himself the master of packaging intelligent social criticism in a genre form. At the same time, the fact that the early film was itself long-abandoned and lost to time has a ring of tragic irony to it—until the film’s rediscovery and restoration (you can now find it on the horror streaming service Shudder).
I sat down with Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, Romero’s surviving spouse, producer, and the founder and president of the George A. Romero foundation, to discuss the film and its restoration, as well as the iconic filmmaker himself.
The 1973 film was originally a commissioned work, a public service work intended to communicate the plight of the elderly in society. It was shot over mere days with a cast of primarily volunteers, with our central protagonist—played by Lincoln Maazel—is thrown into a chaotic park where one is always taken advantage of, always discounted, and always at threat. It’s a film that was rarely mentioned:
“It was a film that I didn’t know anything about until 2017, because he never mentioned it in any of his interviews,” recalls Suzanne Romero. The film re-entered their care a short time before George’s passing when a copy was sent their way by a friend, the curator of a retrospective in Torino. Suzanne recalls:
“We watched it—it was stunning. I thought it was really creepy. I thought, ‘George, what the hell? You never said a think about this movie!’”
George had always discounted the film, she recalled, commenting “‘it was nothing, it was three days… a commissioned public service film that was meant to be seen by community centers, never meant to be shown as a film’”. As George’s only director-for-hire, he didn’t have the attachment to it that he so often had for his other work.
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“We just couldn’t agree,” Suzanne notes, “and then he passed and I just thought, ‘wow, what am I going to do with my life?’ Slow by slow we get forward momentum, we get a 503c going and the foundation is born, and this becomes our first project.’
The first step was, of course, finding a talented restoration team. “We found Sandra Schulberg at IndieCollect, and her team is fantastic. For me, that was the easy part. For her it was the hard part because the film was such a mess. It was scratched and warped, faded, just in awful condition but they managed to restore it.”
The next step was finding distribution:
“Once it was done, then it was my job to see if i could get it out there, and it wasn’t easy… it took me a couple of years but we finally got all our ducks in a row and now Shudder has it and they’re going to be a great custodian of this film.”
The film has a number of themes that still have relevance today. From Maazel’s initial admonition that ‘you will be old one day’ to the horde of challenges faced by his character, it’s a non-stop chaotic parade of surreal threats. Suzanne commented on the poignancy of its message especially for those with few resources:
“It’s hard enough to age, and to be invisible and dismissed, but then if you have no money… it’s a nightmare! In this, you start out in a white room, and then you go into the world that’s supposed to be a fun world, the amusement park, where you’re supposed to leave your worries behind, but [here] not so much. It’s a very difficult day in the park.”
The loose script was written by Wally Cook, and I asked Suzanne what George’s typical working process was like:
“Once he had an idea he would open up his computer and go until he finished,” she mentioned, “and he listened to news, he was a news junkie. He’d hear something and go ‘whoa!’ “I got something I need to noodle”… he called it ‘noodling’. And, you know, he’d noodle, and then he’d shut the computer down and he would often send it to me, upstairs in my office, and I’d read it.”
Interestingly, while George’s greatest fame came as the father of the modern zombie film, “what’s actually more surprising than most people think is that they were very rarely horror,” Suzanne notes:
“He was very diverse… he had a lot of interests, and he was obviously very smart. So he was just a diverse artist who had a lot to say, a lot to think about. But he was boxed in, you know, ‘the zombie guy’… but he would still obviously tell his stories and [their] messages even though he would use zombies as a metaphor… to use the tools that he was given to go ahead and express his opinions.”
It’s a disturbing and often surreal narrative, one that certainly both haunts the viewer and leaves a not-so-subtle fear of the ticking clock that is one’s own mortality. The film is now available on the horror streaming service Shudder.