Romero was never interested in subtly critiquing anyone; he went for the jugular and told you he was doing it. “Dawn of the Dead,” “Monkey Shines” (1988), “Land of the Dead” (2005) and especially “Survival of the Dead” (2009), his last film, didn’t waste time waiting to see if you caught on. They open with attacks on the US Military, the wealthy, corrupt government, and the systematic disenfranchisement of poor and working class Americans. “The Amusement Park,” like the same year’s “The Crazies,” which re-staged the Vietnam War in a Pittsburgh suburb, bites down on its hero’s neck and refuses to heal. Whatever the Lutherans thought they were paying for, they accidentally unleashed our most deeply cynical artist at the height of his ferocity toward the country’s decaying morality, and wound up funding one of the most upsetting films of the ’70s.
Lincoln Maazel, later the religious grandfather antagonizing the title character in Romero’s “Martin” (1978), opens the film with a direct address. He wanders through an empty, rain slicked park talking about how as you age, the variety of services and opportunities available to you shrink until it seems like there’s no place for the elderly. By way of demonstration Maazel’s going to take us to The Amusement Park, which will look a lot like the world outside despite its carnivalesque festooning.
Maazel, cheery and dapper in a crisp white suit enters a stark, sterile waiting room with only a few chairs and a sad, lonely figure bleeding from the face and out of breath. Maazel asks this fellow if he wants to go outside with him. “There’s nothing out there. You won’t like it!” the battered man manages through wheezing sobs. Undeterred, Maazel starts his day at the park. The ticket taker has to be interrupted from low-balling seniors out of their prized possessions like a crooked antique dealer before he’ll take money in exchange for tickets to the rides and attractions. The signs everywhere don’t advertise the park’s features, but rather read like questions on an insurance form or warnings on medication. The fun begins with a ride on a little train that turns sinister when Maazel starts seeing people in Halloween monster masks on board with the rest of the passengers. No one else seems to notice them.
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