George Romero's lost film 'The Amusement Park' debuts on horror streaming site Shudder

Joshua Axelrod
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

When Suzanne Desrocher-Romero first came across "The Amusement Park" on a random DVD in 2017, she couldn't believe what her husband, legendary horror director George Romero, had accomplished.

"I had goosebumps when I saw it," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It was two-pronged: 'Why haven't I heard of this film,' and, 'Oh, my God, what a film!' It's just a scary film, and not in the typical scary or horror. It's human. It's about real life."

She and Romero watched "The Amusement Park" together about five weeks before the "Night of the Living Dead" auteur died. It was a previously "lost" 53-minute film Romero had shot at Pennsylvania's West View Park in 1973 that follows an elderly man (played by the late Lincoln Maazel) as his wholesome day at an amusement park turns into a nightmare.

Director George A. Romero arrives at the "Survival of the Dead" Midnight Madness screening during the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival held at Ryerson Theatre on September 12, 2009, in Toronto, Canada. (Malcolm Taylor/Getty Images/TNS)

Some Pittsburghers had the opportunity to check out "The Amusement Park" when it premiered there in October 2019. "The Amusement Park" finally received a wide release Tuesday on the horror-centric streaming service Shudder.

"I think it's a privilege for Shudder to be able to release it and be the home for it," said Sam Zimmerman, Shudder's director of programming. "I know there's such an appetite to see it and understand what it is. It's so interesting to sit there and see it and have the conversations about it. What is it that makes it quintessentially Romero? Because I think there's a lot there."

"The Amusement Park" was originally conceived as an educational film about ageism that was commissioned by the Lutheran Society. Romero took that premise and ran with it, crafting a terrifying vision of the everyday hurdles elderly Americans face that was so disturbing the Lutheran Society opted not to release it.

Desrocher-Romero said the DVD on which she and Romero watched "The Amusement Park" was copied from a print that was in bad shape. She called the Lutheran Society in search of a cleaner version, but it didn't have any record of ever commissioning the film. Eventually, it received a 4K digital restoration thanks to the George A. Romero Foundation (of which Desrocher-Romero is the founder and president) and film preservation service IndieCollect.

Zimmerman said what audiences will see on Shudder is essentially how Romero shot and edited "The Amusement Park," including a fourth-wall-breaking message at the beginning and end of the film from Maazel explaining its themes.

"I was really taken by that intro and them saying, 'Well, this may be a more creative and impactful way (to talk) about ageism and how we treat seniors than just going around and lecturing about it,'" he said.

Both Zimmerman and Desrocher-Romero realize how wild it is that a movie completed in the 1970s is being made publicly available for the first time via a 21st-century streaming service. Zimmerman said he and Shudder were connected with Desrocher-Romero by Daniel Kraus, the author who was brought in to finish Romero's zombie apocalypse novel "The Living Dead."

The two had breakfast in New York City, and Desrocher-Romero presented her husband's "quirky little film" to Zimmerman, who was immediately intrigued. As someone who believes "the concept of Shudder wouldn't be here without George Romero," Zimmerman jumped at the chance to make "The Amusement Park" a Shudder exclusive.

"We're home for interesting, unique and show-stopping, direction-driven genre," he said. "Our filter should always be quality, taste and context when you're programming. This felt like a very special project and something we could be a home for."

As Zimmerman put it, "The Amusement Park" is "one of the only things we're ever going to see again from that era, that region and that filmmaker." While most of that statement holds up, we still may be graced in the near future with one more Romero zombie flick: "Twilight of the Dead," which he had been developing as the final chapter of his undead saga before his death.

Desrocher-Romero described "Twilight of the Dead" as a "very dark piece" and "the evolution of his work." The script is currently in her drawer and she's "prepared to keep it in this drawer until the end of time" as she seeks out the right creatives to bring it to life.

"I will protect it and make sure it's done right," she said. "What director is going to want to do a George Romero? It's daunting. I would have loved nothing less or more than to have George do this film, but he's not here. So we need someone to have the sensibility. ... It needs to be made, but I won't get it done until it's right."

In the meantime, horror junkies can get their Romero fix with "The Amusement Park." Though Desrocher-Romero would have loved it to get a wide release in movie theaters, she's proud to have it on Shudder.

"We wanted to see who would be the best custodian for this film," she said. "Sam and his team stepped up to the plate, and I couldn't be happier. They're terrific and will take good care of this film."