Arriving on Shudder on Tuesday, June 8th is a recently restored version of George A. Romero’s The Amusement Park, an industrial film that Romero directed on behalf of the Lutheran Society which showcased the horrors of how elderly people are treated by society 46 years ago (and still remains potently vital storytelling today). Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with George’s wife, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, about the restoration process that helped preserve The Amusement Park after all these years as well as her thoughts on the unsettlingly surreal film. Suzanne also discussed wanting to not only preserve George’s legacy through the efforts of the George A. Romero Foundation, but also supporting and showcasing the talents of other filmmakers out there as well.
So great to speak with you today, Suzanne. I'm a genre journalist and The Amusement Park is probably one of the most horrifying things I've watched all year thus far. This was completely unsettling and you can really see the markings of where George's career was going to head from here. I just think it's fantastic that we're able to finally get to experience it now.
Suzanne Desrocher-Romero: Well, I'm glad you feel exactly the same way I do, because that's exactly how I feel. It's a very edgy film and disturbing.
It really is. And especially for the time that it was released. I'm curious, because I know for a long time this was considered one of his lost films, how did The Amusement Park end up being resurrected and what was the initial process of being able to locate it in the first place?
Suzanne Desrocher-Romero: Well, I had been given a 16mm print of this film in 2017 by Julia Daniola, who was the programmer for the Torino Film Festival. And she had shown this film as part of his oeuvre as part of this retrospective series, and she gave me the 16mm print and she gave me a DVD. And I thought, "Oh geez, what's this?" because I had heard George interviewed a lot and he never mentioned it. So, about three to four weeks before George passed, we slapped it in the DVD player and we watched the film. And Heather, I'm telling you, 51 minutes later we stopped it and said, "Oh my God, what is this? And why have you never said anything about this?" He goes, "Well, first of all, it really wasn't, air quotes, ever a film." It was more of a public service, industrial film that they were commissioned to do and three days later, bing bang boom. It was his only director-for-hire project in his whole career. So he just thought this was never meant to be released as a film.
So, okay. Even though I thought, “Jesus, this film is edgy.” First of all, for me, that fortune teller scene, I got goosebumps. And then the white room, and just the whole thing was incredible to me. So, George passes away and I'm walking the halls going, "What am I going to do?" Slowly, there was this forward momentum. We opened up a 501C3, we have a foundation and then I said, "Okay, well, this is going to be our first project. We're going to get this film restored and we're going to show it to some people.” We found IndieCollect and their wonderful team, including Sandra Schulberg, and I thought the easiest part for me was to get them to do this. Mind you, they disagree [laughs]. They thought it was hard because the film was in terrible condition and they did the best they could. They had two copies, because we found a second. Then my work started, where I just needed to see if I could get this movie out and who would be the custodian and who would be interested in seeing it? So, we got all our ducks in a row and it took us a few years, but we did it. And Heather, I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled that people think it's wonderful.
I also was a bit concerned that Romero's zombie fans were going to find it disappointing, but they haven't; they've been super supportive. I think that people are now starting to look at him now as an artist, as opposed to a zombie director, and I think that is really pleasant to me. That’s something that I advocate because it's important that he is a filmmaker and this is a perfect example of an early work and how he has his Romero footprint and his sensibility all over it. I can see Dawn of the Dead in this film. The more and more I watch it, the more and more I respect it.
I think what's really great about George, too, and the legacy that he left behind, was the fact that I think for most of us genre fans, I think we've all come to realize, especially over the last 20 years or so, that George was more than just a zombie filmmaker. He was sort of the progenitor of incorporating socially conscious messaging in genre storytelling, where I think he laid the groundwork for directors like Carpenter and Craven to come along in the late '70s and '80s, to really be able to say something within the genre with these kinds of stories. And something else that I think is very interesting is that you could release this now as a “new” movie and it's just as relevant as when he made it back then. And I think that's what George's career to me has always been—he releases these movies at a time when they need them, but ultimately, they're still relevant today.
Suzanne Desrocher-Romero: Definitely. He always used these universal themes, sort of like Shakespeare. Shakespeare used universal themes and that’s why they are relevant today, too. George had a knack for understanding that kind of stuff. What comes to mind is Diary of The Dead. He was talking about fake news and blogs and social media in that film, and it really wasn't huge then, but he knew it would be and he could see that it was going to be a problem. And it's the same thing with this subject. And it's the same thing with commercialism and Dawn or Season of The Witch, which relates to the Me Too movement. He just had a knack for this kind of storytelling.
We're still at the tail end of this pandemic, where we saw this virus sweep through our country and one of the populations that was hit the hardest by it were the elderly. And unfortunately, for a lot of people in this country, that was okay. Which makes the timing of this film so interesting to me because I think this movie proves that we have, over time, continued to devalue what older generations can actually bring to the table and their value in our society. I just think that the timing of all of this is so eerie, but it's so necessary at the very same time.
Suzanne Desrocher-Romero: I agree. And as we age, we become more and more invisible, especially women. Their beauty fades and then suddenly they fade away, which is ridiculous. And in this film, the rich, older person seems to be doing quite well, but it's the economically challenged folks that have most of the problems and they lack the support and love. As you said, with this pandemic, it's put a really big light on these problems, because we just discard, dismiss, and put away the elderly and it's disturbing. We are all going there—every one of us. I mean, if you're lucky enough to age, we're all heading that way, and I think that is something that frightens all of us.
I wanted to draw some parallels to how Hollywood also tends to treat older storytellers and The Amusement Park. It always boggled my mind, when somebody like George, who has done so many incredible things with his career and things like that, but he still struggled to get that respect from Hollywood and have people in his corner championing him and the films he wanted to be making. That just always blew my mind. When you were revisiting this with him, did he see those parallels himself, in terms of how he had been treated later in his career?
Suzanne Desrocher-Romero: You know, once he was diagnosed, he didn't want to talk about business. And I totally respected that. But we were game players and we were playing Scrabble and just very casually, I asked him what he thought his legacy was. And he said, "Suz, nobody cares—really." And it shocked me that he said it then, and it shocks me now just saying it to you now. When he died, those were the words that haunted me. I just thought that was nuts. And now that I'm full speed ahead with the foundation, I just say, "Oh no, he was wrong and I'm going to prove it.” We are going to elevate this genre and we're going to do our best to support this world and support filmmakers. It's supporting women in horror. That’s what drives me. All of that is so important to me. And this film is just giving me a voice and it's giving George his voice and it's shining a light, not only on a zombie director, but on an artist that was boxed in and we're going to try to get him out of this box. People like you obviously respect his work, but I think that it needs to be a lot more ubiquitous.
Honestly, when you said that about him, thinking nobody cared, that actually made me tear up a little bit, because that to me breaks my heart, because of all the things that he's done for this genre. Every year, I go back to Chicago to co-host Flashback Weekend, and I actually got to chat with him there in 2013 and spent some time with him and he was just absolutely lovely. And the joy that you could see in his face when he was meeting with fans, it was wonderful. It seemed like he was genuinely surprised when fans would talk to him about Martin or Knightriders, because everybody always talks about—
Suzanne Desrocher-Romero: Dawn of The Dead.
Yup. And so when people would bring up Martin or Knightriders or his other films, you could see the real joy that it would bring him. But the fact that he thought that it didn't matter, that makes me so sad. And I am so glad you guys are doing this foundation in his honor now to help show the world just how much he did matter.
Suzanne Desrocher-Romero: You know, I think that surprise was because nobody saw those movies. Martin, yes, maybe, but Knightriders or Bruiser, all those movies were not successes for him. We have an archive at the University of Pittsburgh with 40–50 unpublished works, and those are all failures. Those are all works that he would go out and pitch and they'd say, "No, George, it's not zombies." He was a diverse writer, he had diverse interests, both cerebral and visceral. I mean, the guy was brilliant. And yet, he was in this box. He was grateful to have had a career because we all know it's hard to have a career, but he was a frustrated artist. And listen, a lot of artists are frustrated because it's the nature of the beast, right? You have so much to say, but do they want to hear it? Do they want to buy it? It's a tough business.