|This week would have been George A. Romero’s 79th birthday. The father of the modern zombie movie, he also made classics like Creepshow, Knightriders, Code Name: Trixie (aka The Crazies) and Martin. But some of the maestro’s less well-known, non-zombie projects are just as interesting.
When you think “Media Guy from Pittsburgh,” most folks think of Romero or Fred Rogers. These two guys are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to theme and content — Romero with his political commentary through violent horror, and Rogers with his gentle, kid-friendly allegories with puppets. So, of course … these guys worked together.
One of Romero’s first paying gigs was on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, alongside future Batman Michael Keaton (who was a grip). Yes, Mr. Rogers, Romero, and Beetlejuice worked in the same room. Among other things, Romero shot film segments for Rogers, including this little gem about Rogers getting a tonsillectomy, which is probably Romero’s best use of a hospital setting until his video for The Misfits’ song, “Scream.”
(Rogers would later call Romero’s zombie movies “A lot of fun!”)
Soon after his work with Rogers, Romero made a series of commercials for his production company, Latent Image, along with Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo and producer Russell Streiner. They include a technically impressive knock-off of Fantastic Voyage for Calgon and a starkly terrifying political ad for McGovern.
But the Grail among Romero’s lesser seen works is The Amusement Park, a short film Romero made for a religious group about the mistreatment of the elderly that was apparently too horrific for the people who commissioned it. It’s been tucked away like The Necronomicon ever since. According to Romero scholar Tony Williams, The Amusement Park is a savage indictment “of American callousness towards the vulnerable members of its society, and implicitly articulates the need for a social humanistic revolution within that society.”
In The Amusement Park, a dapper gent, played by Lincoln Maazel, Uncle Cuda in Romero’s Martin, goes through ever-increasingly horrible debasements in an evil take on Adventureland where old folks are cut off from functioning society. There have been screenings here and there, but The George A. Romero Foundationis trying to get The Amusement Park restored and available to the public.
Hopefully we’ll all get to see it soon.
And in the meantime, happy birthday, George!