Posted on August 11, 2021

George A. Romero’s The Amusement Park and the Decline of West View Park

Guest Post

The twenty-first century has seen a growing interest in geriatric horror, not just perpetuation of stigmas against the elderly as grotesque and horrifying but also exposure of the act of growing old as a horror in itself. Films like Drag Me to Hell (2009), The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), The Visit (2015), Anything for Jackson (2020), and The Relic (2020) are just a few examples that depict the financial, familial, and mental distress and confusion that come with getting old in a society that neglects rather than nurtures its elders.

As in most things, however, George A. Romero was ahead of this trend with his short PSA film, The Amusement Park, produced in 1973 and first screened in 1975. Not a traditional feature film, it was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania, who were troubled by the neglect of the elderly by the political, economic, and social structures they served all their lives. To encourage young people to help the elderly, the Church hired a young filmmaker who had done commercials, segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, several short films, a romantic comedy, and a few horror films. But, as Scout Tafoya writes, Romero “was never interested in subtly critiquing anyone; he went for the jugular and told you he was doing it.”[i] Working with scriptwriter Walton Cook, he made the film so disturbing that some sources say the Lutherans refused to show it, and so it was buried until 2017. Adam Charles Hart, Visiting Researcher at the University of Pittsburgh (which recently acquired Romero’s archives) speculates that local churches may have shown it, however. He claims that the film was never lost but just too weird to be shown with any regularity.[ii] The film has gotten a lot of attention this summer since it landed on Shudder. Here, I offer a personal commentary on the history of the amusement park itself, West View Park.

people walking in a crowd

scenes of rides at an amusement park and crowds watching

a rollercoaster closeup at an amusement park


While there are spoilers here, the real power of the film lies in its execution and effects, not its plot.

man in a white suit on the ground while two women walk by himThe film begins and ends in a sterile white room with a cheerful old man greeting a frail and shaken double of himself who has just come from the amusement park. The energetic and optimistic man fails to recognize himself in the defeated man, who is exhausted, bruised, and scared. It is clear that whatever he has experienced has aged him significantly. We see the plucky younger version venture into the park and gradually becomes that older self by facing a series of progressively violent injustices at the hands of the crowd (young and old) and the institutions that manage it. In this perversion of an amusement park, signs restrict riders not by age or height but by income, medical maladies (a longer list than appears today), and the requirement, “Must not fear the unknown.” He witnesses an elderly man stripped of his right to drive the bumper cars and then fall prey to accident when his wife drives, an accident caused, moreover, by a younger driver (Romero himself). The young man lies about the events and attacks their age when talking to a very Pittsburgh police officer. Our old man saw the whole thing, but he is accused of not wearing his glasses and is discredited. This is when he begins to visibly tremble.

elderly couple in a bumper car next to a middle aged man in a bumper car

closeup of a scared man's faceFrom there, we see the man’s multiple attempts to access food, kind companionship, and community through entertainment. The only attraction that welcomes him is a sinister clinic, where elderly people are restrained and “exercised,” their limbs forcibly moved and examined in extreme closeups. When he flees, someone shouts, “You’re supposed to have fun in there!” But he doesn’t have fun anywhere: not at the train unloading coffins at its destination, nor the fortune-teller’s tent where he is attacked by a young man who has just been shown what the future holds, not even at the quiet parts of the park where he is attacked by a motorcycle gang and the Grim Reaper. Now very disoriented, he is bullied by his insurance company, denied medical care—“You should be feeling a lot better, they put a Band-Aid on you”—and had his pocket picked by a man pretending to be his friend. He returns to the white room, and the cycle begins again. The film ends as it began, with a plea for viewers to “take some positive actions” now, since “Whether you return to the white room like this will be determined by factors outside of your control.” Finally, “The amusement park need not end in a sterile white room.”

elderly man in a white suit in a sterile, white room

West View Park to Sterile White Room

Romero could not have known that the filming location would suffer the same fate as his protagonist. His career put Pittsburgh on the horror map, making it the zombie capital of the world with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and more.[iii] Many of these locations are outside the downtown area: Evans City, Monroeville, Beaver County, for example. The Amusement Park was filmed just a few minutes from where I grew up, in the borough of West View, at what used to be West View Park. It took just three days to film it, and only a handful of the actors were paid. Most were volunteers[iv] (including my high school marching band, thanked in the credits).

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think that the didactic message warning against abandonment of the old and undervalued is physically and visibly born out in the park itself, which had already begun its decline in 1973. The location, chosen for its foreboding merriment, has lost any pretense of wholesome amusement as the carnivalesque turned to concrete and consumerism. Of course, its charmers were always a façade, available only to the young, which is the point of the film. The overly loud and disorienting carnival music, the balloons that harm the environment, the rides that provide a temporary thrill—not to mention the unique subversive attractions Romero adds—foretell of commercial structures erected, used, and then abandoned.

empty strip mall framed by trees

The Amusement Park opens with a direct address to the audience. Lincoln Maazel, who plays the old man around whom the film revolves, introduces himself: “I am an actor. I am working. I have a family,” all of which mark him as more fortunate than the character he is about to portray, who suffers from “loneliness, failing health, inadequate transportation, housing, medical care… lack of compassion and supportive services from the younger members of society.” At the same time, career, income, and family are also evidence that Maazel is a productive member of society. Not only does he show how fortunate he is but also how valuable he is. Without those contributions, his character reaps no benefit, but the unintentional implication is also that he deserves none. Those who are not productive members of society regularly face judgment, and their lives are deemed less valuable. We see this in a scene in which a fortune teller shows a young couple how they will be mistreated once they considered old and expendable. The decrepit apartment they live in reflects this.

Depleted use value, to borrow the Marxist term, is one reported reason for West View Park’s decline: in short, a lack of patronship and the innovation and financial support that come with it, not unlike the career, income, and family the old man lacks. The Park was opened in 1906 by T. M. Harton and enjoyed prosperity for over seventy years, even competing with the nearby Kennywood Park, which opened in 1898 (and is still thriving). The world grew up around the park as it shifted from countryside to suburb, but it always boasted beautiful scenic woodlands both in the park and on the streetcar journey there. Change in ownership in the 1960s (from George M. Harton III to his elderly mother), decreased public transportation directly to the park, and fewer school picnics held by now consolidated school districts created a financial crisis, culminating in a fire in the most popular part of the park, the Danceland, in 1973. Unable and unwilling to rebuild, the park closed in 1977.[v] According to the borough, “The park would stay vacant for a few years. After its closure, many of the buildings and rides caught fire, likely from arson. One of West View Park’s most beloved rides, The Dips [a rollercoaster], burned down on August 31, 1980”.[vi] The violent and visible deterioration of an old man that Romero shows in his film, as his character is slowly beaten, robbed, and humiliated into submission, is visited on the very site where filming occurred, an eerie degeneration into physical decay.[vii] Just as the old man’s wealth is picked off by corporate and amateur thieves, the remaining rides were sold whole or in parts to other parks. In a final turn away from the communal, cultural, and experiential environment and towards more commercial and corporate enterprises, the land was sold, as predicted by one local woman who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it “should have closed years ago. I hope they build a nice, big shopping center. It might reduce our taxes,” it did indeed become West View Park Shopping Center in 1981.

sign that says Giant Eagle with a horse on its top

a high rise building on a desolate street

The tall building on the right is a senior citizen high rise building, West View Towers. The Dips may have run along here, beside the lake.* Personal photographs.

While the park closed before I was born, I have positive memories typical of kids growing up in West View in the eighties and nineties: shopping at Kmart and Giant Eagle with my mom, renting movies at the Iggle Video, celebrating BOOK IT reading accomplishments at Pizza Hut or sledding there when the roads were snowed out, stopping at Wendy’s after walking in the West View Halloween parade, and visiting my great-grandmother at West View Towers, a senior citizen apartment building where The Dips rollercoaster once stood.* This all existed where the park stood. From what I could tell, it was a popular, successful, and well-maintained hub for suburban families in the area, entertaining in its own way.

The second wave of decline began in the early 2000s, when restaurants, shops, and businesses began to close and leave properties vacant, their empty funhouse windows creating an eerie reflection of the empty West View Park after its last season. The Pizza Hut, built in 1982, closed in 2007 and only recently morphed into an auto parts store. Other shops became car washes and mechanic shops, catering to the changes in mobility and transportation that both feature in the Romero’s film and that led to the park’s decline. The site of the carousel became a Kmart for almost forty years and, after standing vacant for a few years, became a U-Haul storage facility, part of the rising popularity of such services that signals both consumerism and housing instability: issues faced in the future of the aged couple in the fortune teller’s crystal ball. Amidst the vacant stores that run from the U-Haul to the Giant Eagle grocery store are tax services and various medical and dental offices, a repackaging of the clinic and the financial gantlets the old man encountered in Romero’s film, from deceitful attractions to commercial enterprises with their own storefronts.

empty storefront with 'for rent' sign

One of at least six empty spaces available for rent along the perimeter. Personal photograph.

empty storefront from a distance

U-haul box store store front

The U-Haul box store where the carousel once stood. Personal photographs.

When the old man returns to the white room and is enthusiastically addressed by his past self, he insists, “There’s nothing out there. Just nothing.” Romero didn’t realize he was talking about not just the frustrations of the elderly in a world designed for the young but also the transformation of Pittsburgh suburban communities and of a place they used to idolize, which would go through its own hopeful ups and cheerless downs. The last thing Maazel says to the audience, after reminding them of the volunteer organizations they can join, is “I’ll see you in the park someday.” He’ll have to settle for a parking lot.

* This is according to this 1989 ABC/WTAE broadcast: Other unpublished sources say it was located on the other side of the lake from this current structure.

You can watch Romero’s The Amusement Park on Shudder.


[i] Tafoya, Scott. “Reviews: The Amusement Park.”

[ii] Hart, Adam Charles. “The Amusement Park, “A Film on the Problems of the Aging in Our Society.” University of Pittsburgh Library System: Horror Studies.

[iii] Here is a list of horror movies filmed in Pittsburgh, most of the early ones by Romero:

[iv] In his opening address, Maazel says, “The time spent in shooting at West View Park, which facility was donated to the production, was for some of the elderly players, the only enjoyable time they have had in recent years.”

[v] Jacques Jr., Charles J. Goodbye, West View Park, Goodbye. Amusement Park Journal, 1984. This book has some incredible photos that span the park’s history.

[vi] West View Borough: West View Park.

[vii] For photos of the destruction and early transition to a shopping center, see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photo archives, The Digs:

Laura Kremmel is Assistant Professor of English in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at South Dakota School of Mines. She is the co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook to Horror Literature (2018) and publishes work on Horror/Gothic Studies, the History of Medicine/Medical Humanities, Disability Studies, and British Romanticism. Laura has written previously for Horror Homeroom on disability in Don’t Breathe,  American Mary and the Gothic heroine,  I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House,and Crimson Peak. You can find her on twitter at @LKremmel.

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  • Eleanor August 12, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    Laura so proud of you and all you have accomplished

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