Growing up renting videos from my local mom & pop I stumbled across The Crazies on big box vhs. It had a killer cover and proclaimed that it was from the director of Night of the Living Dead (which I hadn’t seen yet) so I rented it. I honestly didn’t remember much about that viewing other than being kinda bored. Later I watched Dawn of the Dead and was totally floored. At one point I went through George Romero’s filmography, or at least as much of it as I could get my hands on. That being said, I haven’t given The Crazies another shot until this viewing on Blu courtesy of Arrow Video. I was curious to see if my (very) young opinion still held true or if in the intervening years of avoiding the flick, I had missed out.
The Crazies was released after Season of the Witch but before his cult gem Martin (which preceded his opus, Dawn of the Dead). It takes place in a small rural town. The film begins with two children waking up to find their father smashing their house with a crowbar. They run to wake up their mom but find her dead. The father then lights the house on fire. Local volunteer firefighters show up and discover the police already there and the father sitting in the back of a squad car, screaming. It isn’t long before the military arrives and takes over the town. An experimental bioweapon that causes the infected to behave uncontrollably violent was released accidentally near the town and the military has come to quarantine the area. It isn’t long before people are herded into the local high school to be held under lock and key. Everyone is a potential disease carrier and no one trusts anyone. The military guys are decked out in hazmat outfits but are also succeptible to the contagion. Soon the town erupts into chaos. Our protagonists of the story are volunteer firefighters trying to sneak out of town to avoid infection and arrest by the military.
I really enjoyed the paranoid tone of The Crazies. The film was made at a time when public opinion of the military and government in general had shifted from mindless adoration to genuine skepticism and fear. The Crazies captures that fear, personified in the anonymous hazmat wearing military goons. As with his best films, the societal commentary is thick, whether it was intentional or not. The violence foreshadows the graphic special effects that would be utilized in Dawn. We see big bloody bullet wounds, stabbings, and beatings. The acting is stilted but passable. Romero’s films were rarely known for their stellar acting so The Crazies is par for the course. The trouble with the film is the pacing. The film starts off with a bang and creates genuine suspense but then gets bogged down with Romero’s commentary on the slow moving wheels of bureaucracy. This theme of useless red tape is repeated throughout the film but frankly, the point is driven home too often. It kills the pacing of the film. Our protagonists also stop at various times during the film to hide or rest and these moments also slow the film down considerably. The result is a film that has bursts of energy, action, and tension, and lulls of dialogue. Now, I’m not adverse to a talky film if that is the intended style. All films don’t have to be explosions and action the entire time, but this film could have benefited from some trimming to keep things moving along.
The film looks fantastic however. Again Arrow has done a great job restoring and presenting the film. The colors are rich, the sound clear, and not a speck of dirt to be seen. The blu also comes with a bevvy of special features including a couple of interviews with Lynn Lowry, behind the scenes footage, commentary and more.
While not his most accomplished film, The Crazies is worth checking out. The film’s social commentary is as sharp as in any of Romero’s films, and the story is unique for the time. The pacing may be lax and the direction workmanlike, but the ideas are insightful and still relevant today.