Synopsis: Its code name is ‘Trixie,’ an experimental government germ weapon that leaves its victims either dead or irreversibly insane. When the virus is accidentally unleashed in Evans City, Pennsylvania, the small community becomes a war zone of panicked military, desperate scientists and gentle neighbors turned homicidal maniacs. Now a small group of citizens has fled to the town’s outskirts where they must hide from trigger-happy soldiers while battling their own depraved urges. But even if they can escape the madness of this plague, can they survive the unstoppable violence of THE CRAZIES?
Richard France (DAWN OF THE DEAD), Lynn Lowry (SHIVERS, CAT PEOPLE) and Richard Liberty (DAY OF THE DEAD) co-star in this masterpiece of modern horror written and directed by George A. Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, CREEPSHOW) that remains one of his most chilling and disturbing films ever.
eyelights: its core concept. its scale, considering the budget.
eyesores: its soundtrack. its poor dubbing. its hand-to-hand action sequences.
“There’s no way to tell who’s infected and who isn’t.”
The building blocks of any healthy society are people coming together in good faith for the betterment of all. This implies a certain amount of self-sacrifice and a greater degree of trust; we have to believe that what we invest will return to us in other, perhaps greater, ways.
We also have to trust that everyone’s well-intentioned.
This is what allows us to walk the streets with peace of mind, that we don’t live in constant fear that we could be threatened or harmed; it’s not just a question of rule of law (though it helps), it’s the implicit understanding that we’re all committed to the collective’s welfare.
But what happens if that erodes completely, if every person one meets is a potential assailant? What if anarchy ruled the day? What would happen to our society? And what if that anarchy was the result of a viral madness that is spreading like wildfire through the citizenry?
What happens then? How can you tell who’s friend and who’s foe?
This is the basic premise of ‘The Crazies’, George A. Romero’s 1973 motion picture. Based on ‘The Mad People’, a screenplay by Paul McCollough, which Romero subsequently rewrote, it recounts the events following the crash of an Army plane carrying a bio-weapon over a small town.
In some ways, it’s the low-budget counterpart to ‘The Andromeda Strain‘, which showed a team of scientists trying to decode an infection that is spreading like wildfire. Here, we’re seeing the effects of the infection on the ground from the perspective of the military and civilians.
What makes it interesting is seeing the probable developments of such a crisis, with the military coming into town and taking over all operations, quarantining the area, rounding up the civilians, confiscating all the weapons, killing all potential threats and burning all of the bodies.
On the flipside, the more human side of it finds a few townies trying to escape. With the help of a local doctor working with the authorities, they run for the hills, managing to ditch the soldiers at a few instances. But they’re not immune to the infection; they can’t outrun that.
What the picture shows is how quickly order can crumble in a crisis. Despite their best efforts, the military can’t contain a populace that is intent on revolt and it certainly can’t stop a few wily survivors. Heck, it can barely manage the chaos in its own makeshift operations.
The picture also brings forth some interesting questions about the ethics of viral warfare and our preparedness for the eventuality that we’ll be subject to such a attack. In 1973, this was rather prescient; even large-scale terrorist attacks hadn’t hit North American shores yet.
Though dire, it’s a smart thriller.
The problem with ‘The Crazies’, however, is its low budget roots. This was apparently made on even less money than ‘Night of the Living Dead‘, Romero’s first feature, and there are moments when it really shows: the volume of the audio track is uneven, the dubbing is awful, …etc.
Since Romero did the audio mixing in his home studio, it’s hardly surprising. I’m sure that he did what he could with his means, but it’s nonetheless jarring. And, as was the case for many of his pictures at the time, he used canned music – in this case weird military marches.
The editing is also rather choppy at times, though I can’t fathom why. Perhaps Romero was in a hurry to get the movie out, and so it was a rushed into completion, or perhaps he had too much footage and had to drop a lot of it, but some scenes don’t flow into one another cleanly.
The editing issue extends to hand-to-hand combat scenes, which are extremely lackluster, bereft of energy; it looks like weak roleplaying. Having said this, all other action sequences were perfectly rendered. It’s hard to say if Romero’s direction or the editing is at fault.
Ultimately, though, it’s quite impressive what Romero was able to do with so little; ‘The Crazies’ is a relatively large-scale endeavour in comparison to ‘Night of the Living Dead’, and yet it still manages to be credible and it gets its point across relatively effectively.
It’s hardly perfection itself, but it’s not lacking in virtue.
The first time I saw it, though, I didn’t quite appreciate its substance; I was far too distracted by all of its flaws. This time I was more taken with what was achieved than what was lacking. As with any art, the audience’s expectations and perspective can colour everything.
‘The Crazies’ builds feelings of paranoia and claustrophobia rather well; with the nighttime use of a small town, ample assistance from its populace, and a few clever ideas, Romero was able to bring a remarkable apocalyptic vision to the screen. He was clearly ahead of his time.
One can only imagine what the picture would have looked and sounded like had it benefited from a Robert Wise-caliber budget.
Over 35 years later, its remake would give us a taste.
Date of viewing: July 31, 2017