*/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B
starring Lane Carroll, W.G. McMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar
screenplay by Paul McCollough & George A. Romero
directed by George A. Romero
by Walter Chaw It's tough for a dyed-in-the-wool George Romero apologist to observe that a film of Romero's in good repute is an amateurish, exploitative piece of shit that banks heavily on the afterglow of his seminal Night of the Living Dead. The Crazies, his third movie in the wake of that masterpiece, finds itself ripping off the last half-hour of Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers--in lurid colour with a cast of atrocious actors in high-'70s, porn-ugly wardrobe and appearance--in its tale of how you shouldn't trust anyone over 30, so keep on truckin', man, steal this book, and if it feels good, do it. Its tragedy is airless and ineffectual, played as it is as this instantly (and hopelessly) dated relic of the flower-power generation that already had its epitaph with Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider four years prior. While its philosophy is tired and childish (a product of reading HIGH TIMES rather than an actual newspaper), it's also dreadfully paced, with the lion's share of time given over to exhausted harangues about how the government doesn't really care about the little guy and how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Never mind the greater good here, as The Crazies is so fervently incomprehensible in its hippie politic that the threat of real contamination for the rest of the country/world should one of our erstwhile heroes escape into the general population forces the audience to ally its sympathies with the jack-booted thugs. Besides, there's already a problem of identification in the film when its ostensible villains, dressed in contamination suits to save on the extras budget, are clearly just underpaid civil servants who most definitely do not deserve to be slaughtered by the yokel populace--crazy or not.
Not a "dead" movie, though there's indication here that Romero was coming around to the idea that "dead" movies were his ticket to the show and métier besides (feature-wise, he would next do Martin, a druggie/hippie/vampire flick, before teaming with Dario Argento on Dawn of the Dead--and the rest is history), The Crazies postulates this idea that a small town has been infected with a biological agent that turns people into homicidal maniacs. The possibilities of said psychoses are hardly explored, although it is gratifying that the prologue of the film implies the murder of two children by their raving-mad father. It's easily the best five minutes of the entire ordeal. For the rest, the outrage is rooted in the idea that the trigger-happy military can't tell the difference between infected townspeople and non-infected; the real irony of the piece is that the acting/editing/direction are so uniformly dreadful and incomprehensible that one would hardly blame the good guys for levelling the whole goddamned hamlet. It all plays out as low camp, enough so that when a father rapes his hotsy-totsy daughter (B-queen Lynn Lowry) and she subsequently gets pasted in an awkward Kent State tableau, the instinct is towards hilarity and not the (I think) intended feeling that society was crumbling from the inside-out.
As a chronicle of Watergate/Vietnam-era United States in the nascency of the New American Cinema of paranoia and "naturalism," The Crazies only reveals itself as the cut-rate fare it is. Consider that for around the same budget, Terrence Malick that same year talks about almost the same issues with his directorial debut, Badlands; that Martin Scorsese graduates into the pantheon with the zero-budget Mean Streets; and that--with a little more cash, granted--Nicolas Roeg helms one of the best horror movies ever in Don't Look Now (ditto William Friedkin and The Exorcist). Altman does The Long Goodbye, Ashby does The Last Detail, Peckinpah does Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid... It'd be unfair to compare The Crazies except that contemporary cult wisdom suggests that it's a gem instead of a fossil. For as deep a well as the Seventies is for American film, being an independent, maverick genre production that traffics in societal unease does not by itself a classic make. The Crazies jumps from scene to scene, scenario to scenario, without much regard for cohesion. It plays the same weight on its one antiestablishment theme with the dull insistence of a drinky bird, and for every one moment in which a beatific granny stabs someone with a knitting needle, there are ten others where people in a room scream tired don't-trust-the-Man bullshit at each other. By the time what you think is going to happen to the heroes finally happens to them, it's long past the point that anyone gives a crap what happens to anyone, onscreen or off. It's not exactly the formula for a successful social satire.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
The Crazies docks on Blu-ray from Blue Underground in an impressive 1.66:1, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 pillarboxed transfer that makes the absolute best of a limited source. Colours are surprisingly rich, maybe a bit oversaturated yet accurate in the way of Seventies stocks; and while the image is clean, it's not artificially so--the anticipated grain and wonky jumps remain intact. Blacks are impressively deep, well-defined, and less prone to crush than they can be on this label's HiDef titles. The accompanying DTS-HD audio is configured for 1.0 playback, meaning it's not the least bit noteworthy except for the clarity that comes with lossless tracks. It does highlight the kitchen-sink aspect of the production in a bit of rough looping, but, hell.
A commentary recorded for the 2003 DVD release of the picture sees Blue Underground head honcho Bill Lustig moderating a dialogue with Romero, whom Lustig overpraises for the jittery editing and, let's face it, not-very-good filmmaking. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh's finest is in fine, warm, rumbling form as he recounts the difficulties of bringing The Crazies in for $300k. There's a good deal of trainspotting of local fauna as well as a fair amount of praise for the technical merits of the 2003 transfer, which more or less still applies. I did enjoy the revelation that the opening house fire was a fortuitous capture of a building that local firemen had set ablaze for purposes of practice. "The Cult Film Legacy of Lynn Lowry" (14 mins.) intersperses a fairly dry conversation with the eponymous actress with fairly interesting clips from her titular legacy of culty exploitation flicks. Nudity that one may have felt lacking in The Crazies proper appears now and again in this docu. Fans of Cronenberg might be interested to hear Lowry's account of how she was discovered by him and Harold Ramis for Shivers. (This causes me to reassess The Crazies as an unofficial "tax shelter" flick from a particularly ignominious period in a couple of horror legends' early careers.) Two theatrical trailers and two television spots for the film round out the presentation. Originally published: March 4, 2010.