After delivering what's now considered one of the all-time classic horror films and Godfather of all zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero spent most of the 70's stumbling around trying to find his voice while suffering from poor distribution and budgets too low to match his ambition. Before delivering his original take on vampire lore with Martin in 1977 there was the little seen drama There's Always Vanilla, the trip-out psychedelic horror of Season of the Witch and our subject here, the paranoia filled viral scares of The Crazies.
Things open with the innocent scaring of a young girl by her older brother, which is interrupted by their father violently smashing things in the house with a crowbar. The kids also discover he's killed their mother and, not long after this, have to escape the house when he proceeds to douse everything in gasoline and set it ablaze. This uncommon behaviour is only the start of problems for the small town of Evans City when the Government declares martial law on the residents not only sending in groups of heavily-armed and gas mask clad soldiers to forcibly gather them up in the nearby high school but also quarantining the town letting no-one in or out.
Seems that a plane carrying a deadly, unproven biological weapon dubbed "Trixie" has crashed in the hills outside of town and spilt the virus into the water supply slowly making locals lose their grip on sanity - which is proven by a memorable scene where a kindly grandmother stabs a soldier to death with her knitting needles. In the middle of all this madness is volunteer firefighter David (W.G. McMillan), his nurse girlfriend Judy (Lane Carroll) and his friend (and fellow Vietnam veteran) Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) who decide they'd be better off on the run and trying to break free of all the confusion surrounding the town. Along the way they pair up with Artie (Richard Liberty) and his daughter Kathie (Lynn Lowry, who somewhat resembles Sissy Spacek) who's been infected and is slowly deteriorating.
On the way to the downer finale we get plentiful moments of the Military brass led by Peckham (Lloyd Hollar) yelling at each other in the doctor's office they've claimed as their headquarters, soldiers dealing with the infected townsfolk, Clank going all trigger happy, a disturbing moment involving incest, and a whole lot of talking. While there's definitely things to latch onto in Romero's script, and the premise certainly hits a chord considering recent events involving H1N1, I found that any interesting ideas brought into the mix tended to get sidetracked due to the film's obvious low-budget as well as editing that feels abrupt at times and a handful of performances (and one pretty lousy one) that felt unnatural and forced.
Carroll and McMillan are generally solid in the lead roles playing it straight enough to bring some balance to Jones' gun crazy turn and Hollar's standard portrayal as a gruff superior officer. Liberty (who'd memorably play Dr. Logan in Romero's Day of the Dead) is mostly muted while Lowry's subtle insanity feels just about right. By far, though, the absolute worst performance on hand comes from Richard France as scientist Dr. Watts, who's hunting for a cure. He plays Watts as a bullish, constantly yelling type and overacts quite badly in the process.
In the past I've taken a mixed, usually negative, standpoint towards remakes but The Crazies seems like it could possibly benefit from it. Romero, basing this on an original screenplay entitled The Mad People by Paul McCollough, makes steps here of injecting elements of real-life events into his scripts (something he'd do to grand effect in Dawn and Day of the Dead) but they're unfortunately mostly buried under the film's limited production values. It's a movie I've never really been a fan of and, seeing it now with a more mature mindset than I originally did, it still sits near the bottom of the heap in Romero's filmography. Call it an interesting failure. (Chris Hartley, 2/26/10)
Directed By: George A. Romero.
Written By: George A. Romero.
Starring: Lane Carroll, W.G. McMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar.